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Sun 6 Sep 2009 07:00 AM

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Cultural identity key to success for Gulf cities - expert

Brand expert says GCC needs to build cultural heritage alongside 'wealth and glamour'.

The challenge for Gulf nations over the next five years is to build cultural heritage alongside the "wealth and glamour" the region has become famous for, an international branding expert has said.

Simon Anholt, a policy advisor, author and researcher specialising in national identity and reputation, said Saudi Arabia, in particular, could play a vital role in bridging the gulf between the West and Muslim countries.

Anholt, who is set to give a Nation Branding Masterclass in Dubai in November, added: "The challenge for Dubai and the places that are now emulating its rise – Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Oman in particular – is to build or evoke cultural heritage alongside mere wealth and glamour, a lasting cultural identity that makes these ‘real’ places for real people to live in and visit.

"Saudi Arabia deserves special mention as a country that has inherited one of the most potent country images on earth, as the land of the two holy shrines, and could, if it chose, perform a vital role in bridging the gulf between the Muslim world and the ‘West’."

Commenting on what national brands Middle East countries currently project, Anholt, who first coined the phrase 'Nation Brand' in 1996, said: "The Middle East presents a wide variety of different country images and reputations.

"The most impressive among these is certainly Dubai, which has succeeded in establishing itself in a relatively short space of time as one of the most cosmopolitan, wealthiest, most vibrant and most successful of the Emirates – largely through a well funded and well promoted programme of constant construction: buildings, institutions, infrastructure and influence.

"However, a rapid rise to prominence tends to result in a rather narrow, two-dimensional image, which speaks of wealth and success but relatively little intrinsic personality or distinctive identity."

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, in June established the Dubai Media Affairs Office 'Brand Dubai' to coordinate the emirate's strategic media affairs regionally and internationally.

The new office will work on preserving and enhancing Dubai's image as an Arab city of international spirit and sensibility.

Explaining what a Nation Brand was, Anholt added: "In the age of globalisation, I claimed, all countries need to compete with each other for tourists, capital, consumers, aid, international events, and the respect and attention of other governments, the international media and public opinion generally.

"This simply means that their image, their reputation, become as critical to their progress as the brand images of products do to the corporations that make them. This is a nation brand."

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Bahraintaxi 11 years ago

Branding is perhaps part of the solution, particularly a form of branding that seeks to establish a culture and heritage identity that goes beyond what is merely flashy and transient. However, I think the emphasis on branding is topsy-turvy, like focusing on what kind of cherry you're going to put on top of the cake before the cakes has even been baked. The 1977 'I Love New York' marketing campaign was perhaps the most successful attempt at re-branding a city, and has spawned countless imitations. However, the marketing campaign was only successful because the serious issues that had so tarnished NYC's image and reputation were being seriously addressed. These were: * a crisis in the city's finances * crumbling infrastructure * violent crime * poverty * an exodus of professionals and business from the city * the virtual death of tourism to the city 'I Love New York' worked because these issues were seriously being addressed at the time the marketing campaign was launched. Without these initiatives, the marketing campaign would have been a failure, since words without action are meaningless. I successful campaign to market Dubai has to be 'the cherry on the cake', not the be-all-and-end-all of the thing, mere empty words. I'd say the issues that need to be addressed in Dubai are: * Emirati employability and work ethic * an over dependence of foreign intellectual and physical labour * environmental unsustainability * an unsustainable economy based on a property and tourism boom * a consequent city-wide financial crisis over and above the global 'crunch' * poor standards in UAE education at every level 'I Love Dubai', or what ever it turns out to be, will only work if the world perceives that these substantive issues are being dealt with. Otherwise the marketing drive is a waste of time, money, and effort.

MA 11 years ago

Given the vast majority of the population is expatriate, I doubt too many would be sporting "I love Dubai" merchandise if Dubai was too effective at solving the problem of "an over dependence of foreign intellectual and physical labour". Back to the article: Nomadic peoples often have little apart from their rituals for culture. Archietecture, art, tends to be rare. Dubai came into its own over this past century, and apart from 2 forts, its REAL history is 20-40 yrs old. Why not celebrate this, you might ask? Part of the problem for Dubai (and the UAE in general) is that a lot of its successes are derived off the back of those they'd like to see removed. Who can argue that it was the residents of Deira, Karama, Satwa, and old Bur Dubai that made Dubai what it is today? (not to detract from the achievements of visionaries like Shk. Rashid, the Ghurairs, etc). However, it is exactly these individuals that Dubai longs to be rid of. So unfortunately, you have to give up on parts of the real story of a nation and a population, and focus on being a Vegas, except with even less history! Pretty hard to brand a history you want wiped over.

bahraintaxi 11 years ago

Like it or not, indigenous education, training, employability and work-ethic have to be part of Dubai, the UAE, and the GCC in general attaining long-term sustainable economic growth and a real culture and heritage identity. I never said there should be no expatriate population, I was merely commenting on an 'over-dependence' on it, which prevents the formation of a cultural identity beyond 'wealth and glamour'. One can thing of the UAE symbolically as a marriage between the Camel and the Dhow, between the 'nomadic' culture of the Arabian interior and the mercantile culture of the emirates of the Gulf littoral. One can further think of Dubai and the Eastern Emirates as part of a liminal zone in which the cultures of Arabia and the Indo-Iranian world merge and meld. This melding is reflected in the dialects, traditional buildings, foods, and family history of the region, but has not so far not reflected in the official version of UAE identity. Perhaps it should become part of the cultural heritage of a rebranded Dubai? If so, then many of the 'expatriates' from across the Gulf and the Arabian Sea who have helped develop the city over the past 50 years could be recognised as 'indigenous'?

JMonite 11 years ago

Why does'nt UAE promote itself as a country destination instead of "appearing" to be always competing with each other in the media ? It would be wiser to establish a strong base on which to grow....seems to work very well for most other tourism related countries.

Anna Domingo 10 years ago

The logo and Campaign about I love NY belongs to NY State : http://www.iloveny.com/home.aspx and not the city of New York. It is one of the most famous confusions around the world not to say that has clearly worked for the city but certainly not for the state since everybody is confused and lacks a complete real picture about it. The previous posts are just enhancing and confusing the real truth about branding a destinations and I jsut wanted to illustrate it to make everybody understand about how critical is to have a proper strategy behind it.

Confused 10 years ago

Many people do not even know how to spell most of the cities in UAE, is it Dubai, Duabi, Dubii, Dubi, Dubais, Dubia, Dubay, Dubayy Abu Dhabi, Abu dabi, abu dahbi, abu dubia etc . These are all terms that are being search on Google keyword tool because people are having a problem with spelling them, never mind the rest of the cities which are far harder. As a country is it UAE or AE (like the .ae domain) ...or maybe emirates..oh but wait thats an airline ! Lots of different messages are being sent so something needs to be done to at least educate your potential visitors. Time to think about marketing for the future !