OIC countries need to work on boosting their national brand perception (Shutterstock).

OIC Economies

Pitching the OIC nation brands against the world

Nine Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries feature in the bottom third of the latest survey reflecting national reputations.


A new survey, in which the nine Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations fared relatively poorly, has revealed it is nearly as difficult to spoil a positive country image as to boost a negative one.

Released in October 2021, the latest Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index (NBI) (https://www.ipsos.com/) listed Germany, Canada and Japan as the top three nations when considering six dimensions of the country’s national competence.

The global nation brand survey examines the images of nations annually via online interviews with adults aged 18 and older in 20 core panel countries. It takes into account exports, governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration and investment to holistically provide an indication of the country’s reputation.

Launched in 2005 by national image specialist Simon Anholt, this was the first time the NBI published the complete list of countries’ rankings and scores and revealed the OIC nations only feature in the lower third. Anholt has authored six books about countries, cultures and globalisation.

“What people call brand image is nothing more than prejudice. It can be a positive prejudice; it can be a negative prejudice, but it's something we receive from the culture around us,” Anholt told Salaam Gateway.

In 2021 NBI’s global sample size tripled to 60,000 interviews per year. Each panel country, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, corresponds to a three-fold increase in samples to 3,000 interviews. Another 10 countries were included, bringing the 2021 figure to 60.

Anholt said there was increased interest in the concept from poorer states because an enhanced image might create more favourable conditions for foreign direct investment, tourism, trade and even political relations.

The impact of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia’s concerted effort to diversify its economy saw the Kingdom launch Vision 2030 in 2016 and open its doors to international visitors and investors. However, despite hosting international business and sporting events and producing all-female-led tourism campaigns, the Kingdom only ranks five countries from the bottom with a score of 51.74.

Describing Vision 2030 as “one of the most rigidly domestic national strategies I've ever read”, Anholt warns about myopia but believes Saudi Arabia can potentially improve its image.

“If Saudi Arabia chooses collaboration, enlightened self-interest and multi-lateralism, tackling climate change and religious intolerance and misunderstanding, it could become one of the world’s most valued countries, because it straddles the fault lines of these hugely important problems.”

However, change is required for the Kingdom to achieve its pre-pandemic national tourism strategy objectives. This demands boosting annual tourism stays from 41 million (2019) to 100 million by 2030; providing 1 million Saudi jobs and increasing tourism’s gross domestic product (GDP) share from 3% (2019) to 10% by 2030.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, Saudi Arabia’s tourism revenue crashed nearly 70% to $5.96 billion in 2020, or 0.85% of the total $700 billion GDP reported by the World Bank. This makes Saudi’s 2022 milestone of 5.3% GDP via tourism a challenging target.

“Tourism is the quintessential soft power business,” Anholt said. “You will not get mass tourism or even niche tourism to Saudi Arabia unless you do something about the country's image.”

Fair showing from newcomer Morocco, but Palestine finishes the list

After Egypt (position: 36) and Turkey (38), newcomer Morocco (42) slipped in ahead of Indonesia (43) to rank as the third-best OIC nation. Anholt said Morocco was added to the survey since North Africa had generally been inadequately covered.

The World Travel & Tourism Council stated travel and tourism contributed 6.2% to Morocco’s $113.55 billion economy in 2020 – less than half of what the country secured the previous year.

Anholt said Palestine's inclusion in the index was based on establishing solid data on how the country would perform. He was “often asked” about global perceptions of the Israel-Palestine issue and believed it was “fascinating to have proper survey data on that topic”.

“It was about time, even if it's only for one year, to collect some hard data.”

However, he said the image of any country involved in a conflict, whether the nation is perceived as the aggressor or victim, is damaged by association.

“A hypothesis I wanted to test was whether Israel and Palestine suffered equally from being associated with conflict and that public opinion doesn't necessarily blame one significantly more than the other,” Anholt said.

Palestine ranks last with a score of 46.73. Already featured in previous years, Israel (47) scored 54.11.

Changing perceptions

According to Anholt, it’s nearly as difficult to spoil a positive country image as it is to improve a negative one. Germany, ranking in first place for the seventh time overall and fifth consecutive year, teaches the world a lesson on what is required to build a strong nation brand.

Its reputational strengths lie in exports, immigration, investment, governance and culture. Respondents were particularly optimistic about buying German products; the appeal of investing in German businesses; the government’s initiatives to fight poverty and the country’s ability to excel in sports. Collectively, these placed Germany in the top-two in all five categories in 2021.

Anholt believes only internationally prominent leaders and consumer brands have the power to raise a nation’s profile. Propaganda appears to achieve nothing, but nurturing domestic brands to become global and a country’s ambassadors, requires patience.

“You need a lot of them, and it takes a long time,” Anholt said.

Regarding propaganda, Anholt, who has advised the presidents, prime ministers and governments of 63 countries since 1998, has just one recommendation.

“Don't tell people what you've done. Don't tell people what you're going to do. Just make your country useful to the world and keep doing it,” he said.

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