If you want to learn about a place’s history, its challenges and ambitions, asking a journalist or advisor is almost always a good idea, since both are “observers” by profession. If someone is both a journalist and a consultant, like Ernesto Melgar, then you are in especially good hands. My meeting with Ernesto during my stay in Lima for TPBO on TOUR Peru was (too) short, but during this hour I learned more about Peru than I would have in a month on my own.
In this follow up interview Ernesto tells the story of a nation which – through smart country branding – has regained its self-esteem and is now a confident actor on the global stage, in addition to benefiting from strong economic development.
Ernesto, Peru has become quite well known internationally as a destination for foodies and nature lovers. As publisher, advisor and journalist, how have your own perceptions of the country changed over time?
My perceptions about our country have changed very much during the last decade. In Peru we have recovered our self-esteem and pride, after a long period of terrorism, corruption and a complicated economy. Those issues kept Peruvians in a chronic state of depression. Also, the positive results in sports were fundamental for those changes.
The overall improvement of the economy and the strategies adopted by the Government through Promperú and the private sector since the beginning of this century were fundamental to change the image of the country; both within the local population and abroad.
It was very important to start this new strategy of country branding at the local level. Our country brand, “Marca Perú”, was developed based on areas such as the gastronomy and a more specialized tourism experience.
Historically, Peru has been known as one of the great cradles of civilization and, based on this new strategy, the self-esteem of the Peruvians was strengthened, in addition to a more visible position internationally. This, together with the economic recovery maintained during the last two decades that positioned Peru as a referent of growth in the region, was fundamental for those gains in self-esteem.
At the same time, economic improvement was accompanied by a climate of internal wellbeing, a substantial reduction of poverty, and an adequate reinsertion in the international community.
In the length of a tweet – what does Peru stand for today?
Peru is an amazing country, with a millenary culture, privileged and diverse geography, friendly people, and a wide variety of natural resources that provide one of the best touristic and gastronomical offers currently available.
And what would you like it to be known for, in 10 years from now?
I’d like it to be known for its integral development. Growth is not the same as development. Peru has substantially grown in economic terms, but not in education. That gap is one of the greater challenges to be closed within the next decade. In 2021 we will be celebrating the bi-centennial of our country’s independence, and we are expecting positive results by then.
There are very important efforts undertaken now to accomplish an agenda of great national objectives towards 2021. Many of them are related to basic needs, such as health care, education, sustainable housing, technology and connectivity for everybody.
When people think about Peru, we want them to no longer associate it with poverty, chaos and informality.
Over the last years you have been involved with several publications focused on the creative industries in Peru, especially marketing and branding. What do the country’s creative elites think about Brand Peru? Do they consider it successful, in terms of its economic and social impact?
“Marca Perú” is a turning point within the development of our country. It makea tangible and shows the efforts of different sectors and communities in an articulate and coherent way.
Marca Peru conveys the discovery of new and unique territories that made possible the strengthening of a national conscience that had been in a continuous decline. The gastronomic boom made the way for the launching of an industry that was scarcely developed in our country. Many restaurants, bars, cafes, fairs and new schools of gastronomy – even university programs – have been opening continuously.
Two highly cherished brands by Peruvians are “Marca Perú” and “Mistura”. The second one is a mega-gastronomical fair that is held every year in Lima; it is a platform that exhibits the best of the national culinary offer and is attended by more than a million people.
From a tourism industry point of view, we have seen a strong growth in the discovery and promotion of new destinations, supported by the improvement of infrastructure of the roads, hotels, lodges and services that until then were insufficient, precarious or not existing. This strategy of improving the touristic offer has been key for attracting a new type of foreign tourists who are interested in archeological sites, attractive landscapes, adventure sports, ecotourism, gastronomic tourism and experiential tourism.
Which would you consider the main challenges right now, which could possibly hinder Peru from further nurturing and maintaining its strong brand and reputation?
Like most of the countries in our region, Peru has been shaken by highly publicized corruption scandals. This situation has a great impact on the reputation of our country, particularly since we are a relatively new destination.
The complexity of our geography and the flourishing black market (the informal economy accounts for nearly 70% of economic activity in Peru) could be serious obstacles for the consolidation of diverse aspects and areas of the country.
The process of formalization and regulation of many of the activities already mentioned is also hindered by political factors. But the Government is working to reduce that impact, in order to reach the objective to attract more tourists to the many cities of Peru.
Which are the opportunities yet to be seized?
