In today’s rapidly shrinking world, no country can remain isolated or say it does not need its global business to grow. But as each country vies to attract tourists, investment and business, it is critical they build on the image they want the world to see. This is where destination branding comes in.
Destination branding is the practice of applying brand strategy and other marketing techniques and disciplines to the economic, social, political and cultural development of cities, regions and countries.
Olivier Auroy, general manager of Landor Associates, said: “Destination branding comprises bringing together and unifying all messages, stereotypes and characteristics of a country, city or place in order to build a strong and consistent identity.”
Peter Matthews, group managing director, Nucleus, said: “Destination branding aims to answer some simple questions that key external audiences want to know, from both a tourist and inward investment perspective. It also should help provide a better sense of identity for citizens, because the process of defining a good destination brand, distills the essence of what makes that country, city or destination great.”
Destination branding is needed because there is a necessity to show the world that a certain destination exists and a need to fight in a competitive environment. Countries compete with each other at all levels.
Citing an example, Auroy said: “Think of the Western tourist who chooses his holiday destination. He wants to enjoy the sunshine and he is willing to discover something new, something from the east for example. This is when Dubai, Oman, Jordan, India and the Maldives compete. How much does each destination cost? How long does it take to fly to each place? Are there some good hotels in each city? These are essential questions.” But isn’t it all about perception?
Matthews agreed: “The benefits of destination branding are linked to better awareness with key audiences and a clearer understanding of how you compete in the global travel or business market. “For instance, Bahrain is the leading financial centre in the Gulf, but how widely is this known and what opportunities are missed as a result?”
So if country or city branding is well thought out and executed, it will positively build perception and pave the way for business investment, tourism and cultural exchanges. Good destination branding is the trigger. Auroy said: “It’s not only about holidays, it is also about commerce and industry. Why would foreign investors choose to come to London or Paris? There are less taxes and red tape in London but better food and healthcare in Paris. That’s the rational.
“However, beyond the rational, there is an emotional factor, something about imagination and desire and it can influence the final decision. Where do I want to be after work? Do I want to live in the country or in the hustle and bustle of a metropolis? And here you realise that literature, films, fashion, everything feeds destination branding.
“When we were branding Morocco we asked our worldwide network: What is your first evocation of Morocco? Casablanca [because of the movie] was the most quoted answer. That’s the scary reality: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s performances in the movie Casablanca left an imprint on people’s mind. That’s why, sometimes, we are tempted to recommend a good movie to some of our clients. It can be the best way to harness the cliché and raise awareness.”
Giving examples of successful and failed destination branding Auroy said: “In terms of success, I always quote Croatia. Croatia was a part of the former Yugoslavia. For years, it was associated with wars and troubles. But these guys chose a different flag with white and red squares, did an outstanding job at the Football World Cup, reminded everyone they had the best shores on the Mediterranean Sea and guess what, everybody now remembers Croatia for these positive things.
“I am not so sure about Egypt. I can guess the strategy of ‘no more pyramids’ put the focus on the Red Sea. ‘Forget Giza, think Sharm El Sheikh’. As a result, the identity lost its quality. Egypt now looks like a cheap destination and does not highlight the beauty and the richness of the land.” But before a country goes for destination branding it needs to ask itself some questions: “Why do we want to re-brand? What do we want to promote? What is our ambition and vision? It is vital to know how the country is perceived and must undertake thorough research before beginning the task.
“The country must ask itself, what’s special about our destination? Who would be interested in us? How are we different? Would people choose our destination or enjoyment or for business?” Matthews said.
“What do we want to be famous for? The clearer the destination brand proposition, the better chance the country has of attracting international interest.” According to Auroy, there are some golden rules of branding each country must follow. “Look for hidden competition, know who you are competing with. Make sure all stakeholders are on board from the beginning. The biggest challenge of destination branding is to align all stakeholders and decision makers. Some countries send a very confusing message to world audiences.
“Why? Because the stakeholders don’t speak with the same voice. Culture, economy, education, tourism board, foreign affairs should all contribute towards building a consistent and strong image.
“Build the right story, make it simple and express it in various ways. A complex message would create confusion,” said Auroy. “Destination branding goes beyond visual identity. It is about ideas [business opportunities, sponsoring, events] that you can implement. Build on the heritage. Say who you are and improve it. Never turn your back on your history and roots. Grow from them.
“It would be a crime not to do so. Think of India, Morocco or Oman. These places are a paradise for designers. You can build a visual identity by using traditional patterns or pieces of arts.
“Spain’s visual identity is a Miro painting after all. When we branded Saphira, a district of Rabat, we used an old Moroccan embroidery that we modernised and magnified. It was relevant for the local people and attractive for the visitors,” said Auroy.
Talking about the UAE as a brand, the experts say the country is not clearly understood internationally. But on the other hand, two emirates – Dubai and Abu Dhabi – are strong brands. Matthews said: “A brand-building exercise for the UAE would help in positioning the whole Emirates on the world stage for tourism and for business.”
Auroy agreed: “There is no UAE branding. There is emirate branding. You do not sell the UAE, you sell Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah or Fujairah. It is usually the choice we make – branding by the country [national identity] or branding by cities [various destinations within the same country]. In fact, it is a strategic decision to make and it has huge consequences.”
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