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CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Tourism campaigns featuring bikini-clad models and images of the outback as in the new epic movie "Australia" have helped Australia win the title of world's top country brand for the third consecutive year.
An annual country branding index designed to track travel trends and pinpoint opportunities for tourism had Canada rising to second place in the list of countries with the best brand reputations after coming sixth last year.
The United States slipped one place to be ranked third in the index compiled from a survey of 2,700 travelers from nine countries by brand consultancy FutureBrand and public relations firm Weber Shandwick.
Other countries to make the top 10 in the fourth annual Country Brand Index (CBI) were Italy, Switzerland, France, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and Sweden.
The index identified China, the United Arab Emirates and Croatia as the top three "rising stars" - those likely to become major tourist destinations in the next five years.
FutureBrand's senior executive director Rina Plapler said some countries were now taking on board the idea of brand but this was still a largely underdeveloped category with most countries not using marketing to differentiate themselves.
"Particularly in the coming years, country brands must improve both their strategic orientation as well as their delivery," she said in a statement, referring to tougher times ahead for the travel industry.
Australia has just launched a global tourism campaign pitching itself as a place to "find yourself" aligned with the outback movie "Australia" released this month starring Nicole Kidman, focusing on the beauty of the country's vast landscape.
Tourism numbers to Australia dropped 4.7 percent last year as the country relied on a failed campaign starring a bikini-clad model asking "where the bloody hell are you?"
Although Australia came top overall, when it came to the best branded countries for arts and culture the list was led by Italy, France and Egypt.
The best country brands for doing business were named as the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Italy.
When it came to nightlife the leaders in branding were Japan, Brazil and Spain, for fine dining the winners were Italy, France and Japan, and for shopping, it was hard to beat the United States, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.
But when it came to the country where travelers would most like to live in, Australia came first followed by New Zealand, Canada, and Switzerland.
The survey also identified various travel trends including women traveling more and without men, affluent retirees traveling with their grandchildren, and more people visiting places or species that are seen as endangered or in some form of time-related environmental risk.
The concept of religious sites and pilgrimages was also again becoming increasingly popular while many airlines have developed more flight options and services for the luxury travel market.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy