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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Barack Obama has done it again. The president's starpower has made the United States the place most people want to visit and do business with, according to an annual survey that ranks nations like retail brands.
The Country Brand Index, compiled by brand consultancy FutureBrand, found the United States had unseated Australia, which held the top spot for the past three years. Australia came in third this year with Canada rising to second place.
New Zealand and France rounded up the top five country brands in this year's index that included 102 countries.
"The Obama effect has seen the United States earn the coveted top spot for the first time in the fifth annual index," FutureBrand, which is part of Interpublic Group of Companies, said in a statement.
"The revitalization of Brand USA, and other factors, have resulted in the effect on Australia's ranking. It highlights the importance of keeping a country brand fresh, relevant and engaging in a highly competitive international marketplace," added Tim Riches, CEO FutureBrand Singapore.
The index is based on a survey of about 3,000 business and leisure travelers from nine countries.
In addition to branding countries, it also identifies global trends in travel and tourism, which the statement said was the world's fastest growing economic sector.
The United States was seen as the ideal place for business, one of the top places for families, shopping and quality products, as well as one of the countries people wanted to visit whether for the first time or again.
The FutureBrand survey echoes a similar poll which showed that the United States was the most admired country globally, largely thanks to Obama's global popularity [nL578086].
Looking ahead, the index identified the United Arab Emirates -- which includes the Gulf cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi -- China, and Vietnam as the top three nations likely to become major tourist destinations in the next five years.
Croatia, South Africa and India also made the list.
With the global economic crisis tightening purse-strings across the world, the survey showed that bargain-driven travel would remain a major trend, with consumers "thinking like financial analysts in choosing destinations and properties that are undervalued and booking trips that allow them to maintain the style they were accustomed to in boom times."
This year's index was conducted in conjunction with public relations firm Weber Shandwick.
"The days of countries marketing themselves with travel posters are over," said Rene A. Mack, president of Weber Shandwick's Travel & Lifestyle Practice.
2009 CBI Top Country Brands
1. United States
4. New Zealand
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith