Five conversations from City Nation Place Global & UK to get you thinking

Last week – and for the first time in two years – we were able to welcome delegates to London for a City Nation Place event. On Wednesday and Thursday last week, we hosted CNP UK, CNP Global, and announced the winners of our 2021 Awards. And we have to say, it was wonderful to be able to meet people without a screen between us!

The two days were packed with learnings from around the world and while we recommend accessing the digital delegate packages for the full experience (sly promo there, don’t mind us!), we wanted to share a few of our key takeaways from across the two days.

Addressing challenges around sustainability and equitable development is a top priority.

Given that the conferences took place during COP 26, it’s perhaps inevitable that sustainable development would be a major thread between all the sessions. Or perhaps it’s simply a sign of how the strategies of cities and nations around the world have matured and grown over time. However, as we rebuild with a more sustainable focus, it’s also important to collaborate and share learnings. “You can be both competitive and collaborative when it comes to sustainability,” shared Katarina Thorstensson, Head of Sustainability & Smart Tourism Strategist at Göteborg & Co. For a sustainable strategy to really make a difference in your place, you can’t just copy and paste; no matter how much success a different city or nation has found, it will need to be tweaked to meet your own challenges, your own USPs. In doing so, it also allows each place to put their individual stamp on their positioning and remain competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace of sustainable messaging – while still promoting shared learnings and collaboration around the world.

The conversations also focussed on the importance of equitable development. When explaining the strategy behind Cardiff’s new ‘Equality City’ positioning, Associate Director Carolyn Brownell talked how they’re working with their businesses to ensure that they enact real change and that it doesn’t just become a tick box exercise. Likewise, Deborah Cadman, CEO at Birmingham City Council, spoke about the importance of standing by your values in order to leave a lasting legacy after the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022; “Sometimes you need to say ‘no’ if it’s not the right investment, and they’re not prepared to help with inclusive growth,” Deborah stressed.

Data is – as ever – king.

The importance of data was also highlighted through the conversations around sustainability and equitable development in order to benchmark your progress. Jaume Mata, Head of Sustainable Development at Visit Valencia, shared insights on how they’ve developed an app to measure the carbon and water footprint of tourism within the city and to allow visitors to off-set their environmental impact through local initiatives. And Nick Searl, the Managing Director of Argent LLP (the property developer behind the Kings Cross redevelopment), outlined how they’ve worked with the University of Manchester to develop a Flourishing Index for the new redevelopment project in Brent Cross Town, London. The Flourishing Index will allow them to track the wellbeing of residents in the area to ensure that their strategies are delivering against their core ambitions of create the park town of the future.

However, data also featured heavily across many of the other conversations, with many of our partners highlighting changes to behaviour and perceptions as a result of the pandemic. Craig Compagnone from MMGY, for example, highlighted that KPIs for tourism will change over the next three years to put a much stronger focus on visitor satisfaction and resident sentiment over more traditional metrics such as heads-in-beds. And Jose Torres and Gonzalo Vilar of Bloom Consulting shared first insights from their ground-breaking research study to demonstrate the impact of place brand strategies on your place economy.

Tackling talent attraction in the new world.

While we’re still waiting to see how the dust will settle after the crises of the past two years; however, it seems inevitable that ways of working will change for many and, with it, so must our talent attraction strategies. Oyvind Satvedt, Manging Director of Osloregionnen, highlighted that politicians understand the importance of talent attraction but often don’t know how to go about it. Advocacy is therefore a critical piece as cities and nations reposition their strategies to put the focus on their quality of life proposition.

However, it is also clear that the tourism industry worldwide needs to rethink their messaging in order to retain talent. Nick de Bois, Chairman of the VisitEngland advisory board and author of the independent review of DMOs in the UK, highlighted the challenge best, stating that “the industry has to work really hard in telling people that there’s a career in the tourism industry; if you say it’s just a holiday job for young people then you lose that talent.”

Stop thinking about buildings – and start thinking about spaces.

Several of the speakers challenged delegates to interrogate their strategies to see if they were really user-first – whether that’s your residents, your businesses, or your visitors. In particular, speakers at City Nation Place UK highlighted the importance of rethinking the standard tenets of placemaking to put the resident at the heart of planning. “We need to understand the obligation we have to the community,” stressed Paul Clement, CEO at Ipswich BID and at Locus Management Solutions. “Placemaking is not about buildings – it’s about bringing the space to life so it adds to people’s quality of life.”

Places need to start thinking more about the spaces between their buildings, and to challenge themselves to think 24/7. If you have a university that’s empty over the holidays, how can you use that space during those times? If the spaces above your shops are empty, can you encourage people to convert them into residential spaces? By taking a 24/7 approach, you create mixed-use spaces that have much more continual footfall.

Be bold, be different, be you.

It remains essential that while we can – and should – learn from each other’s successes and mistakes, you have to do more than just follow the trends. A place brand strategy won’t find long-term success without being authentically true to the everyday reality of a place. Anu Syrma, Marketing Director at Helsinki Marketing, stated that “we merely serve our brands – they are owned by the city, by the citizens.” Understanding what makes you truly differentiated is as critical as ever, but the increasingly digital world we live in generates new challenges for place brands.

Case studies from Helsinki and Estonia showcased how values-based storytelling can deliver much greater impact for your storytelling. Anu, for example, highlighted the Helsinki in a Box campaign, which bought together the digital and physical world with a tangible message based on the Helsinki Freedom positioning. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, being able to share your story innovatively and with values that are truly reflective of your place will ultimately be able to deliver the greatest returns for your place.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.