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Revamping the Rock

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Andrew Stevens writes for Placesbrands with this in-depth report on Brand Gibraltar, examining the Rock’s approach to tourism, inward investment, and everything in between.

“You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain” – ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, The Beatles

Here are Gibraltar’s key brand assets:
• High growth economy – 10% per annum
• Strategic location – access to EU and Africa
• Strong heritage and culture offer for visitors
• Government focus on four pillars: finance, shipping, tourism and e-gaming
• Links with UK – legal system and regulatory regimes

As well as the on-going dispute with Spain over its sovereignty, with some hard to shift perceptions of it being both a colonial relic and tax haven, Gibraltar’s leaders are well aware of the task the territory faces in promoting its brand externally.

The Government works at different levels to counter these perceptions (often including paid advertorials in the UK press) and also develop tourism and inward investment growth. It consistently describes itself as a reliable and safe place to do business, visit and work, and one which pays its own way rather than relying on any subsidies from the UK (running a budget surplus of £65m in 2014).

Gibraltar has used reforms of corporate taxation as actions aimed at securing what it has referred to as a “decade-long reputational shift from a tax haven to an internationally tax-compliant, small onshore EU finance centre.” This now sees a “low tax, not no tax” offer, with a new corporate rate of 10% introduced in 2011.

Part of the thinking here is that being selective about the quality of business sought generates security and reputational worth. As one business leader put it: “We’re not about mass business. Gibraltar is about actually adding value and bringing quality business in.”

Ministers are also keen to play up Gibraltar’s status as part of the European Union and the regulatory compliance and market access the jurisdiction offers, which was readily apparent in discussions with the Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Garcia during my recent visit.

Gibraltar’s financial services minister Gilbert Licudi has said: “Our reputation, robust regulation, access to the single European market, low – not zero – tax and attractive lifestyle are a powerful combination to bring new business to Gibraltar.”

Having tied this reputational shift to a package of political and regulatory reforms since taking office in 2011, the government is acutely aware of the need to communicate its offer globally while respecting the delicate balance of doing so in step with the UK (which retains responsibility for foreign affairs), but at the same time advancing its own distinct brand values and identity as set out by its elected government (the current Chief Minister Fabian Picardo routinely describes it as “British Gibraltar”).

It has identified not only the all-important BRICS markets (especially Hong Kong) as natural targets but also other territories closer to home, both physically and linguistically through a focus on relations with the Commonwealth and the US. The government is active in the political structures of the Commonwealth of Nations, such as the Commonwealth Ministers’ Forum and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (as well as participating in the Commonwealth Games).

In the U.S. the government has appointed a long term resident of New York as its official representative, while even Miss Gibraltar has been enlisted to front the marketing of the territory at a number of international trade events.

The government also envisages the establishment of an international legal studies centre in Gibraltar, which can play a global role in analysing and informing decolonisation debates in international forums, not only contributing to global dialogue and stability but also furthering its own ambitions for self-determination.

The volume of shipping through the Straits of Gibraltar, 71,000 vessels each year, has seen its port develop niche industries aimed at servicing the needs of not only ships needing EU-compliant heavy fuel but also repairs, crew change facilities and hull cleaning. It can also offer owners a British common law legal system, which makes it attracting for registering ships. As one leading financier put it, Gibraltar offers “an Anglo-Saxon working environment and a Latin lifestyle.”

Case study: Toyota Gibraltar
Toyota Gibraltar Stockholdings (TGS) has grown from humble origins as the family-run Bassadone Motors car dealership (set up in 1927) into a global hub for the delivery and specialist servicing of Toyota’s humanitarian relief vehicles.

Acting as official supplier to the UN, UNICEF, WHO, JICA and several global NGOs active in humanitarian and relief efforts, the company uses its base on Gibraltar to dispatch and service the familiar white vehicles to wherever they are needed around the world, as well as offering specialist training to enable drivers to maintain and protect their vehicles in the field.

The company employs staff of 12 nationalities to enable it to be understood and trusted in these markets, with 600 vehicles (Land Cruiser, Hilux, Hiace and Prado models) in stock at any time available for deployment at short notice – in the 2014 Ebola crisis 32 Hiluxes were shipped from the port of Gibraltar via the Royal Navy to Sierra Leone.

Turnarounds from orders within 24 hours are possible, such as rapid deployment of two modified vehicles to the Nepal earthquake via Madrid Airport (ordered at 10.30 and airborne by 23.30).

These workshops can modify Toyota vehicles to serve a number of different humanitarian roles, for instance ambulances or mortuary vans (which are resprayed from white to black).

Having grown the business since Toyota’s decision to divest itself of direct sales of humanitarian vehicles in the 1980s, TGS consider that Gibraltar’s strategic location adjacent to Africa and the Mediterranean, but with access to Spain’s airports, is a core reason for its leading position in this specialist market.

E-gaming is another rapidly growing sector, now responsible for 20% of its GDP since its emergence 20 years ago following leading British companies such as BetVictor moving their operations from the UK to the territory (now the second largest employer after the government and the sector as a whole employs 13% of workers, many commuting from Spain).

“In Asia now, it’s seen as a mark of approval that you operate out of Gibraltar. We are well-regulated and people recognise that fact,” said BetVictor chairman Victor Chandler.

As well as Gibraltar’s security in regulatory vigilance (against scams and rogue companies) and data networks, the territory has a global competitive advantage for its resident industry expertise and spin-off businesses in secure payments processing and intellectual property (which is tax-free on royalties), which has since spawned a new start-up tech sector growing in size.

Ultimately it isn’t bankers, seafarers or gamblers who will generate the word of mouth necessary for Gibraltar to acquire a more brand awareness in the minds of the global public, but visitors to the Rock.

Here the authorities are seeking to refresh the offer a little to increase volume by reaching out to new global markets, not least on account of the centrality of websites in reaching and informing audiences.

The government also eyes new air links to more parts of the UK as being integral in driving up visitor numbers to promote it as an accessible destination, especially against fierce European competition.

Congestion and movement of visitors is an issue for a territory so closely hemmed in (2.5 miles by one mile at the widest point), with the government looking to invest more in enabling visitors to access all the territory has to offer.

Rather than just wartime tunnels and the famous ape colony, Gibraltar’s tourism minister Neil Costa was set the brief to revamp the brand when he was elected as part of the new reform-minded government.

He says that widening the number of annual events, such as the new jazz and literary festivals, will enable it to sharpen the visitor offer, while cruise calls and day visits are also on an upward trend.

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References:

The Guardian: Gibraltar – The Report

Andrew Stevens is Chief Researcher of the London office for the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, which recently visited Gibraltar to study the economic and political affairs of the territory.

www.jlgc.org.uk/en
@jlgclondon

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