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Repositioning Greece: a nation branding approach

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Greece’s competitive positioning should be rooted in both leisure destination as well as an environment full of opportunities inspired by its resident’s lifestyle, boosting business environment and merging the country as a top investment destination.

Tourism has grown into one of the world’s largest industries. In 2018, contribution of travel and tourism to GDP (% of GDP) for Greece was 20.6 %. Even though Greece’s’ contribution of travel and tourism to GDP (% of GDP) fluctuated significantly in recent years, it tended to raise through 1999 - 2018 period ending at 20.6 % in 2018 (knoema.com). Established destinations worldwide that may have initially experienced a heavy growth in tourism may now be facing the prospect of decline. Reasons for decline are plenty from economic crisis to natural catastrophes and pandemics. Empirical evidence showed that at the time of the crisis, a nation's emphasis on a large service sector became a disadvantage (Shostya 2014). Countries that derived a considerable portion of their GDP from tourism (like Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and the Baltic Countries) were affected by a decrease in both domestic and foreign demand (Steiner et al. 2012). In addition, some studies indicated that countries that had more developed financial sectors were affected by the financial crisis via traditional transmission mechanisms.
 
More than any other time the progress of people, capital and ideas is more fluid, ultimately a well-built and innovative place brand is more important than ever. Tourism is highly vulnerable to internal and external shocks as diverse as economic downturns, natural disasters, epidemic diseases, terror attacks and political conflicts. Hence, repositioning Greece is more than ever a proposal that needs to be taken under serious consideration. But what is destination branding at first? Destination brand is the first mental picture that comes to mind when you hear the name of a tourist destination. Countries aspire to have one or numerous (for instance, regional) destination brands, because they are attractive, become popular over time and bring a confidence that unbranded destinations do not. The characteristics of a destination brand are the attributes, the feelings that you have towards a destination. Through branding, a destination can earn a brand, which will function as a shortcut for several exciting sensations and comfortable ideas to the “tourist’s mind”. If the branding is very powerful, these sensations are the same for a great number of people in all continents.

As international connectedness continues to increase, we observe continue grow of travel and tourism competitiveness (Christoph Wolff, head of mobility at World Economic Forum). Obviously, increased tourism brings great advantages to many economies but all these must be managed properly by policymakers, practitioners and businesses for a sustainable future.”Greece is ranked 25th among 140 countries” in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2019 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness index (gtp.gr). So, it is plain logic that the nations’ branding strategy will be focused on tourism (since tourism accounts 20.6% of Greece’s GDP). However, it is extremely harsh to create and maintain a dominant nation brand while the basic product that Greece has is an intangible product like tourism (mainly based on the services and superior infrastructure). Greece competiveness already faces severe problems the last years not only due to its structural features and inherent weaknesses but also due to strong international competition. With this in mind contemporary trends, competitive conditions and unpredictable forces require, on the one hand, a renewal and differentiation of the Greek tourist product and, on the other hand, a repositioning of the destination in the international market and a specialized targeting of the promotion actions. Consequently, attracting direct foreign investors and other business initiatives should become part of the country's recovery picture. Also let’s not forget the Greek shipping industry. The shipping industry is by far one the most important entrepreneurial sector of the Greek economy. Greek shipping community continues to be confident about the role of Greece as maritime center in the upcoming years. Its strongly believes that its enhancement would strengthen their business and ultimately Greece’s’ competitive advantage in international maritime center. The Greek Shipping industry can become another good basis of repositioning Greece as a global maritime capital.

A very important ingredient of Greece’s destination brand is the landscapes and the weather. Greece’s sun is also a relevant asset in Greece’s touristic brand as well as Greece’s history. As a matter of fact these assets are not really earned, but inherited. So when you take these assets off, Greece does not perform very well. Guess why! The GNTO has never followed a consistent and timely strategy to establish a serious, and I dare to say, varied destination brand for Greece. In order for a brand to be established certain things are essential such as repetition, consistency and persistence during a large period of time, and clearly GNTO has never been in that direction. Just about every year the ads, the claims, the images and the logos are changed. In essence, they change every year the message of what Greece stands for. If you think about it there is no destination branding; there is only “Advertising”. But advertising has an inherent drawback; it is in reality less credible than other tools. In essence, advertising is ‘you’ saying that you are the best. What if you went to your friends and say that you’re the best doctor or lawyer of the world? Is it credible? No; it becomes more credible if it is other persons the ones say that you are the best lawyer/doctor of the world. Obviously advertising has its role in brand-building, which is communicating in a persuasive way a message, but you can’t pretend to change the image, that is, the brand of a country with advertising alone. When the strategy is focused only in narrow marketing tactics then it will be difficult to influence long term vision. Undoubtedly, Greece has a brand, but can you guess why? It is because the brand was built by foreigners with their experiences in Greece throughout the years, not because the GNTO has tried to establish one. Greece is not only sun, sea and ancient history.