Peru is a multicultural country. The geography of its territory involves coastal lands, high mountains sierra and amazon plains. Consequently, in those areas coexist multiple communities of diverse ethnic origins and lifestyles.
From a historic and archeological point of view, Peru is an exciting destination because of the innumerable amount of attractive experiences on offer. On top of that, the weather conditions are also very distinct in many of those areas where you can choose and enjoy nice sunny beaches, high snow-covered mountains, or tropical forest with exotic vegetation and wildlife in protected national reserves.
Furthermore, our country is located in a geographically strategic point within the region that could be turned into an ideal business hub. Presently, there are important projects for new airports and to improve some of the existing ones, in order to be able to handle more visitors.
Lima is the only capital city in South America located on the shores of the ocean, which is a unique situation and additionally attractive – not only for the visitors, but also as opportunity for maritime traffic and other support activities.
To your mind, why has Brand Peru been able to become so successful, where so many other country branding initiatives fail?
I believe that one of the competitive advantages of Peru is that we are very rich in natural resources, which makes possible the sustainability of our offer. That offer is genuine, native, not acquired from other countries, and not artificially produced.
And: there is strong support from the community, because we are all keen to see the approval level of our visitors and trade partners improve.
Peruvians keep building their identity based on the feedback obtained from the rest of the world. In only a few decades we have turned from a lost country located in a remote place in South America to a country considered a referent within this region.
Which would you say are Peru’s unique strengths, able to attract visitors, investors and talent: what sets it apart from – for example – Chile, Costa Rica or New Zealand?
Creativity is what drives the strategy for attracting visitors. Peru is a very creative country, and that asset is expressed in multiple dimensions. Lack of economic resources has forced many Peruvians to use their creativity and imagination. And this is something you could observe everywhere – in every town and city.
On the other hand, the abundance of natural resources, the fertility of the soils, the native animal species and wildlife make Peru a unique country and destination.
The takeoff of our country started no more than fifteen years ago. So, you can still find a lot of business opportunities.
Local people are very friendly, hard working, eager to learn and to improve their skills. This is fundamental, not only in their role as country brand ambassadors and hosts of visitors from around the world, but also as asset for attracting investment that requires talent and workforce.
Our deficient infrastructure in Peru in some places is compensated by the great hospitality and desire to provide the best service we can offer. This attitude is what we call “calor humano” (human warmth). An attitude that, without any doubt, makes us a different kind of people.
Which countries do Peruvians tend to look up to, admire?
We like the kind of public respect for regulations and order that we can see in Chile, the festive mood of the people in Brazil, the level of development in the United States, the discipline in Japan and the quality of soccer played in Europe. We also admire those countries that were the protagonists of the “Asian miracle”, perhaps hoping that a similar process could happen here.
Rather than admiring what is happening abroad, today many Peruvians are proud of what we are accomplishing here, and ready to help looking for ways to let more people to know about our achievements. This is a very special stage in the development of our national identity.
Briefly, can you tell us about some of the main lessons you’ve learned so far, in connection with your work as journalist and advisor?
Today brands must take into account new dimensions in the construction of their positioning and reputation. People now demand a greater level of commitment and a firm position, in line with the most relevant aspects for the community.
The purpose of the brand, what it stands for, is probably one of the main drivers that consumers consider the most in their election of a product or service. That decision is not only based on functional aspects.
Nowadays it is important for consumer brands to demonstrate commitment to protecting the environment, inclusiveness, transparency, honesty and being a good corporate citizen. The same will happen more and more with country brands.
A country involved in many corruption scandals, with claims about child exploitation, indifference to contamination, illegal mining, involved in espionage networks, with abusive policies against immigration, etc. will be less and less attractive, in spite of its tourism offer.
Just like corporate brands, countries must review their policies and their external image, in such a way that those do not discourage potential investors. And they need to engage stronger with those who share the same values and concerns. Not understanding this could lead to missing out on potential visitors and important income through investments.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Changes in Peru are moving ahead very fast, but not as fast as we would like. Anyway, there is no doubt that the new generations are living in an environment that older generations were never able to see: two decades of sustained growth, of economic and social development, and optimism – at last.
Globalization has put us on the map. Many big decisions are taken far away from here. That gives us hope, especially in times of political turmoil. We are getting used to the feeling that everything is going to be fine. As a nation, we have plans and we are looking positively into the future. Moving ahead without loosing time. That is what we are doing.
Thank you, Ernesto.
Our interview with Ernesto Melgar is part of a special series for our Peru Country Report, in collaboration with PromPerú.
More about Peru here