ABU DHABI // The UAE has been ranked second among the "rising stars" of the travel industry and is expected to become a major tourist destination in the next five years, according to an international report. The 2008 Country Brand Index, to be released tomorrow at the World Travel Market in London, ranks countries according to the success in 30 categories including value for money, art and culture, shopping and natural beauty.
The assessment is based on surveys from about 2,700 leisure and business travellers, and the opinions of travel industry figures. The UAE was not ranked among the overall top 10 country brands in the world but came second among the top fast-growing tourist destinations, climbing from third place last year. China, which the report said benefited from attracting the world's attention during the 2008 Beijing games, was ranked first. Croatia, whose tourism industry is getting back on its feet after the Balkan wars of the 1990s, came in third.
The UAE ranked first in the world for resort and lodging options, followed by the United States and the Maldives. It came second for its shopping, after the United States. "The UAE continues to establish itself as a strong brand for hospitality, promoting resorts for their unique architecture, premier service and ultimate luxury," the report said. Destination and city branding have become more widespread and even regions have started looking for ways to harness the power of their brands.
"It is exciting to see many countries embracing the idea of brand," said Rina Plapler, senior executive director of FutureBrand, which compiles the index in collaboration with the public relations firm Weber Shandwick. "However, we still feel this is a largely underdeveloped category with most countries continuing to promote and market themselves in ways that are not differentiated." The report said the UAE is second-best in the world at marketing itself, and mentioned Abu Dhabi's branding office. Abu Dhabi established the Office of the Brand last year to assist the public and private sectors in understanding the city's brand and its purpose. It also provides guidance on all activities that could affect the emirate's reputation.
Abu Dhabi plans to double the number of visitors to the emirate by 2012, to 2.7 million a year, and especially wants to attract what it describes as "culture seekers" who look for authenticity, exclusivity and quality. Dubai is also attempting to establish itself as a year-round tourist destination with events such as Dubai Summer Surprises and the Dubai Shopping Festival, and hopes to attract 15 million tourists by 2015.
The Emirates ranked second in the world for the place where people would most like to start doing business, after Japan. As a destination for conferences it dropped two places from last year, to seventh. It came tenth internationally for the availability of new technology. The UAE did not appear in the top 10 global rankings for categories including the best destination for outdoor activities and sport, value for money, authenticity or art and culture.
Overall, Australia was voted the world's top country brand for the third year running, followed by Canada and the US. Other countries that made the top 10 included Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. "With the current state of the world - economic turmoil, political unrest and global warming - it's always fascinating to see which countries come out on top in branding themselves, generating global recognition and fuelling the travel and tourism industry," said Rene Mack, president of Weber Shandwick's travel practice.
The study showed that the Middle East, Africa and Asia are experiencing high growth in travel and tourism demand and highlighted emerging trends in the industry. The report said: "Increasing competition from tourists stemming from newly-rich countries will lead to a shift in the global tourist industry away from the needs and wants of westerners to the needs and wants of new tourists with different tastes and desires."