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Tue 4 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Saudi Arabia hopes to create new brand image

Kingdom hires Landor Associates as brand consultant in a bid to improve its image and attract more visitors to the country

Saudi Arabia is making a renewed effort to improve its image around the world. The Kingdom has appointed branding consultancy firm Landor Associates to develop the country’s tourism brand identity.

Just over a year ago, Saudi Prince and tourism supremeo Prince Sultan ibn Salman told Arabian Business how keen he was to put the Kingdom on the global map and, at the very least, the regional map.

A year on, the tourism plan has been somewhat revised in the shadow of a worsening security situation. Now, the emphasis appears to be firmly on attracting the Umrah or religious visitors to the Kingdom.

However, the Kingdom may also find it increasingly difficult to attract religious visitors to stay beyond the pilgramage. “I’ve been several times over the last few months and things are not getting any better,” says Ahmed Hussein, a marketing executive, who recently visited the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has, to all intents and purposes, realised that its very existence depends on clamping down on extremists, but how effective has it been? Reports emanating out of the Kingdom each day suggest the authorities are breaking terrorist cells and averting the worst on a daily basis.

Ordinary Saudi businessmen are either dismissive of the issue or overtly positive on the authorities handling of the situation. “The Saudi government is doing exceptionally well,” says A. M. Shafie, senior consultant, Majed Allaheq Contracting Est.

“The business climate is turning, there are real opportunities for us in construction and real estate. They are attacking the terrorists head on and as a result we’re much busier and can feel positive.” Shafie blames the media for the Kingdom’s poor global image.

He says that just one bad incident and the country is branded. However, other businessmen do not agree. One company CEO based in Jeddah dismissed any suggestions the climate was improving, suggesting that things were becoming increasingly precarious.

“Everywhere you go, you see security at its highest. You come home, we see pictures of wanted terrorists on television; this simply is not the right climate for doing business.”

The Jeddah-based businessmen questions whether spending money on trying to bring people to the Kingdom is the right approach. “The government needs to make us feel comfortable, never mind what the rest of the world thinks.”Hiring Landor is not the first step towards creating a healthy brand image. Over the last year, Saudi princes have travelled across the world in a high prodile PR campaign to assure the watching public how serious the Kingdom is about tackling its problems.

It seems Prince Sultan will be the man to lead the change in image. Having hired Landor, the Prince believes it will be able to draw from its experience of branding other regional tourism products such as Al Ain, Jordan and Gulf Air “to present [Saudi Arabia] like it’s never been seen before.”Speaking to the Saudi Daily Arab News, Charles Wrench, Landor’s European president, was optimistic.

“The key is to position and package the Kingdom in a way that is relevant and attractive to the audience abroad within the context of Saudi cultural sensitivities and Islamic values,” he said. This may well prove to be Landor’s biggest and most interesting challenge yet.

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