Destination branding seems to be undergoing a resurgence. With consumers having less disposable income to spend on visiting places, locations are competing to make themselves stand out with distinctive brands and marketing campaigns.
The travel sector has been one of the victims of the economic downturn. Hotel bookings in the UK have fallen by 16% in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2008, according to Hotels.com. The picture is similar in every major region across the globe as hoteliers drop prices to keep guest numbers up.
Ticket sales for business class flights are also falling as travellers turn to budget airlines or simply decide to stay at home and cancel meetings.
Whether they are aiming to capture business or leisure visitors, destination marketers are trying to connect with people by creating strong brands for their locations.
VisitBritain is marketing the UK differently depending on the target audience to encourage new visitors and get seasoned travellers to return. The tourism body has two distinct strategies – “Classic Britain” and “Dynamic Britain”, both of which aim to attract visitors from developing and mature territories.
Laurence Bresh, marketing director at VisitBritain, argues that it is sometimes necessary to use stereotypical images to introduce potential visitors to the UK, but people in mature markets need unexpected “brand stories” to encourage a return visit.
“We like to strike a careful balance between using those icons that people expect and trying to stretch people’s imaginations to inspire them and show them that it has changed,” he says.
In the US, for example, VisitBritain talks up contemporary arts and culture to “stretch” the usual perceptions of British heritage. But in Australia it plays on stereotypes of the British eccentrics. Bresh explains: “Australians are familiar with our comedy. So this isn’t your classic Beefeater or ‘chocolate box’ style of advertising.”
While Beefeaters and black cabs are never going to disappear from the brand marketing of Britain, getting rid of a perceived image is something that one Ibiza business is hoping to do with the help of rock music in its marketing. The island’s brand, known for its hedonistic dance culture, has been shaken up with the introduction of Ibiza Rocks, a live music event that runs throughout the summer (see case study, below.)
Ibiza has seen an estimated 10% fall in its number of visitors this season. Andy McKay, founder of Ibiza Rocks, which is now in its fifth year of live shows, says he hopes a different vibe will encourage a steady stream of new, younger visitors. He claims: “We’re at the forefront of repositioning the island of Ibiza.”
McKay is hoping that by creating a new story, the island’s tourism will be revitalised. But finding an interesting narrative is something that many destinations fail to deliver, argues Gary Jacobs, chief executive at destination marketing and advertising agency Fox Kalomaski.
“The stereotypical response when it comes to a lot of travel advertising for destinations is ‘we’ve got lovely scenery… and we’ve got lovely scenery’. There’s no emotional connection.”
Jacobs says the key is creating an emotional invitation to a consumer that reaches beyond clichéd images of palm trees and sandy beaches. “A lot of destinations are lazy about unearthing their difference,” he argues.
The agency has worked with the Tunisian tourist body, which was keen to build a brand that was more than just a cheap sun, sea and sand destination. The marketing now focuses on the history of the country, its Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea to attract a wider range of visitors.
“We call it bringing the backstage to frontstage,” explains Jacobs, although he thinks this is rare in destination marketing. He argues: “Most people rely on the trusted icons and images.”
But what if your destination doesn’t have a unique difference? The Bahamas is a sun-soaked, palm tree destination but its main selling point isn’t very different to other tropical islands.
Jacobs says that highlighting the characters of locals can sometimes help promote a destination. “We found there are people in The Bahamas that consumers engage with, who can enhance your experience, should you choose to visit the island,” says Jacobs.
Brand strategy consultant Simon Middleton looked for a story when traders at Norfolk seaside town Hemsby asked him to revamp the resort.
Visitors were losing interest in the traditional seaside town and it needed a hook to reel people in. “One option would’ve been to play the holiday camp card in a tongue-in-cheek way. But there wouldn’t have been anything distinctive about that,” argues Middleton.
The story of the area’s Viking connections is now being told, along with a new Viking-style logo, to create buzz about the area. There are plans to bring the narrative to life with a Scandinavian festival next year. “It’s about telling stories because stories bring things to life for people,” he says.
Destinations do not need to enhance their brands simply to attract tourists, however. Business investment and visiting executives are vital for some country brands to prosper.
Leipzig, a German city one hour south of Berlin, is an established conference destination, but it is currently trying to raise its profile with a campaign to promote the character of the area.