The famous ‘tourism industry’ has resulted in overconfidence in generating growth in the local economy along the years in Greece. Yet, the cyclical nature of such industry along with unpredictable causes (i.e.  Natural catastrophes, pandemics, etc) will at some point leave the country vulnerable. It is a fact that tourism market is for ages one of the main engines of its economic strength. But isn’t the time for a radical change at a time of crisis? Any crisis requires an “aggressive attack” not sadness and whining. Greece is a country full of opportunities inspired by its resident’s lifestyle aiming to advance innovation and entrepreneurial culture without of course losing its destination branding among tourism and generally hospitality stakeholders. Greece can also be a place of opportunity, where lifestyle and certainly natural environment can be extremely attractive to new markets, investments, etc. It can be a host of extraordinary events and cultural endeavors. It can be home to many aspiring foreign entrepreneurs who are working on promising new ideas and innovative business models. Indeed Greece can be a favorable market for investment. It is situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa and surrounded by major markets, it is part of the European Union and has Several Start-Up Support organizations (incubators, accelerators and co working spaces) as well as it has a highly educated talent pool and excellent living conditions (enterprisegreece.gov). Repositioning Greece includes the expansion of business and industry sectors centered on not only losing of course the traditional strengths of its economy, such as tourism and hospitality services, but also enhance the growth of the capacity of new emerging industries. Hence, Greece needs to increase investor confidence, enlarge the supply of qualified employment, diversify the economy and raise productivity levels. Noticeably, Greece global competitive index is found on the 91st position. The reason why Greece is unable to show a high competitiveness index is not only the prolonged "crisis" but also factors such as bad access to finance, inefficient tax framework, bureaucracy, insufficient ability to innovate, inadequate infrastructure, dreadful tax regulations, poor work ethic in the national workforce, etc. Greece is a country that, by taking advantage of its strengths, can look to the future by aiming at increasing productivity and investing in the private sector with continuous efforts for reforms aimed at improving productivity.

Greece’s competitive positioning should be rooted in both leisure destination as well as an environment full of opportunities inspired by its resident’s lifestyle, boosting business environment and merging the country as a top investment destination. The aim must be to create a country recognized worldwide (especially in the nontraditional international markets) for its unique lifestyle, talented people, innovation and entrepreneurial culture but certainly without losing its destination branding features within tourism and hospitality markets. Greece, can take advantage of its rich culture (philosophy, language, athletics, etc) to improve its international image and cultivate cooperative relations even with countries that has no direct interests. Additionally, it can improve the percentage of the secondary sector as it is relatively low compared to the country's potential, a fact that leaves significant investment margins. In the processing branches; chemicals, food & beverages, machinery and metal products are included. The concentration of business activity in the above sectors favors both the establishment of new businesses in Greece and the investment cooperation of foreign companies with Greek companies.

For sure repositioning a destination is not an easy process. Promotional campaigns can be utilized to effectively reposition their respective destination but the process destinations need to go through to be successfully repositioned is unclear and indeed the factors associated with repositioning are not fully developed. However, a well developed conceptual framework can be a useful tool for repositioning tourism destinations. Brand building process is a long term process that demands commitment, hard work and above all innovative mind sets. I hate to admit that GNTO has never managed to do that.
 
Countries must be managed and operated as products in order to meet any upcoming challenges. In an increasingly globalized world with fierce competition, it is clear how much of a challenge it is for a nation / country to differentiate and stand out in order to attract domestic and foreign consumers, investors, tourists, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to create a strong and differentiated nation brand.

At the time of writing we are in the midst of global recession brought about by a pandemic. This is inevitably going to have a negative impact in tourism as well. Efforts must be focused on reinforcing nation/country as being not only a unique place to visit but also as a place of quality to invest, work, live and buy from.

In fact, what characterizes nation branding is its ability to emphasize in the most efficient and intelligent way the element that makes the difference in the country’s identity, giving it the lead it needs against its competitors. We hope and foresee a possible branded coordinated program/strategy lying on the statement; “Rediscover Greece- be infused by its lifestyle and motivated by its opportunities”. A “nation branding strategy” that can bring positive results and fulfill in the best way the country’s plans; reinforcing its economic development and strengthen its international profile. 

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