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Brand Nepal (Published on Nepalnews.com)

On January 1, 2011, Prabal Gurung, a New York based fashion designer went online and send out a couple of tweets encouraging his thousands of Twitter followers to consider visiting Nepal in 2011. On the eve of Nepal Tourism Year 2011, Prabal used his celebrity status and promoted Nepal to his online followers. In my opinion, Prabal could be the best brand ambassador for promoting Nepal in the Western world. He is widely recognized in the Western fashion industry having dressed the likes of Michelle Obama, Demi Moore and Oprah Winfrey. Prabal’s short messages on Twitter have definitely given visibility to Nepal’s tourism campaign.

When a country is promoting tourism, it is the best time to see country branding taking place. When I visited the official website of Visit Nepal 2011, I noticed the tagline that the tourism board was using to advance the tourism campaign. It was “Naturally Nepal Once Is Not Enough.”The goal for Nepal Tourism Year is to bring in at least a million visitors this year. According to the Government of Nepal Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation’s Nepal Tourism Statistics 2010 (Provisional Report), there were 509,956 tourists in 2009 and 602,855 in 2010. This is an 18.2% increase in tourism and October ranked the highest in tourist arrivals with 72,522 and 79,186 in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Place branding has been around for a long time and Simon Anholt, a British branding expert states that “in today’s globalized, networked world, every place has to compete with every other place for its share of the world’s consumers, tourists, businesses, investment, capital, respect and attention.”  Simon, who coined the phrase “nation brand” in 1998 explains that the way places are perceived by people around the world has a direct impact on their ability to export products, services, ideas, culture and people, and their ability to attract investment, tourists and talent.

The way Nepal is perceived around the world will correlate to how many people decide to visit the country in this tourism year. Simon acknowledges that places are judged by what they do and what they make, not by what they say about themselves. Thus, the country’s brand is what others are saying about the country. The official website for Visit Nepal 2011 consists of quotes from renowned international news sources on Nepal. The National Geographic Adventure Magazine called Nepal “one of the best countries for adventure destination in the world” and BBC Holiday called it “one of the 50 Places to see before you die.” The National Geographic Adventure Magazine and BBC Holiday have placed the limelight on Nepal’s natural beauty of mountains, rivers and lakes and its traditional culture with numerous festivals and languages.

A report titled Branding Your City was published on March 2006 by CEOs for Cities, a civic lab of urban leaders working to advance the next generation of great American cities. The report mentioned that although the most common reason for a place to have a brand strategy is to stimulate economic growth; a strong brand can shift the perception of a place that may be suffering from a poor image among external and internal constituents. A brand strategy can also provide a consistent representation of a place or enhance its local, regional and/or global awareness and position among others.

Promoting tourism is a national undertaking, therefore including multiple perspectives and ideas as well as weighing the issues is crucial to make buy-in and execution easier. The inclusion of a variety of stakeholders is necessary to assure the success of the project. Empirical evidence shows that it is prudent to include cultural and heritage institutions, local media, and business leaders besides the Tourism Board in the planning stages of a tourism campaign.

Nepal has outlined 5 major objectives for this tourism year. They are: (1) Establish Nepal as a choice of premier holiday destination with a definite brand image, (2) Improve and extend tourism related infrastructures in existing and new tourism sites (3) Enhance the capacity of service providers (4) Build community capacity in the new areas to cater the need of the tourists (5) Promote domestic tourism for sustainability of industry.

In order to meet the aforementioned objectives, for a successful tourism year, Nepal’s government and the Tourism Board should continue to stress the security and safety of the visitors to the country. On January 12, 2011, the U.S. Department of State updated its travel warning advisory to Nepal on its website. Other foreign governments have also highlighted the security risk to their citizens when traveling to Nepal. The tourism campaign would not bear fruit if the country is perceived unsafe to travel. Therefore, utmost care has to be taken to reassure the prospective tourists that it is safe to go around the country.

I am thrilled to see how many people will visit Nepal this year. It is crucial to create brand awareness and let people know that it is Visit Nepal Year 2011. The best place to create awareness in this age is in one’s social network. I have seen a number of my friends talking and encouraging people to visit Nepal and posting videos of Nepal on Facebook.

It is great to have brand ambassadors and Prabal Gurung has leveraged his popularity and encouraged people in his social network to visit Nepal. In this digital age, everyone has a voice and one can take to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or other social media outlets and promote Nepal in one’s own way. When an enthusiastic person creates personalized content promoting Nepal, he or she becomes another brand ambassador to Nepal Tourism Year 2011.

This article was featured on the Guest Column of Nepalnews.com.