Anyone working for a Destination Marketing Organization today has a love of travel and a passion for place. And for good reason. Places are powerful things. From communities to cities, neighborhoods to nations, places inspire and teach us. They create energy and excitement. They connect us to one another in ways that virtual and online worlds simply cannot. But place, and the relative quality of it, also plays an ever-growing role in our prosperity.
Famed urban activist and author Jane Jacobs once described the purpose of cities simply and succinctly as a means to create wealth. Without doing so, a city cannot sustain or improve the quality of life of its citizens.
Historically, the wealth of cities and nations was determined primarily by geographic factors – climate, access to resources, ports and proximity to other centers and points of trade. For centuries, the luck of the geographic draw attracted capital and investment, created jobs and generated economic growth and prosperity. But as developed economies shifted from a manufacturing orientation to services and technology in the latter half of the 20th century, geographic factors have become less important in determining the economic success of cities, states and countries. Today, it is increasingly quality of place that determines where talent, capital and tourism flow.
But what is it that attracts people to one place versus another? Research by Resonance Consultancy and others has shown that what attracts people to a place to live is increasingly aligned with the very same factors that make places attractive to visit. Among them: The quality of the natural environment, parks and open spaces; the diversity of people; the variety of restaurants and nightlife and the quality of arts and culture. These assets, and many others, shape the perception and identity of places in the minds of people as they consider and evaluate places to live, visit or invest.
Because quality of place increasingly determines the wealth of place, it’s important for organizations that promote place to see where they stand among their competitors.
“Place Equity” is a measure developed by Resonance Consultancy to quantify and benchmark the relative quality of place, reputation and competitive identity of one city to another by analyzing a variety of factors that add to or subtract from the perceived attractiveness of a city or destination.
Place Equity, like brand equity, is something that is built or lost over time. Our work shows that safety and crime is the most important factor in choosing a place to visit or live; events such as the recent riots in Baltimore will likely have a negative impact on that city’s Place Equity for a time. The development of products and programming that create a uniquely enjoyable “sense of place” such as The High Line park in New York or Austin’s SXSW festival enhance it.
But improving quality of place and building Place Equity doesn’t just require expensive, big-ticket investments, nor is it limited to large cities and destinations. As upstart Greenville, South Carolina has shown through the revitalization of its downtown Main Street, a lot of little things can add up to something big over time: the region is prospering as a result of the growing awareness of the city’s quality of place, attracting global corporations like BMW and Michelin to not only establish their North American headquarters there, but to continue to invest and expand.
In our experience, the Place Equity and identity of a destination is defined by its assets and achievements in six core areas:
1. Place: The quality of a destination’s natural and built environment.
2. Product: The quality of a destination’s key institutions, attractions and infrastructure, such as airports and convention centers.
3. Programming: The quality of arts, dining, culture, events and entertainment in a city
4. People: The educational attainment, immigration and diversity of a community
5. Prosperity: The employment, income, poverty and corporations of a city.
6. Promotion: The quantity of positive articles, references and online recommendations
The challenge with creating such a measure is that statistics for quantitative factors such as air quality and employment are widely available, but qualitative ones for factors such as restaurants, culture and nightlife are not. To solve this problem, Resonance Consultancy turned to social media channels such as Trip Advisor and Yelp to identify how many very good or excellent experiences cities offered from one category to the next, as rated by locals and visitors. We’ve found that examining place from the visitors’ point of view – the supply side – is a surprising and enlightening exercise.
We believe that this combination of key quantitative measures with qualitative ratings by locals and visitors provides destinations with a new perspective and insight into the key differentiating characteristics of their place versus their competitive set. As our Place Equity Index shows, no destination excels in every area. By seeing where the weaknesses lie, you can make investments where appropriate. And by identifying and leveraging your destination’s strengths, you can create an authentic and compelling positioning and competitive identity that will resonate with your target audiences. It takes collaboration with municipal planning departments, economic development offices and many others to analyze, understand and agree on the key differentiating characteristics for your destination. It’s not easy, but it’s a proven way to effectively compete for the kinds of talent, tourism and investment you’re seeking to attract to your community.
In an ever-shrinking world, there’s never been more opportunity for destinations large and small. And as emerging destinations ramp up their efforts, there’s also never been more competition. Developing your quality of place and creating an authentic and compelling competitive identity for your community will be of growing importance if your destination is to succeed in the competition for tourism, talent and capital in the 21st century.
To learn more about Place Equity and download a free copy of Resonance Consultancy’s 2015 U.S. Place Equity Index, please visit www.resonancereport.com