Nation Branding Beyond Tourism: Key Accelerator to a Country’s Uncommon Growth

Learn how countries can take a long-term and deliberate approach to bring success to nation brand building. 

Recently nation branding has been in the spotlight, with countries like Singapore and Saudi Arabia leveraging soft power to elevate their nation’s brand, with varying levels of success. 

Taylor Swift played six sold-out shows in Singapore as part of her Eras Tour. Not only is Singapore estimated to generate $370 million USD in revenue from the shows, it has successfully put itself on the world map, courtesy of videos of Swift’s backup dancer shouting out Singlish phrases on stage, and Swift’s boyfriend – NFL Super Bowl champion Travis Kelce – talking about Singapore’s sights and food on his podcast.  

Saudi Arabia hosted the much-anticipated boxing match between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou and will host another blockbuster between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk to crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 2000. Beyond boxing, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) caused shockwaves when it launched LIV Golf, a men’s professional golf tour to rival the well-established PGA Tour in 2022 and lured many of the best men’s golfers. These lucrative events are part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to realize Vision 2030, to be a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. 

Nation Branding Goes Beyond Tourism

Just like consumer goods, nations can be branded and marketed to audiences. Brands are a critical driver of growth. And nations, like any business, need to be constantly building, nurturing, and refining their brands, or risk losing relevance and competitiveness. 

What often comes to mind when it comes to a nation’s branding is its tourism campaigns. Think “Malaysia, Truly Asia”, “Amazing Thailand, Always Amazes You”, or Australia’s “Come and Say G’Day”. 

But nation branding goes beyond a tourism campaign or slogan. When done right, it is a long-term and holistic masterplan across key economic sectors, infrastructure, talent, education and culture. 

In an increasingly fractured and uncertain world where the flow of capital, talent and commerce is being re-cast, it has never been more important for nations to get their branding right and take control of how they are perceived by locals, tourists, investors and partners.

Take two countries in different regions demonstrating the success of a long-term and clear plan in their nation branding – Estonia and Singapore. 

Estonia: A Connected Society 

Since resuming independence in 1991, Estonia developed a clear ambition to be a digital society. Investing heavily in digital infrastructure, it has become the first e-State with the e-Estonia program, where 99% of public services are digitally managed and available online, ranging from taxes, parking, prescriptions, voting and more.  

To facilitate its status as a successful technological start-up hub, Estonia introduced a range of initiatives to attract skilled talent. It simplified the immigration processes for foreign talent hired (e.g. exemptions from immigration quota for non-EU nationals), offers startup and digital nomad visas, and offers services by Work in Estonia program (e.g. free international recruitment consultation over Skype) to ensure hiring and providing work for foreign talent is as simple as possible for businesses. 

As a result, Estonia ranks #1 in unicorns per capita in Europe, and Tallinn was named the most intelligent community in 2020

Singapore: An Innovation-Driven Economy Hub 

Singapore launched its “Passion Made Possible” brand in 2017, indicating a shift from being an investment-driven economy to one led by innovation. Through targeted investments, it has established itself as a leading regional hub in high-growth areas such as financial services, technology, digital and sustainability. To boost its pool of tech talent with a special focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is collaborating with other governmental partners including SkillsFuture Singapore and private sector associations such as SGTech and Singapore Computer Society, to help companies equip their employees with AI skills. IMDA also launched a $22.4 million USD fund in 2022 to support researchers in developing new innovative green computing solutions. 

As a regional hub of innovation, Singapore boasts 25 unicorns (the highest in the region) and accounts for 56% of total venture capital deal volume across the six largest Southeast Asian economies in 2022. 

A Nation’s Brand Must Be a Reflection of Its People’s Identity

While it is important to develop a long-term vision and master plan, a nation’s brand cannot be created in isolation. It must reflect the identity of its people, culture, heritage and history. 

In addition to its investment in high-growth areas such as technology and sustainability, Singapore has made sure that its brand reflects its culture and heritage. It launched the Made with Passion initiative in 2020 to give local lifestyle brands greater access to local and international audiences with innovative new experiences. These experiences, such as creating Peranakan-inspired coasters, are one method by which Singapore celebrates its rich multicultural heritage. Food is also key to Singapore’s brand. As an Indian newspaper described it, “If eating was a national sport, Singaporeans would ace it”. Singapore’s brand as a culinary destination is evident in both the prestigious cuisine (e.g. hosting two editions of Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards, boasting 55 restaurants with a Michelin star), and the local fare found in hawker centers. 

New Zealand is another example of nation branding that is true to its people and culture. Known for its unspoiled nature and greenery, cleanliness, high standards of living, and robust governance, New Zealand is a brand associated with trustworthiness, honesty, transparency, and passion for protecting its land. This guardianship of the land and its people reflects indigenous Māori culture and values. 

A Nation’s Brand Starts With a Purpose

As a first step, nations that are considering a re-brand need to define and clearly articulate their ambition. This serves as their North Star and guides their decision-making around what their core beliefs are, what benefits they wish to deliver to their people, and what key areas they want to focus on. 


While it can be difficult to develop a nation’s brand, taking a long-term and deliberate approach pays off. Nations need to follow a process, be targeted and deliberate in their investments for the brand to deliver meaningful impact to the nation and their people. We have already seen countries such as Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Estonia, and New Zealand reap the benefits of building a brand that is holistic, cohesive, long-term and true of its people, culture, and heritage. 

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