The phrase: “Feel the spirit. Do it in Leipzig” is being used as the brand’s tagline. Ronald Kötteritzsch, sales and marketing director for Congress Center Leipzig, says it is important to look beyond the obvious facilities on offer.
“So what makes a story about Leipzig? On the one hand it could be case studies about Leipzig conventions,” Kötteritzsch says. “But why has our city developed? It’s mainly the people. There’s a great team spirit in our city and we should try to create greater awareness of that.”
But Lutz P Vogt, managing director of the German Convention Bureau, admits that traditional personality stereotypes have also helped to develop the country as a burgeoning business conference destination.
“It’s the professionalism and perfectionism that the Germans are known for that helps push planners to book conferences in the country,” he says, adding that a global sporting event has helped the country shake its serious image. “Since 2006, people have discovered that Germans could actually smile during the World Cup.”
While Germany might be trying to establish a more light-hearted brand, Norfolk County Council in the UK is trying to fight off a more serious derogatory stereotype of its area to encourage more people to work in the area.
The World Class: Normal for Norfolk campaign turns a well-known phrase on its head. “Normal for Norfolk” is a phrase used as a descriptor for simple country folk, but the council is trying to make the phrase stand for “world class”. The campaign will use television, online and poster adverts as well as PR to promote this message.
But critics of the campaign argue that using this derogatory phrase is not the right message to promote the county as a destination for business.
Middleton says: “I’m very sceptical about whether it’s going to be effective as a piece of communication. What I believe about destination branding and in fact most branding is that it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do.”
He warns: “Saying ‘we’re Norfolk, we’re world class’ is a bit like a comedian going on stage and saying ‘I want to be funny’.”
To make sure a destination brand is effective, it appears marketers need to walk a careful line between embracing their stereotypes and defining new personalities. Otherwise they may find that the location’s brand cannot stretch to fit consumer views of the area; or worse, people simply don’t visit at all.
Case study: Ibiza
Holidaymakers are being persuaded to rock instead of rave on the Spanish island of Ibiza.
Famous for its nightclubs, “the white isle” is hoping to replace glow sticks and whistles with air guitars and moshing.
Ageing DJs and expensive nightclubs are alienating a younger crowd, claims Andy McKay, co-founder of both Ibiza Rocks and club night Manumission.
He wants to bring a new generation to the island, but McKay has had to overcome numerous challenges in his quest to reposition the island’s brand from being about dance music to rock. McKay has had to convince both locals and tourists that this is the right way to go for a destination littered with superclubs able to hold thousands of partygoers.
“The dance industry thought we were stabbing it in the back and the dance kids wanted to stop us, so we had to be much more radical with the concept than we had originally intended,” McKay confesses.
Dawn Hindle, co-founder of the concept and married to Andy, says the concept of Ibiza Rocks was devised as a two-fingers-up to those who didn’t believe another form of music could build another type of brand for the island. “We purposely chose these words because it was a clash – Ibiza didn’t rock at the time.”
Now in its fifth year of live shows, the likes of The Klaxons and Friendly Fires have graced the rock stage in Ibiza this summer. But the brand is being developed beyond the live music events to cement Ibiza Rocks as a destination in itself.
The team is hoping that the spirit can spread across the island and start an industry for Ibiza that goes beyond clubbing. “We will now find more live music arriving on the island and if we can be a major player in a bigger market that would be great,” says Hindle.
There’s also a branded hotel, merchandise and even a branded American diner – so you can literally eat, sleep and wear the rock concept.
A room with a view also takes on a rather different meaning at the Ibiza Rocks hotel. Balconies surround the stage so that groups can have their own private parties while watching their favourite rock band.
Living the rock lifestyle is all part of the brand package, says Hindle. The price of a hotel stay and a gig ticket is similar to that of a UK festival, with the added benefit of guaranteed sunshine.
Stamping the rock marque across the island’s party capital San Antonio has helped the event evolve into a sustainable business venture, which will make a profit for the first year despite losing headline sponsor Sony Ericsson, claims McKay. “The model we’ve managed to build means it’s not essential that the gigs make money,” he adds.
Now the challenge is to extend the marketing activities that have developed the Ibizan brand into other destinations across Europe. “We’re now looking at how the model of what we do here can be applied other places,” says McKay. There are also plans to develop a clothing range that can be sold outside Ibiza.
Redefining what Ibiza stands for is still a work in progress; San Antonio clubs continue to pump out the dance music, but the brand hopes it is starting a rock revolution on the island.