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”.
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.
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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:
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?