Five key learnings from City Nation Place Americas 2019

June 6th saw nearly 200 dedicated place branders arriving in West Hollywood for the third annual City Nation Place Americas conference. As always, the debates were honest, the conversations cutting-edge, and it was an insightful and inspiring experience to exchange ideas with the top minds in destination marketing and economic development. However, in a day packed with perceptive commentary, there were five key ideas that particularly stood out to us.

  1. Collaboration is king. As Chris Fair, CEO at Resonance, said during the pre-conference Think Tank session, “partnership, coordination, and collaboration are essential creative placemaking skills, and are key to ensuring that the placemaking project remains community driven.” It’s perhaps a no-brainer to say that collaboration is essential to effective place branding, but it was clear that it is still a major focus, with many of our speakers emphasising how crucial it was to a successful strategy. As Matt Pivarnik explained, “as tourism, economic development and place making become more intertwined, it is important for DMOs, EDOs, and CDOs to collaborate and speak with one legislative and community voice.”
  2. Listening, listening, listening. The customer is your resident and the residents are your customers - and they need to be engaged in the process from start to end. Jack Johnson, the Chief Advocacy Officer at Destinations International, had a very clear stance on this, explaining that Destination Marketing Organizations have to evolve and become community-value organisations to ensure that the focus is placed back on the community. Listening to communities and politicians must supersede just using data to advocate for destination marketing effectiveness. Chuck Davison, President & CEO at Visit Slo Cal, shared a similar sentiment, stating that “if a DMO is not proactively evolving into a DMMO, they will ultimately become obsolete.” Victor Hoskins of Arlington Economic Development shared his experience of listening to residents both before and after the announcement of Amazon’s HQ2 decision – and confirmed that only through listening, did his team find out some quite surprising opinions and evidence that the messaging around these economic development plans needed to adapt. Kristian Sonnier, VP of Communications & PR at New Orleans & Co, shared his own experiences of destination management during their recent rebrand. In the move from New Orleans CVB to New Orleans & Co, they reaffirmed the importance of listening to their community and ensured that their residents were along for the ride. After all, people make the culture – you can’t lose track of the local community. Find how they need to benefit from tourism, and work to centre your efforts on these areas.
  3. It’s not about demographics, it’s psychographics. And just as every destination is unique, so is every visitor. Where demographics have historically provided a convenient way to segment your audience, it’s increasingly possible to achieve a much more precise level of granularization with your approach. Recognising that there are several different core mindsets for your travellers can be the key to micro-targeting your campaigns and attaining much higher return on your investment. This also works for economic development as Claus Lonborg, CEO of Copenhagen Capacity revealed in his story of the “Codenhagen” challenge – which took talent attraction in to new spaces by entering the computer gaming world and using code to convey to young tech experts the advantages of the Danish city as a place to live and work.
  4. The focus should be on story-doing rather than storytelling. Guri HojgaardCEO at Visit Faroe, delivered an inspiring presentation on building a destination brand and growing visitation and talent attraction respectively, stating that “It’s not about having the biggest budget, but about having creative ideas to tell your story.” However, beyond that, the focus of Visit Faroe’s latest efforts have been on actual physical actions rather than glossy – but ultimately baseless - photo shoots. Instead, they astounded the world with Sheep View, Faroe Translates and, most recently, closing the island to all but ‘voluntourists’ for a maintenance weekend. Storytelling is undoubtedly an important part of place branding, but creating a tourism initiative which an actual experience at it’s heart can be the key to standing out in a world awash with media advertising.
  5. We’re living in the experience economy – but how do we make sure our places reflect this? If Guri’s presentation was the practical application of creating an experiential marketing campaign, several of our sessions were quick to back this up with the research. According to Jason McGrath, SVP at Ipsos, millennials are more likely than ever to travel internationally rather than domestically, often in search of authentic, local experiences that they’re unable to find elsewhere. Renee Hartman and Sage Brennan, co-founders of China Luxury Advisors, explained that Chinese tourists are looking for something that’s cool and local, even in their shopping. Everything is become experiential rather than purely commercial, and making sure that you’re reacting to this trend is vital to tourism promotion. Caroline Beteta, CEO at Visit California summed it up clearest, stating that they needed to “create desire for the California experience. Don’t just increase visitation – promote all things California.”

Rob HundenPresident & CEO at Hunden Strategic Partners, said in his session that “people are migrating to places that have made placemaking, tourism and quality of life a priority.” Throughout City Nation Place Americas, people shared their stories of how their strategies have worked to genuinely improve their destination, building civic pride as much as the tourism economy or attractive infrastructure for investors. It’s all about the halo effect.

We look forward to seeing how the story has progressed at City Nation Place Americas 2020!

If you would be interested in speaking at the next event, please get in touch with us at – we’d love to hear your story.

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