Wednesday, August 15, 2007

branding Kyrgyzstan

Registan flagged this one for me: the conversation about whether or how the nation of Kyrgyzstan might brand itself to stimulate foreign investment.

There seems to be some debate about whether you can market 'nothing' as something worth investing in. Obvious answers might seem to be that in a virtual world of legislation and tax-havens, one can create a financially attractive place relatively easily. That is the core premise in Neal Stephenson's compelling novel, Cryptonomicon, after all. And, as mentioned here, one that Turkmenistan seems to be headed down the path to with the new resort town of Turkmenbashi.

"“One of the main objectives behind establishing a national brand has to be advertising Kyrgyzstan as a tourist destination,” said Turusbek Mamashov, the director of the State Agency for Developing Tourism.

However, political analyst Marat Kazabaev, doubts that even the cleverest branding will make much of a difference to Kyrgyzstan’s economy, given that there are no strong, competitive industries on which to base it."

Kyrgyzstan has the benefit of a) being relatively unknown and therefore not subject to some of b) the ridicule, well-earned and not, that has been bestowed upon Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan or c) the autocratic ultra-kitsch that those same two nations have created for themselves (e.g. the giant gherkin in the sea or the ginormous tent in the political phantasia that is Astana). [Postscript: Bonnie Boyd has some other lovely examples of Astana-Disney here.]

While no-one would ever accuse the Mongolian government of moving fast, there is some evidence that one can market 'nothing' relatively successfully in the name of ecotourism. Bavuu Zorigt's essay in Linking Green Productivity to Ecotourism sketches some of the challenges to ecotourism in the Land of the Blue Sky. Arguably, while articles like this assert the strength of the ecotourism industry in Mongolia, arguably the biggest challenges to branding 'nothing' (and to blogospherics) is the lack of reliable internet infrastructure (and therefore internet information and resources).

Having said that, I have seen both the billboards for ecotourism companies just outside the packed dirt airstrip and the mammoth cell-phone antenna in Bayan-Olgii. Everything is possible.

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