Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Branding Tourism in Liberia

Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Branding Tourism in Liberia

Article excerpt

Abstract

Liberia is still tainted by images of war and poverty, even though the country has been at peace for over a decade under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The current brand image deters tourists, business executives, and potential investors from visiting the country. This article introduces the concept of nation branding and exemplifies how a country's brand associations either support or undermine economic development. Additionally, research backed by the University of Amsterdam has led to the development of a new brand identity for Liberia, which appeals to the tourism "niche" market of sport fishing. Brand awareness amongst the 60 million anglers in the United States alone is generated by prominent public and private initiatives that underline the unique positioning strategy.

Introduction

Liberia has made remarkable progress over the last decade. The West African country transitioned from a restless state immersed in civil war to a stable developing country. Nevertheless, the poster child of economic development is haunted by images of its past. The country is still commonly known for poverty and war, despite stable economic growth and a president that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The current negative brand image deters tourists, business executives, and investors. Hence, Liberia needs to fix not only its broken infrastructure but also its broken brand.

Brand Image

Brand image is defined by Kevin Lane Keller as "the perceptions about a brand, as reflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory."1 Similarly, the brand image of a country reflects the connotations that come to mind instantly, when one thinks about a country.

Quantitative research, comprising an online survey with open-ended questions conducted in association with the University of Amsterdam, has shown that France, for example, has an average of 6.1 brand associations. At a minimum, the country will evoke images of the Eiffel Tower, wine, baguettes, Paris, cheese, romance, and fashion. This solid brand association drives tourists to visit "the city of love," motivates consumers to pay premium prices for Bordeaux or Brie de Meaux, and establishes Paris as the fashion capital of Europe. Without the need for any major promotional campaigns, France takes full advantage of its brand image.

Liberia, in comparison, evokes on average only 2.7 brand associations, and 22 percent of respondents had no association at all, leaving the space in which to write an answer blank or writing "no idea." One respondent wrote, "Sorry, [I've] got to admit absolute ignorance here, shocking." The main brand association, with a striking 50 percent of responses, was war, followed by Africa, poverty, and blood diamonds. A distant fifth was President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or references to her, such as "first female president," "Harvard PhD president," or "Nobel Peace Prize winner." Other notable brand associations were slaves, Charles Taylor, child soldiers, dictators, and corruption. This negative brand image deters tourism, trade, and investment, even though the West African country has been at peace for over a decade under the leadership of Johnson Sirleaf.

The brand associations could potentially differ per respondent group or geographical location, but the survey does illustrate that Liberia has, in general, a negative brand image made up of a small number of nonproductive brand associations. In other words, the brand image of Liberia is not a catalyst for tourism, trade, or foreign direct investment.

Brand Identity

Brand identity is defined as the aspired brand image or the brand associations that are desired by the citizens, the private sector, and the government. In Liberia, there is a strong discrepancy between the brand image the country upholds and the brand identity the people want to convey. How can Liberia lose its negative brand associations, and what should the country be known for instead? …

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