Is brand Central Asia entering a new era?
Central Asia is a region of growing importance. The rest of the world may still perceive it as a dangerous region, with problems related to corruption and extremism, but nations of Central Asia are putting a lot of effort on changing their reputation.
Situated between north and south, east and west, there are five nation in the region: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and they are composed by a mix of identities, influenced by the russian, chinese, iranian and european cultures.
The region has a lot of contrast and it is facing some obstacles in order to change its reputation among foreign publics. There is an active civil society and well-educated elites, but there are also interethnic clashes and territorial disputes undermining nation branding efforts and the region still faces a bad reputation among foreign publics, mostly due to the “Problem of Borat recognition”, which may be described as the impact that the movie Borat had.
Nevertheless, these nations have been blessed with breathtaking landscapes and unique cultural heritage, making them the new touristic destinations for the next decade. It is important to state that tourism in the region is still very underdeveloped and these nations are just now giving their first steps in order to start is development.
For example, according to The Diplomat, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are expected to introduce a new visa, called “Silk Visa”, that enables foreigners with a visa from one country to visit both. This policie is part of what political leaders call the “Asian Schengen”, because it increases trust between governments and boosts tourism potential. This is a smart strategy, because for european tourists, the region is not geographically near, so they try to visit more than one country when travelling to te region. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have shown interest about joining the common visa project, and Kazakhstan is interested in extending the visa to Azerbaijan and Turkey.
The contribution of tourism to the combined GDP of Central Asia is almost €4 billion, accounting for aproximately 2% of GDP. And political leaders believe it will increase dramatically over the next decade.
Also, Central Asia nations have been trying to atract foreign investment. For example, Kazakhstan established the Astana Financial Centre, based on principles of English law, and created an independent financial court. It demonstrates a desire to be perceibed as a safe place for international investors. Kazakhstan is also trying to build an image based on well functioning political institutios and working as a mediator in international issues, such as the Astana Talks about the Syrian conflict.
Another instrument that Central Asia nations use to improve its reputation is the hosting of mega events, used to promote their brand over the world. This is the case of 2017 World Expo, World Kopkar Championships or World Nomad Games. These events are used to show the world how these countries are becoming more safe, where it is safe to travel and to invest.
What about the digital identity of Central Asia? Most nations from the region are trying to manage their digital identity by directly approaching foreign audiences, while branding themselves as attractive, credible, open-minded and peaceful.
Still, a lot needs to be done in order to change the reputation the region has and to be perceived as a safe place to visit, to invest and to live. There are unique characteristics that can be used in a common branding strategy.