Branding Vital for Development

Branding Vital for DevelopmentBranding Vital for Development

Successful promotion of a destination requires a strong, recognized and consistent brand and image; a concept which is woefully neglected in Iran.

Top holiday destinations are all known for something; France is known for its history and culture; Italy for its pristine beaches and unspoiled countryside; and England for its medieval castles and being one of the longest-lasting monarchies in the world.

But what about Iran? Colorful beaches, dense forests, vast deserts, ancient history, rich traditions, immensely different climates depending on the province, the list is long and goes on!

And that is the problem, according to Muhammad Rahim Esfidani, an associate professor at the Tehran University’s Faculty of Management.

“A brand is sort of identity, a type of label that lets travelers know what they can or should expect when visiting a new destination,” he was quoted as saying by travel news website Donyaye Safar.

To have a strong brand, it is imperative to know what is being promoted. “You can’t be good at everything. No country can ever claim to be a top pot for everything it has to offer, so we need to focus on one thing and build our identity around that.”

The academic said proper destination branding is an unknown concept in Iran, which is why the country is so poorly promoted.

“We risk creating a multifaceted, superficial identity for our country, which is of no interest to anyone.

“Iran will indeed form a unique identity as time goes by, but chances are it’s not going to be the identity we want. So, we need to move on and take control of the situation to put out the image we want,” Esfidani said.

Knowing the target market is just as important as knowing what to promote, he noted.

“We need to decide what type of traveler we want to attract — do we want to be marketed as an affordable destination, or do we want to draw high-spenders?” he asked.

  Halal Brand

Halal tourism has been gaining currency worldwide in recent years, with Turkey and Malaysia drawing increasingly large numbers of Muslim travelers every year.

A Muslim majority country and home to shrines of prominent Islamic figures, Iran is vying for Muslim tourists and efforts are underway to turn the country into a top halal tourism destination. But there are disagreements among professionals regarding the promotion of the halal brand.

Some, including Esmaeil Qaderi, a tourism expert and a faculty member at Allameh Tabatabaei University, say that because Iran is a Muslim country the governing laws automatically adhere to the Sharia law, meaning all services in the country are halal.

“The laws in Turkey and Malaysia are vastly different from Iran. They need to have halal tourism to attract Muslim tourists,” he said in June. “Foreign tourists are intelligent and knowledgeable enough to know that Iranian tourism is entirely halal.”

He warned against promoting halal tourism, saying foreigners might be misled into believing there is also such a thing as “haram tourism” in Iran.

In Islamic jurisprudence, haram is used to refer to any product or act that is prohibited and does not comply with Islamic laws.

However, Esfidani disagrees. “A brand is a seal of approval. Just because we’re a Muslim country we can’t expect foreigners to expect every service to be halal.”

The halal brand, if granted by an independent, international body, will put all doubts to rest, according to Abdolhossein Fakhari, the secretary-general of Halal World Institute.

“When people see countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia use the halal brand, they might wonder why Iran doesn’t,” he said. “Last year, President (Hassan) Rouhani emphasized that Iran has to become a major halal destination, so things need to change to make that happen.”

He noted that when there are prayer rooms in hotels that do not indicate the direction of the qiblah for prayers, it means a lot of work needs to be done.

Qiblah is the direction of the Kaaba (the sacred building at Mecca), to which Muslims turn to pray.

Fakhari questioned claims that all services in Iran are halal, citing numerous complaints claiming hotels and the food industry have broken the law.

“Experience shows that Muslim tourists prefer to visit countries that use the halal brand,” he said. “So why shouldn’t we use it?”

The Muslim travel market is now widely recognized as a key growth tourism sector projected to be worth $200 billion by 2020.