“What is happening in many countries – South Asia and in particular, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – is that there aren’t enough budgets or state financial support in the definition of the nation brand,” he said.
“It has been left to the private sector to do that job and I think particularly in the Maldives the private sector has done a wonderful job.”
That Keen singled out Maldives is not surprising. The nation’s very identity is defined by hospitality and its position as one of the world’s most sought-after and exclusive tourism destinations. It is in this context that hospitality brands have played a significant role in defining how the nation is perceived, often succeeding where government agencies have failed.
“Maldives is an incredible canvas for brands, because under the one island, one resort concept, each island is a fresh canvas. And each island is set apart from the island next door… It’s that distinction – the cumulative impact that all these elements have on each other – that forms that brand,” said Keen.
The situation in neighbouring Sri Lanka is not so different. As Sri Lanka Tourism struggles to get a long-awaited marketing campaign off the ground, innovators within the private sector have picked up the slack with a willingness to express the nation’s personality through innovative brands.
“Nation branding has to be defined by the people, by the infrastructure, by the technology,” said Keen. “It’s the people of the nation that defines its beauty, the culture, and the warmth … that’s the way a destination is defined.”