Nowadays, we hear the so-called term of tourism-phobia, in which citizens strongly reject tourism through their actions, discouraging attitudes, violent demonstrations, among other negative behaviors. But what does this term exactly entail? What drives people to awaken their fears? Probably it is the fact that they feel millions of strangers have taken over their territories, or maybe they do not feel a strong connection with their territories in order to understand why people visit them. We can discuss endless reasons for this matter. However, what we cannot deny is that there is an apparent gap between citizens and governments, especially when it comes to feeling some kind of identity with the country’s brand. How can governments involve the people in their decision-making processes? How can these citizens be transformed into advocates and defenders of a country’s brand?

Firstly, what is a country’s brand? It is the development of a distinctive character of countries as brands themselves, specifically in a global market. The necessity of creating a strong identity with the purpose of making a country a more attractive place for its citizens who develop a sense of belonging and for foreigns who want to visit it, bring foreign capital, etc. A country’s brand encompasses a combination of the new and the old brand, history and tradition, affecting not only the external image of a nation but the internal one, which is how we view ourselves.

Governments should not forget that their main stakeholders are their citizens. Therefore, all actions should benefit their quality of life, well-being, and thus, create a strong and positive feeling of identity. However, it is easier said than done. In order to have an inclusive country’s brand strategy, in which not only foreign talent is welcomed, but also citizens play an important role, governments need to commit their means to engage citizens in their decision-making processes. By doing this way, they should indicate how much they care for their people, as well as understand what their specific needs and wants are to be able to have them as allies and develop strategies that capitalize on results. For instance, we have examples of countries such as Sweden that incorporated “The Swedish Number” campaign to answer questions from all around the world about why Sweden is a good country to invest, work, or visit. These activities involve citizens while they create a sense of belonging that could turn into a game changer for the nation. These crowdsourcing initiatives, such as making a “simple call” to a fixed number and being able to ask someone anything about their country, create tangible assets for both parties. These examples of involvement are signs of public engagement and, in the long term, they improve policymaking and result in great content among the population.

Furthermore, once established a system in which citizens have a voice, it is important to make the best out of this through feedback loops. Giving them the power and influence over practice is essential to create a cooperative relationship where you can create a dynamic relationship with them. It is not only about deciding how resources should be allocated, but also speaking up about what the community needs, what is working, what is not, etc. Therefore, feedback from society creates room-for-improvement, in which society can be taken seriously and feel empowered. Moreover, we need to keep in mind that when citizens are content, there is a favorable and welcoming environment for foreign people and tensions minimize, which strengthens the country’s brand. On one side, when a feedback loop is not taken into account we see the other side of the spectrum. For instance, during the World Cup and the Olympic Games in Brazil, the population was unhappy, because they did not have the chance of giving their opinion. This is why the citizens held various manifestations and protests throughout these events.

Having access to information is easier than it was ever before. Therefore, not only countries but also companies, institutions, associations, and any type of entity know the role that internet, social and traditional media play today. People can reach any of these tools to express their disagreements, complaints and thoughts about how the administration engages them into their branding strategy. It is fundamental to consider an emotional involvement to allow citizens express their experiences and by doing so, obtain better results. This can only be done by working from within, implementing a comprehensive and a solid citizen engagement strategy. The use of media and flow of information in the process of constructing a national brand results in a broader democratic movement.

Can the aforementioned practices minimize current issues such as the one of tourism-phobia? On one hand, in Spain, Italy, Croatia, among other countries, governments ensure an enriching experience for visitors. However, on the other hand, hosts and citizens feel their territories have been harmed and taken over by millions of tourists, which resulted in demonstrations throughout southern Europe against this matter. The lack of communication between parties (government and citizens), a feedback system, and protagonism of the citizens in the decision-making process are the reasons why this discontent exists. Finally, having in mind that information flow is transparent in today’s world is important to understand that citizens count with the right platforms to express their contents, disagreements and aspirations that involve the image and reputation of a specific nation. These aspects will become tangible benefits for many industries from the business world to tourism, and make a difference in a country’s brand.

*Summary of the special report written by Juan Arteaga, Managing Director at LLORENTE & CUENCA Mexico and Anel Hernández Manager at LLORENTE & CUENCA Mexico, published in Developing Ideas .