Bylines at Customs: The $40 Billion Disconnect

The Wall Street Journal's China Journal posted results from a survey yesterday regarding the "brand values" of countries and saw China only ranked 56th out of 78 countries while only 29% of respondents around the world rated China as "excellent" or "very good".

I'm not sure why the Wall Street Journal attempted to tie it in to the Olympics, but to me there seems a major disconnect between the two. This Olympics, more so than anything, was not meant as an external statement, but a necessary moment of pride for the Chinese people, it was about domestic nationalism just as much as portraying the image of a modern power abroad.

Further, almost as a throwaway, at the end is the paragraph:

The Futurebrand survey did toss China a bone. The country beat out United Arab
Emirates to place first in a category called “Most Impressive Last Year” – given
to the country with the “most noteworthy performances.”

The survey data is more or less what one would expect. Further, reading the survey further, China is deemed a country "in vogue" which means that it is becoming the "new 'it' destination" and "establishing itself as the new place to be." The survey is also centrally focused on the tourist industry above all, something that WSJ fails to mention. What frustrated me about the blog entry was that somehow the Olympics were less of a success or that China should regret the huge price tag due to this one survey.

Unlike a lot of countries (including fellow Asian destinations Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea) China does no international marketing/ad campaigns in an attempt to promote tourism and a more positive image. Perhaps a more proactive marketing campaign would be helpful, but China is well aware that the world knows the major tourist sites in China and no marketing is needed to bring people to the country. While that is true, there are many amazing natural sights and tourist gems that don't get enough international attention beyond the limited focus of most tourists on Shanghai, Beijing, and Xian. When issues like T!bet and food safety were in the news a lot over the past year it is understandable why the "Chinese brand" would not meet with overwhelming positive responses. Not to mention the fact that among most travelers, China's absolute foreignness is, unfortunately, a deterrent to visiting.

The results, to me, don't mean that the Olympics were a waste, it just means that it may be time to start doing more promotion and showing more of what China is about to foreigners, especially now that the nation is still in the limelight after the spectacular Olympics. However, with the global financial meltdown, people aren't spending as much on vacations and the one big hurdle to traveling to China, the expensive airfare, is sure to deter many from visiting. Considering how the government is PR-stupid, it makes such a campaign extremely unlikely.

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