Sunday, October 8, 2017

Make ‘gastrodiplomacy’ part of nation branding says Rohantha; cites Thai cuisine as classic example

The Sri Lanka Food Processors Association which consists of members of the leading FMCG companies in Sri Lanka staged the annual general meeting at Kingsbury with the new president appointed being SMACK Chairman/Managing Director Sarath Alahakoon. 
Dr. Rohantha Athukorala
The outgoing Chairman Maliek De Alwis who is the Chief Executive Officer at MA’s Tropical Food Processing said the Food Processors Association has seven sub sectors of National Policy, Intra regional cooperation, Technology, Knowledge transfer and Marketing so that it can make impact to the industry and in turn the country. 

The keynote speaker Dr. Rohantha Athukorala the Group CEO/President of Coral, a former Chairman of Sri Lanka Export Development Board, Sri Lanka Tourism and Lanka Sathosa highlighted how the Association must take the responsibility to make Gastrodiplomacy a party of Nation Brand building which in turn will help the country boost the current Sri Lanka nation brand value of $ 83 billion. We have to make Sri Lanka cross $ 100 billion by end 2018, he said. 

Dr. Athukorala citing how Taiwan used gastrodiplomacy for nation branding quoted Nation Branding Info “Gastrodiplomacy is predicated on the notion that the easiest path to winning hearts and minds is found through stomachs.” [JB emphasis]

Given the technicality of the subject the speaker also quoted The Gastrodiplomacy Cook Book which highlighted how Gastrodiplomacy was a technique perfected by Thailand, which first used its kitchens and restaurants as outposts of cultural diplomacy. Given the growing popularity of Thai restaurants around the globe, in 2002, the government of Thailand implemented the “Global Thai program” as a means to increase the number of Thai restaurants. 

Dr. Athukorala went to explain as per the leading magazine “The Economist”, the Thai government identifying the boom in restaurants went to voice to the world “the delicious spicy Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it also help deepen relations with other countries”. This is a real life ‘best practice’ that Sri Lanka can emulate said the former Chief of Sri Lanka Tourism. We must take a queue on this and drive a Sri Lankan cuisine globally. May the SLFPA can partner Sri Lanka Tourism in the 20 fine odd exhibitions that Sri Lanka hosts a pavilion and drive the concept of Gastrodiplomacy. “We do practice this in a small way but it can be taken to the heights of Thai Cuisine he voiced. We must make the two million tourists who come to Sri Lanka and champion this idea and thereby make gastrodiplomacy to be part of nation brand building said Dr. Athukorala. 

The speaker highlighted that whilst there is so much of negative publicity in Sri Lanka and globally in the current corruption issues in Sri Lanka, research reveals that a country’s positive image has a positive correlation on inward investment, adding value to exports of a country and attracting quality tourists whilst having a positive impact on skilled migrants whilst also driving exports and FDI’s into the country. 

Dr. Athukorala on the other hand shared an insight nation brand policy expert and advisor to many governments globally; Simon Anholt advocates from his experience that manipulating the imagery with strong marketing techniques does not help build a strong nation brand. Reputation must be earned over time by the actions that governments implement and people inside the country emanate to the world, which is the exact problem in Sri Lanka but also an opportunity for the Food Processors Association can drive for Sri Lanka voiced Athukorala.

“Let’s get together and establish the distinction between culinary diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy. Whereas culinary diplomacy seeks to enhance formal diplomacy through the use of food to strengthen relationships and develop partnerships, gastrodiplomacy can be used as a tool of public diplomacy focusing on the communication of culture to foreign publics he voiced. It can therefore be used as a means to enhance a nation’s brand,” Athukorala added. 

The Chairman SLFPA Sarath Alahakoon said, “The thought shared by the speaker is so valid. We must not set up a sub-committee and link with tourism ministry and foreign ministry make this idea come to life.”

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