Interview with Kristian Sonnier, VP President of Communications & Public Relations at the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau
We caught up with Kristian Sonnier, VP President of Communications & Public Relations at the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, who will be opening the City Nation Place Americas conference on June 5th with the story of 300 years of place branding and how New Orleans’ brand strategy will capitalise on its tri-centennial. How does he see the connection between tourism and economic development? What does he think is the key to great place branding?
CNP: If you could summarise the skills that every executive involved in place branding needs to acquire in just three words, which words would you choose?
KS: Honesty – to be able to give an honest assessment of your destination even when the news is not good
Collaboration – To be able to work with other organizations and interests toward a common goal that benefits the entire destination
Attunement – To be so informed about and in harmony with your destination that you can easily distinguish what sets it apart from all others and be able to promote those things
CNP: Why would you say that it’s important to keep up with how other cities, regions and nations are approaching the branding and marketing strategy for their place?
KS: We share a lot of the same challenges, so it’s important for us to keep track of how other cities are approaching and solving those challenges. If we can learn from another destination, it saves us time and expenses learning the hard way.
CNP: Why do you think it’s important that those involved in tourism promotion, economic development, investment promotion and talent attraction work more collaboratively?
KS: We believe that tourism is not separate from economic development. Tourism is our city’s #1 economic driver. Our economic development organization uses some of the same quality of life attractants to lure new businesses to our region for business purposes that we use when we’re promoting leisure and business travel to our city. It’s safe to assume that the decision-making process to move a business or start a business in our city begins with the first visit to our city. We want to make the best first impression possible, whether a visitor is on a bachelor/bachelorette party weekend or whether he/she is considering moving his/her headquarters to our city.
CNP: When you are benchmarking your own city, nation or region’s brand performance, which metrics do you use?
KS: We use visitation numbers and visitor spending.
CNP: What would you say is the key to good story-telling to promote the assets and attractions of your city, region or nation?
KS: The key to good story-telling is to have a story that nobody else can tell and make sure that the story, or at least elements of it, benefit your visitors in a meaningful way.
CNP: Looking back over the past 12-18 months, could you sum up one key achievement of your organisation of which you are most proud?
KS: The work that I’m most proud of is our rebranding effort. We’re in the process of rebranding our organization to consider how the tourism industry impacts our residents’ quality of life and make sure that our company’s behavior benefits our residents, in addition to our visitors and members.
CNP: If you were not working for your current organisation, is there one nation, or city, anywhere in the world which you would like to market? And why?
KS: If I wasn’t working to promote New Orleans, I would like to market Ravello, Italy. It is the one place, above all others, about which I still have vivid dreams of returning. I daydream about disappearing to Ravello.
CNP: Thinking of the place where you live and work, what three words would you say summed up its brand essence?
KS: New Orleans’ brand essence cannot be summed up in three words but since that is my limit, I’ll go with the following:
Tolerant, Inclusive and beguiling
CNP: Can you name one place in the Americas which you have not yet visited, which you would like to visit, and tell us why?
KS: I’d like to go to Nova Scotia to retrace my dad’s family heritage. His family, along with many other Acadian families, were exiled from their homes there by the British in 1755 and bounced along the eastern seaboard of the US eventually finding refuge in Louisiana, which was originally colonized by the French in 1718.
CNP: Looking at the agenda for the City Nation Place Americas conference, which session are you most looking forward to listening to or joining?
KS: I’m most looking forward to - Proving the Value of Your Place Branding Strategy: Benchmarking Product and Perception [see full conference agenda]