On the heels of the DestinationNEXT Phase 1 report, we sat down with one of the most respected global strategic advisors in Tourism & Economic Development to get her take on the findings and implications for the industry. Anita Mendiratta is the Founder and Managing Director of CACHET CONSULTING – an international consulting firm working closely with leaders in governments, private sector businesses, and international organizations providing critical direction, insight and inspiration into destination development, recovery and competitiveness.
In 2011 Anita authored “COME CLOSER: How Tourism is Shaping the Future of Nations”, nominated for the Financial Times Book of the Year, and regarded by Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation UNWTO, as “an invaluable resource for tourism leaders, policy-makers and stakeholders as they drive the global tourism economy forward.”
1) WHAT DOES NATION OR DESTINATION BRANDING MEAN? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM SIMPLY CREATING A LOGO AND TOURISM SLOGAN FOR A MARKETING CAMPAIGN?
Travel and Tourism – it has become one of the most dynamic, creative, inspiring and competitive industries worldwide. With over 1 billion international travellers exploring the world each year, at the heart of the competition for travellers is destination branding. The way in which a destination presents itself to the world through its words, images and emotive invitations can be the difference between being known and being invisible, being visited and being passed by.
Governments globally are investing billions of national revenues each year into establishing destination brand exposure and appeal. With such widespread competition, destination brand advertising locally, regionally and internationally has, in many ways, evolved tourism communication to destination pageantry.
Still, for all of the excitement and expectation generated by destination brands, it is vital to not lose focus on the fundamental role and purpose of the brand. A destination brand, often misunderstood as a logo stating the name of the destination, is in fact an important strategic symbol for the destination. One seemingly simple design is, in fact, a vital reflection and framework of a destination’s character, competitive identity and strategy. The fonts selected, colours used, textures employed, creative devices introduced to support the destination name, even the musical arrangements, all work together to reflect specific key elements of the spirit and character of the destination.
Ultimately a clear set of practical, meaningful tourism objectives and aspirations lie behind a brand’s unique features. Through its presence, the brand showcases the destination to the world far beyond simply slogans and symbols, making the desired connection with target audiences.
2) WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES TO BRANDING A DESTINATION? WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?
Ultimately, brand development requires thoughtful, responsible commitment to long-term identity of a destination. A truly powerful destination brand focuses on the fundamentals of its VOICE:
V – Vision: A powerful destination brand reflects the spirit and aspirations of the people of the destination. Destinations defining themselves purely by growth should naturally project an energy that confidently expresses the destination’s goals and sense of belief in their dreams becoming a proud reality. Destinations rich in history, culture and tradition can effectively showcase and celebrate these features as pillars of the brand’s positioning and personality that inspire the future of the destination. The destination brand should project clarity of self-understanding of where the destination has come from and where it is going, acting as a source of traveller excitement and motivation to visit.
O – Originality: The destination brand must clearly, confidently and competitively tell a unique, authentic, compelling story about the destination. Creativity is critical. But beware creativity for creativity's sake. The creative expression of the brand acts as a mirror of the creative spirit of the destination itself. Importantly, having established the brand’s positioning, core messages and look and feel, it is critical to ensure consistency of messaging. It is important to ensure that brand governance is applied towards the destination brand’s DNA – its iconography, look and feel, strategic pillars, and pay-off. Constant change of, or to, the brand’s DNA can result in target audience confusion, distrust of the promise being put forward in communication, and abandonment of interest in the destination.
I – Icons: Each and every destination has ownable and inspiring symbols that are uniquely associated with the destination. These can include:
- natural environments,
- sport, and
- elements of arts and culture.
Anchoring the destination brand in icons enables the destination to ‘own’ truly unique elements of interest and attraction. Focus should be limited to few icons. Destination branding is not a form of cataloguing the full range of experiences open to the traveller.
C – Competitiveness: Importantly, a destination brand must be able to creatively, powerfully, positively and quickly grab the interest of travellers. Competitiveness of brand identity is critical to overall destination competitiveness on the global tourism map.
To truly stand out and achieve recognition, differentiation and interest, creative thought is required not just in the expression of the brand’s identity and core messaging, but also in the media mix that is used to achieve desired brand exposure. Strategic thought is required to ensure that the right messages are being sent out to the right people in the right media at the right time… and, importantly, with the desired impact.
E – Experiential: Travel today is no longer simply about seeing and doing; it has become about feeling. Destinations that simply showcase static features of destination – places, sights, structures – risk failing to reach out and make an emotional connection with the traveller.
A destination brand which authentically and meaningfully showcases the rich opportunities for engagement of travellers with the destination – its people, its culture, its places, its nature – seeds the development of a relationship between the destination and the traveller. Emphasis on select experiences reflecting the pillars of the brand strategy allows the destination to unlock a connection with travellers, pre-, during and post-travel.
3) WHAT IS THE ROLE OF EMBRACING THE COMMUNITY IN BUILDING AND SUSTAINING A DESTINATION BRAND?
Through its presence, the brand showcases the destination to the world, making the desired connection with target audiences. Ultimately the destination brand seeks to speak to two priority audiences:
- the Traveller, and
- the People of the Destination.
As importantly as the traveller, the brand speaks to the People of the Destination. This critical target audience is, in fact, composed of a wide range of people. Whether directly or indirectly involved in the tourism industry, the people of the destination, by the very nature of their being emotionally invested in the destination, must feel a connection to the brand. Whether or not their livelihoods are linked to tourism, their lives are. This is their home.
People of the destination include, amongst others:
- local residents,
- industry stakeholders,
- academic community, and
- local communities.
For these people the destination brand represents a symbol of the destination’s DNA. The destination brand can act as a unifying force, aligning all of the people of the destination behind all that it has to celebrate in its:
- personality, and
- future aspirations.
The destination brand must therefore work to unite and inspire the people of the destination to proudly serve in their own way as hosts of visitors to their destination.