Transforming Places into Destinations

May 19th, 2011   •   1 comment   

Transforming Places into Destinations
Singapore – a leading destination for work, study and play (courtesy of Unsplash)

What are the drivers needed to transform any place – country, city, neighbourhood, leisure attraction, heck, even a garden or building – into a well-loved destination?

How does one shape a location into the “happiest place on Earth” (borrowing from Disney)?

As a seasoned professional who spent many years branding and marketing cultural institutions, I’ve always been fascinated by this challenge.

Unlike promoting a product or service, a destination is an offering which comes with multiple “arms” and “legs”. It also provides a lot more customer experience “touch-points”.

What is Destination Marketing?

First, we could perhaps look at the definition of Destination Marketing. According to Karl Albrecht and the Destination Marketing Association, this can be defined as follows:

“Destination Marketing is a proactive, strategic, visitor-centered approach to the economic and cultural development of a location, which balances and integrates the interests of visitors, service providers, and the community.”

Destination (or Place) Marketing is a holistic discipline, balancing the needs of various stakeholders while making a place viable and sustainable. There are entire books written about it (including this one by the Destination Marketing International Association), but this model below by Philip Kotler probably best sums up what its key considerations are:

Levels of place marketing by Kotler (source of image)

As seen from the chart above, developing a place into a destination requires one to consider multiple factors.

  • Planning Group: This would be the core stakeholders in a destination. They comprise residents, businesses and government agencies, and include areas like the diagnosis of a place’s current state as well as its long-term vision and plan of action.
  • Marketing Factors: These are the basket of experience-rich interactions which a visitor may have. They include the location’s infrastructure, people, quality of life, and attractions.
  • Target Markets: These are the wider target markets of a destination: new residents, manufacturers, investors, tourists, conventioneers, and exporters.

How all of these inputs work together is a highly complex process. Often, it requires extensive planning, negotiation and development over a period of years.

Competitive Positioning of Destination

To make the above work, it is critical to position a destination correctly against an entire army of competing places.

What are the unique qualities that can differentiate your place from other places under the Sun? How does it compare when measured against different variables?

My favourite way to do this is to employ a perceptual map. See if you agree with the example by the Scottish government below placing various locations in the US, Poland, Germany and China.


Courtesy of the Scottish Government

What are some of the variables which you can use to map your location against competitive places?

  • Cost: This is something which we all consider before choosing a place to spend our time.
  • Quality of Attractions: This would vary from destination to destination. However, a place like Orlando, Florida would probably have better quality attractions than say Seattle, Washington if you are a theme park lover.
  • Types of Appeal: What is the core differentiator which sets your destination apart from the rest? For example, is nature a big attraction factor? Or shopping and food? Maybe even history and culture?
  • Intensity of Attractions: How dense are the different activities which a visitor can participate in? Crowded cities like Singapore often have a higher density of activities compared to country-side locations like Kota Kinabalu.   

Destination Brand Identity

The next thing to consider is of course a destination’s brand identity.

Here, many cities and countries around the world have developed their own distinctive visual identity elements in a bid to differentiate themselves. These are often very painstakingly done, involving numerous consultations with stakeholders and focus groups ad nauseum.

Perhaps the most essential part of a crafting a destination brand comes from identifying the soul and flavour of the location. What is the one or two thing which it is known for? How can this set it apart from the multiple other factors which influence a destination’s brand?

See how many of these you can identify from the example below:

Source of image

Here are more country branding logos for those of you addicted to this stuff. See if you agree with how the logos reflect the place’s personality and key attributes.

Courtesy of Hospitality Times

Destination Marketing Strategies and Tactics

To draw visitors to a destination, you’ll need to invest in a mixture of different destination marketing strategies and tactics. The best destinations choose to focus on highly specific niches that they can dominate in. They also ensure that there is a strong alignment between the soul of its brand, the interests of its visitors and stakeholders, as well as its offerings.

What are some examples of destination marketing strategies?

  • Making movies or films about a location (for example Australia).
  • Applying for internationally recognised awards, eg UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
  • Organising world class events (eg Formula One races, Olympics, World Cup).
  • Developing unique attractions (anything that is the first, largest, highest, or oldest).
  • Capitalising on natural or cultural landmarks and formations.
  • Focusing on customer service, experience and hospitality (Thailand and Japan are great at this).

New York is probably the most filmed city in the world (courtesy of IMP Awards)

The most challenging part in determining the right mix of marketing activities is focus. A destination brand is a long-haul thing. You cannot hope to change what a destination is about or what it’s for merely by introducing a continuous slew of new attractions while ignoring its cultural legacy and heritage.

Benefits of Destination Brand Marketing

Finally, having a strong destination brand brings forth many benefits to its communities, marketers, visitors and other stakeholders. Bill Baker in Branding Strategy Insider cited the following as examples of successful destination brand benefits:

  1. Provides peace of mind by increasing trust and confidence.
  2. Saves time and effort.
  3. Simplifies choices.
  4. Associations with the place reflects well on them.
  5. Taps into your targeted visitor’s needs and desires.
  6. Provides perceived added value and benefits.

What are some of your favourite places (big and small) around the world? What about the neighbourhoods within yuor own country? Why do you like them so?

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