Nepali Times
Re-inventing Nepal TM


Think of Croatia. To the extent that people around the world thought of it at all (aside from the World Cup) they related the former Yugoslav province with the Balkan conflict. Croatia worked so aggressively to reinvent its image in the aftermath of conflict that Brand Croatia is today seen as a country with pristine beaches, quaint towns, and Europe's darling destination for FDI.

Most other country-brands, including ours are still in a mess. India is still heat and dust and snake charmers. Bangladesh is floods and ship graveyards. Sri Lanka is Tiger territory and Pakistan is Taliban.

Nepal has neither a positive nor a negative image. It has no image. It used to be hippies-trekking-Mt Everest. But then it became royal massacre and conflict. The two cancelled each other out and we are back to neutral. But this is the time we should be moving to cash in on an international reputation for people power and non-violently overthrowing dictatorship.

After years of its begging-bowl foreign policy, Nepal is well and reflexively branded to receive aid but poorly branded for anything else: as a tourism destination, trade and investment destination, gap-year destination, or destination of any sort. Nepal needs a new brand to stand out and distinguish us from others.

Some perceptions about Nepal are previously so ingrained and authoritative that they do not need to be pushed. So we should stop nattering about mountains for a while because the world knows "they're there". Re-inventing brand Nepal does not involve recycling identity from what has gone before or doing away with our heritage and tradition.

Peru, our Maoist-in-arms sister nation and war-ravaged just like us launched a concerted effort after the conflict to fine-tune its image. Its Machu Picchu and Inca trail today are swarming with corporate multinational staff on expensive confidence-boosting treks that foster teamwork. European charities sell Peru's organised treks too. Hey, didn't we invent trekking?

Nepal has a spring in its step. When we got our parliament back, there should have been a pop concert, a national food festival and a moonlight party in Tundikhel to celebrate our achievement. These should have been replicated at embassies abroad. There was so much goodwill to redeem for debt relief, the peace dividend or setting up the UN Peace Centre in Nepal.

We are still fretting over trickling in of budget backpackers this autumn. Nepal Tourism Board's vague slogan 'Naturally Nepal' should be discarded and a new, targeted campaign should be launched to attract double-income kid-less families and double-income pensioners from Europe and elsewhere who are awash with money.

And why are we aiming at lecherous Indian men? Why not target women with catchy campaigns to 'Dump Husbands, Indulge in Nepal' for spa weekends?

Nepal's embassies abroad should be at the forefront of any strategic branding offensive. Unfortunately, the post-democracy purge has left them all amabassdorless and staffed mostly by unmotivated and unproductive apparatchiks. We need the world's best-trained entrepreneurs to sell and promote brand Nepal.

The first people you meet on entering a country often mould your impressions. In Nepal, these people are scruffy and rude officials and taxi drivers on antique cars trying to rip you off every step of the way. Or is that part of the welcome ceremony?

If we want to cast off our government's dreary image, remake the political parties so they operate like enterprises. Our exceptionality is scattered everywhere and nowhere distinctly. We need to pull these all together under a unifying theme and a heavily promoted brand. Government should be at the frontline in any efforts to re-invent our identity and project them well. Corporate houses, academic institutions, media, and local communities can tag along under a pooled initiative.

The only alternative, doing nothing, would lead to people around the world continuing to stereotype the country and pigeonhole us all.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)