Interview with Leah Chandler, Chief Marketing Officer, Discover Puerto Rico and Nate Huff, Senior Vice President, Miles Partnership

We caught up with Leah Chandler, the Chief Marketing Officer at Discover Puerto Rico, and Nate Huff, Senior Vice President of Miles Partnership, in order to discover their takes on the key challenges facing place branding in the Latin American region.

CNP: Why do you think that this is a good time to be launching City Nation Place Latin America & Caribbean to bring together national, regional and city place branders to explore the unique challenges that the region faces?

LC: With travellers craving authentic experiences, destinations in Central America and the Caribbean now have the opportunity to showcase their unique culture, rich history and eclectic cuisine. From the crash in crude oil prices in 2015 which affected Latin American economies, to Hurricane Maria’s landfall in the Caribbean in 2017, the region’s tourism sector is emerging from very difficult challenges. It’s time to seize the moment, leverage the momentum our countries have built and share best practices as we continue to develop and execute robust marketing and branding initiatives.   


CNP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing place branding and marketing teams working for cities, states and places across Latin America and the Caribbean?

NH: I think there are two primary challenges. On the marketing side, it’s positioning a brand in a way that creates a distinct sense of place and doesn’t fall into the “sea of sameness” from the potential visitors’ perspective. On the organizational side, it’s communicating the value and impact successful place branding and marketing organizations have on the quality of life for local residents.

LC: One of the biggest challenges branding and marketing teams have across Latin America and in the Caribbean, is brand consistency. Through strategic marketing efforts, our goal is to positively impact the local economy and build a global reputation for the destination. Recognition on a global scale is step one. Tourism is an economic engine and as a private organization, it is our responsibility to work beyond the political challenges most of our cities and countries face and focus on convergence.


CNP: How are international perceptions of Latin America and the Caribbean changing on the world stage? Is this affecting your own place brand strategy?

LC: In the case of Puerto Rico, travellers are noticing that the Island is much more than pretty beaches. By highlighting the hidden gems across the island, we are seeing a rise in visitation to municipalities outside of the metro area of San Juan, including Culebra, Vieques, Cabo Rojo, Orocovis, Fajardo, just to name a few. The need to experience the hyper-local has challenged us to think outside the box and tap into “undiscovered places,” creating even more compelling content and humanizing the tourism industry. 


CNP: What do you see as being the key difference between place branding and place marketing?

NH: Place branding requires creating a research-driven understanding of a place/destination’s unique story. Place marketing is understanding how best to tell that story. 

CNP: What advantages are there for promoting better collaboration between economic development and destination marketing teams?

NH: The closer destination marketing teams can work with economic development bodies, the better chance marketing teams have at creating an institutional understanding of how travel and tourism can not only drive economic growth but improve the quality of life for locals and visitors alike. The “DMO” of the past needs to become the DMMO of the future, taking an active role in both the marketing and management of a destination.

CNP: Do you think there is a growing role for the private sector in supporting nation and city brands? If so, what is your top tip for engaging private sector organisations in the process?

 NH: Creating shared investment marketing programs that extend the reach of nation and city brands while also delivering a uniquely qualified audience of potential customers to private sector organizations is critical to being able to compete in the place marketing space. 


CNP: Do you think it’s becoming more important to advocate for the value and positive impacts of place branding to both citizens and governments? Why is that?

LC: Showcasing tangible results stemming from implemented marketing plans will be beneficial to all parties involved including our organization, private and public partners, and most importantly the local community. When Puerto Rico was named #1 Place to Visit by The New York Times, it catapulted the destination to unprecedented levels and ultimately tourism impacts the greater visitor economy. From our revamped website to our ongoing brand re-positioning efforts, making an impact on the community has been our primary focus and is a story worth telling. 

NH: Absolutely. As we have seen by the funding challenges in Mexico recently and numerous states and cities in the U.S., there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the positive impacts – both economic and social – created by place branding and marketing organizations. Taking a stronger role in advocacy and education, and developing better strategies to articulate the benefits of place branding and marketing to stakeholders and local communities, is essential to the survival of this industry.


CNP: What is your top tip for creating a place brand strategy that is sustainable in its approach – both in terms of preserving the culture of your place and of minimising environmental impacts?

NH: I believe an active, open dialogue between the citizenry, the private tourism sector and the branding and marketing organization is the recipe for success. The combination of listening and bi-directional education allows for the development of tactical strategies around dispersal and sustainability. 

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