Local love, global love – the key to successful place branding in Latin America?

It is no secret that Latin American countries are places rich with culture, food, and experiences different from those around the world. The riches and beauty of these areas attract those who are brave enough to hike Machu Picchu in Peru or climb the ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico. The locals are welcoming and willing to share the culture and charm of their local cities and towns. 

At first, Latin America seems enticing with its sunny weather, low cost of living, beautiful beaches, and incredible history. And without surprise, these features are frequently promoted in international travel and lifestyle media. 

But are these reasons enough to get a traveler or business motivated to seek out Latin America as their next destination?  Are the rich Latin culture, weather, and affordable cost what it takes to make its vibrant cities a top destination to work, live, and do business in?  The data seems to suggest, “probably not.”

A recent Ipsos global study conducted in 26 countries shows that only 15% of people around the world cite a Latin American city as one of their top three destinations to visit.  Additionally, 8% of people say Latin American cities are a top choice for the best places to live in the world and 10% would place a Latin American city in their top three cities to do business in. 

What factors are inhibiting the interest in working, living, and visiting Latin American cities?

One could point to safety and corruption as a potential red flag.  Some may mention the economic and political turmoil that many of these countries encounter from time to time while others may claim that they aren’t up for the late-night salsa dancing.  The Ipsos global opinion poll reveals that the challenge here is likely deeper than global perceptions of travel and business in Latin America. 

What’s concerning is the lack of local love.  The fact is that Latin American locals aren’t big proponents of their own cities. For example, only 10% of Brazilians view São Paulo as a top city to live and 9% say Rio de Janeiro.  Instead, 18% of Brazilians claim that they would prefer to live in Abu Dhabi and another 18% say in Amsterdam.  Digging further, we see that many Latin American residents view Toronto, Paris, and Madrid as some of the best places in the world to live. What’s interesting is that unlike Latin Americans, North Americans and Europeans are more likely to indicate that they would prefer living and doing business in their own country.  After all, who wouldn’t want to live a train ride away from the Eiffel Tower? 

The main finding from this research is that local love for a place is an extremely important component in creating global love.  As it turns out, the countries with the strongest local love - such as Canada, Great Britain, and the United States - also happen to be the countries that generate some of the strongest levels of global love.  There’s also some evidence to suggest that the key to building global love would include building off local love to establish a regional halo.  Australia is a good example of this. 16% of the world claim Sydney is a top city to live (Ranked #2 by global citizens), while 25% of those living in New Zealand feel they would also like to be Sydney residents. Locally, 44% of Australians feel perfectly content to call Sydney the best place in the world to live. This is a case where a city successfully grows local love to influence regional attraction which then, in turn, drives foreign desirability.

However, it should be noted, that generating strong levels of local love isn’t the silver bullet for creating high levels of global love.  We see this phenomenon in places like Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Cape Town, South Africa. Locals highly prefer living in these cities but the opinions of citizens from other parts of the world reveal that these locations are some of the least selected places to live, visit, or do business in.  These cities provide concrete examples of places with strong local appeal but lack of desirability outside of their borders.

Bringing the lens back to Latin America, the Ipsos global survey found that among all 26 countries polled, not a single Latin American city found its way into the top three of desirable cities to visit, live, or do business in. This includes citizens of each of the Latin American countries included in the survey – locals prefer foreign destinations over their own home country.

So why is it that Latin Americans don’t show this same love for their cities? 

There is ample evidence to suggest that the reputation of Latin American cities may not be as strong as that of cities in other parts of the world.  This reputation is critical when it comes to attracting people within its own region as well as from around the world.  By examining how global citizens feel about the desirability of other cities in the world, it’s clear that a strong reputation helps draw interest among locals and from the tourism and business community. That said, the key to building a strong reputation relies heavily on gaining the support of locals and galvanizing the interest of those just beyond the immediate region. Achieving these goals proves to be the fundamental prerequisites for generating long term foreign desirability; thus, establishing a world-renowned global reputation for being a top destination to do business, live, and visit.

Moving forward one must keep in mind that building a strong reputation and a place brand strategy doesn’t happen overnight, especially on a global scale. Travel trends, economic and political situations, and living conditions are always changing and can influence the reputation of a place. In the end, focusing on developing a positive local reputation is likely to enhance the global desirability of the beauty and fortune that these Latin American countries hold.

This Ipsos survey is a global online survey with 18,557 respondents. The survey asks respondents which cities, based on what they have seen for themselves or heard from others, are the best to live in, visit, and conduct business in. 26 countries are included in the survey: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States.

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