Imagine you’ve just spent the day shopping on Oxford High Street. You take a black cab to Mayfair for afternoon tea at Claridge’s. You have tickets to a show at the West End later that evening, but you stop by for a pint of beer at one of the many pubs named after William Shakespeare. The air is just a bit damp from the rain, and the smell of fish and chips wafts through the air.
You don’t need to have visited London to know which city I was describing. The city’s destination brand is universally strong and recognisable.
What is destination branding, and why is it vital to the economic growth of a place?
According to Tom Buncle, former Chief Executive of Visit Scotland and current Managing Director of an international tourism consultancy:
“Destination branding is about identifying the destination’s strongest and most competitively appealing assets in the eyes of its prospective visitors, building a story from these that makes the destination stand out above its competitors, and running this narrative consistently through all marketing communications.”
In other words, a destination brand cannot be created. It is up to tourist boards and destination marketing organisations to identify their destination’s best assets in order to invoke certain feelings, values, cultures, and the overall mindset that people experience when visiting a place.
It also means that people in the destination play a part in contributing to the tourism brand values, experience, reputation, and mindset. Particularly, those in the front-line service industry, which is why the tourism industry is so vital to the economy. It creates customer loyalty and trust, rendering travellers an everlasting impression that could make or break a brand, and in turn, it provides jobs to the workforce.
In the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) annual report on the economic and employment impact of Travel & Tourism for 2019, the sector experienced 3.5% growth, higher than the global economy growth (which reported 2.5% growth) for the ninth consecutive year. Other topline results include:
- US$8.9 trillion contribution to the world’s GDP (US$2.0 trillion in Europe)
- 10.3% of global GDP (9.1% in Europe)
- 330 million jobs, 1 in 10 jobs around the world
- 1 in 4 jobs created by the sector over the past five years
- US$1.7 trillion visitors exports (6.8% of total exports, 28.3% of global services exports)
- US$948 billion capital investment (4.3% of total investment)
If place branding is so important, how do destinations successfully market their brand to make an everlasting impact?
To tackle this question, we will explore some examples of brands that have successfully marketed their destinations and differentiated themselves in this highly competitive industry.
Inspired by Iceland
After the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökul volcano in 2010, Iceland’s reputation as a tourism destination plummeted. Unfortunately, the news of this devastating event was so widespread that the economy was not expected to recover without intervention.
To encourage visitors to consider Iceland as a viable tourism destination, the Icelandic government, along with partners and stakeholders in the travel industry, launched the “Inspired by Iceland” brand. The idea involved a rebrand and an engaging campaign to remind travellers that this beautiful destination was still worth visiting.
One of the first campaigns to be released soon after the eruption was Iceland Hour. The campaign leveraged Iceland’s best assets, including local residents and celebrities, to help raise awareness and share stories of positivity. Stories erupted on social media (no pun intended) leading to a reported 22 million testimonials within 10 weeks of launching and has allowed the country to emerge from devastation to triumph.
The result was so successful that they saw an ROI of 61:1 with a renewed interest in the country as a desired tourism destination.
Now with the pandemic, the brand continues to use various ways of communicating their best assets through humour, positivity and personality with the Joyscroll campaign and LooksLikeYouNeedIceland campaign hashtag so that when travelling can be safe and normalised again, Iceland would be top of mind for travellers.
When destination marketing organisations and tourist boards are planning their brand strategy, it’s important to look within their offerings and to be consistent with their core values.
The Love Great Britain campaign focused on culture, heritage, sport, music, nature, food, and shopping. It even partnered with the James Bond movie Skyfall for cross-promotion calling it ‘“Bond is Great Britain” leveraging the legacy of the London Olympics in 2012. A separate page was created to showcase all the iconic landmarks and locations in the movie, giving travellers and fans of the movie franchise a complete tour guide.
When it comes to tourism branding, team up with something or someone iconic and globally renowned, even if it is a certain fictional, dashing secret agent.
Visit Britain collaborated once again with another celebrity figure’s upcoming movie release in 2014. The “Paddington is Great” capitalised on Great Britain’s loveable bear and invited visitors to “see Britain through Paddington’s eyes.”
Super, Natural British Columbia
For the past 30 years, British Columbia has used the slogan, “Super, Natural British Columbia” in their marketing campaigns. The brand promises that “from massive mountain ranges and windswept beaches to rainforests overflowing with life, discover how BC’s diverse landscapes shape our people and culture.”
Since the slogan has proven the test of time and continues to resonate strongly with the brand’s core image as a popular destination for nature lovers, they have only made visual updates to the artwork and font. With nature and the love for the outdoors being at the core essence of their brand, the custom font personifies and invokes their brand promise: “wild at heart”.
Paris Je T’aime
When examining best practices in tourism branding, one cannot forget to mention the city of romance that is Paris. The “City Brand Barometer 2020” conducted by branding consultancy Saffron, showed that even with the global pandemic, Paris still ranks at the top of the list of desired destinations to visit, thanks to the strength of their brand. Further, the ranking showed London and Tokyo following closely behind in top city brands.
The study was created to assess which global cities have built the strongest brands to attract tourists and why. According to Jacob Benbunan, CEO of the branding consulting firm Saffron, “This is the perfect time to work on brand. Of course it is a means to an end. It cannot neutralise the effects of Covid, we may very well have to prepare for a longer term reality of life with Covid, and brand can help cities to be relevant to tourists in the new normal.”
To achieve such a high ranking, Paris had to not only already be one of the best-known cities in the world, it also had to embrace its existing reputation as a popular tourist destination with attractions and a rich local culture.
For centuries, the French capital has been the global hub for culture, travel, fashion, art, and commerce where it continues to be influential. With 41 World Heritage Sites, it scored highly for accessibility to cultural venues seeing 9.2 million visitors to the Louvre and 7 million visitors to the Eiffel Tower each year.
Essential Costa Rica
One of the top destination branding success stories, Costa Rica has propelled itself on to the global stage as the Best Place Brand of the Year by the City Nation Place Global Forum in 2019.
The success of the country’s branding has revolutionised the world’s perception of Costa Rica, thanks to their brand strategy that focused on growing awareness and harnessing the talents of the Costa Rican people. Daniel Valverde Bagnarello, Country Brand Director explains that Essential Costa Rica refers “to a small, concentrated country, full of a unique added value through its talented people.” The slogan maintains that the people of Costa Rica are “the essence”.
Since the success of the initiative, they continue to focus on growing their economy from within by seeking partnerships with tourism businesses, working with local stakeholders and incorporating skills and talent of its people that align with the country’s brand messaging, which includes their established reputation for eco-tourism and natural beauty.
In difficult and uncertain times, it is vital to these brands to evolve with new tourism trends but to also stay consistent and resilient with brand building.
The travel and tourism sector is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world that contributes significantly to economic growth. In difficult and uncertain times, it is vital to these brands to evolve with new tourism trends but to also stay consistent and resilient with brand building. By continuing to do so, destination brands can build up their personality, voice and perception in the world.
This industry is in it for the long haul. A strong tourism brand can tell us how their place is different from the competition and what unique values they have to enrich your experience.
When travel for leisure can be safe again, I have a few ideas of where I’d like to travel. Do you?