From recovery to resilience and beyond: Insights from the 2023 CNP Americas conference
We’re in a period of global transition. Some destinations are still very much in the recovery phase and are adjusting to the ‘new normal’ that we saw emerging post-pandemic. However, increasingly destinations are preparing for the post-post-pandemic era, one which is shaped by new ways of working, the cost-of-living crisis, emerging AI technologies, and increased pressure to be climate positive – among other challenges.
As we welcomed 200 place brand and marketing leaders to New Orleans for the seventh annual City Nation Place Americas conference, this new momentum was clear, and it was inspiring to learn from places who are challenging themselves to step up to the plate and deliver a better future for their community. As Peter Frosch, President & CEO of Greater MSP, said in his presentation with Melvin Tennant, President & CEO of Meet Minneapolis, “in a period of uncertainty, the only thing you can do is to keep going, keep experimenting, and keep scaling the things that are working.”
As ever, it’s almost impossible to condense a day and a half’s worth of insights and expertise from more than 40 speakers in to just a handful of paragraphs, but here are a few of our key takeaways that we think embody the ways that cities, regions, and states across the USA and Canada are evolving their strategies to prepare for these new challenges and opportunities we’re facing.
1. We need to move beyond growth for growth’s sake.
A resilient place is one that develops a sustainable balance between tourism, residents, and businesses. It’s no longer enough to be pushing for growth at any cost – it needs to be tempered by your long-term vision for your place.
“What we need is balance. We need that economic engine developing so that tourism isn’t carrying that heavy load,” shared Kevin Fergison, VP of External Affairs at New Orleans & Company, as he joined GNO Inc’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Josh Tatum, to outline how the two organisations are collaborating to leverage the city’s tourism to grow other economic sectors and reduce its overall reliance on tourism as an economic driver.
Victoria Isley, President & CEO at Explore Ashevile CVB, also called for the industry to start chasing quality visits, rather than quality visitors. This helps to counter potentially exclusionary strategies while still giving destinations the tools they need to manage the way that tourists engage with the city. Scott Cuthbertson, President & CEO at EDCUtah, also highlighted the importance of purposeful growth following pushback they received from their community. By being more intentional with the companies that they look to attract, they’re able to drive investment to the region whilst also addressing consumer concerns regarding resource management in the state.
2. It takes bravery to know yourself – but you need to remember that it’s not your story
Both Chris Lane, President & CEO of Economic Development Regina, and David Ferreira, Manager – City Marketing and Brand Research for the City of Mississauga, spoke about the importance of owning up to your everyday reality, from the assets you have, to the domestic and international perceptions of your place – or the lack thereof. However, at the end of the day, you have to remember that you are tasked with articulating your place narrative on behalf of your residents – and to do so, you need to engage with them regularly and repeatedly to ensure that you’re getting that story right.
We also touched repeatedly on the notion that, unlike a product, a place is too complex to be encapsulated by a single story. Mark Anthony Thomas, President & CEO of Greater Baltimore Committee, warned against the danger of a single story and stressed the need for a brand architecture that allows you to speak to multiple audience authentically. We also heard from two DMOs who are working to build contradiction in to their strategies: Explore Asheville’s Vic Isley spoke about the power of ‘paradoxical thinking,’ particularly when engaging with residents. And Nancy Mammana, CMO at New York City Tourism + Conventions, shared that their newly refreshed communication strategy relies heavily on ‘opinion power’ and leaning into the idea that if you ask ten New Yorkers where the best place is to get pizza, you’ll get ten different answers – and they’ll all be right. It all depends on your perspective.
Finally, we were also joined by Sveinn Birkir Björnsson, Director – Global Marketing Communications at Business Iceland, who unpacked the secret behind Iceland’s wildly successful viral communication strategies. Humour is a tool, he shared, but in the end, it’s about empathy and building a real human connection with your audience.
3. Events have enormous potential to help you tell your story better.
We’re obviously pre-disposed to believe in the power of events, but it was great to hear that reflected back from our delegates! Lieutenant Governor for the State of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser, outlined how the state is growing their presence at festivals from across the USA to highlight that only Louisiana truly knows how to throw a parade.
Chris McLeod, VP Global Marketing & Communications at Edmonton Global, had a similar story to share. The region wanted to be known for their commitment to climate neutrality and for their emerging AI tech sector, and by developing and hosting events in those sectors, they’re able to establish themselves as a leader in each field and start showcasing Edmonton as a viable place to relocate to those interested in succeeding in those careers. A specific event focussed at residents is also proving to be hugely successful in engaging the community in the economic future of the Edmonton region.
However, for any event to deliver for your place vision, you need to have great collaboration and clear intentionality – something that Royce Chwin, President & CEO at Destination Vancouver, stressed when he spoke about the preparation to host FIFA 2026.
4. Own your successes.
Advocacy was another clear theme of conversation across the two days – one that was particularly prevalent among our DMO speakers, but the lessons are clear for everyone. Tourism can often be critiqued for the negative aspects it can bring to a city, but it’s equally important to point out the value that it delivers as well. Building that advocacy in to your strategy from the start helps to lay the foundations to showcase what your organisation is delivering for your place.
Deana Ivey, President of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, also reference the importance of being proactive – when you see problems emerging, you need to take immediate steps to address these, whether that’s noise complaints from residents or an increase in crime in certain areas of your destination.
5. Collaboration is king.
Across all the sessions, the need for collaboration was clear. More and more places are finding innovative ways to collaborate with their stakeholders, with their businesses and residents, and with the other place leaders in their destination. And there was repeated evidenced of how a unified approach to storytelling can allow you to make greater impact for your place with fewer resources. It’s also giving places the tools they need to tackle common challenges to their place, from safety and security, to talent attraction and retention, to quality of life for your residents.
We look forward to being able to showcase more stories of successful collaboration when we head to Houston for City Nation Place Americas 2024 next May.