Neighbourhoods – place branding’s greatest asset?

A year ago, a report by the Center for an Urban Future highlighted a record increase in tourism to New York City over the past two decades and outlined the economic benefits that this had delivered for thousands of Brooklyn residents.  Brooklyn has no doubt benefitted from NYC & Co’s strategy of promoting the outer boroughs and lesser-known neighbourhoods.  Fred Dixon, CEO of NYC & Co discussed this at the first City Nation Place Americas conference in 2017, which also included a presentation from Franz van der Avert, head of Amsterdam Marketing, outlining a similar policy of sharing the load of over-tourism to create a broader distribution of economic benefits by encouraging visitors to explore further afield than the centre of the City – taking in neighbourhoods that, technically, were even outside the city.

The image of cities has gone from being about the skyline or the products or the industries of these cities, to being about this human scale experience.

Ethan Kent, Senior Vice President, Project of Public Spaces

New York and Amsterdam achieved success with their “redistribution” strategies by focusing on the “authentic” experiences to be had in the places-less-visited.  This appealed most to millennial travellers who have led the way in rejecting the label ‘tourist’ and seeking out genuine local experience.  Travel writers are responding – type “coolest neighbourhoods” into Google and you will come across a plethora of coolest neighbourhood guides, from Time Out, to Lonely Planet, Forbes to USA Today.  In September 2018, the UK’s conservative daily, The Daily Mail, was astonished to report that Time Out had judged Peckham in South London to be 11th on its list – alongside places like Embajadores in Madrid and Fitzroy in Melbourne.  As Ethan Kent, Senior Vice President for the Project of Public Spaces said at City Nation Place Americas 2018, “the image of cities has gone from being about the skyline or the products or the industries of these cities, to being about this human scale experience”.  Many DMOs have grasped this new marketing angle – from Cape Town’s Insider Series campaign in 2017 which featured different neighbourhoods and local experiences, to Tourism Vancouver’s website guide to its neighbourhoods.

1) Skyline of New York & 2) Canal-side view of Amsterdam

It could be said that The Daily Mail is easily shocked, but its journalist recognised that Peckham had transformed “It’s a part of the UK capital that was once a byword for decay and the butt of jokes – and indeed featured in sitcom Only Fools and Horses – but is now lined with video arcade bars, cult nightclubs and street food pop-ups”.  A Skift report from 2017, titled “How Gentrification Powers New York City’s Tourism Industry” provides a detailed analysis of the complex relationship between tourism stakeholders, property developers, and explored the impact on “authentic” New York.   As ever, change and progress could be a double-edged sword.  An increase in tourism to new neighbourhoods will bring measurable economic benefits but can also have a destructive effect on the local ecosystem and unique character of the area – killing the goose that could lay the golden egg, and alienating citizens from the positives that tourism and economic development can deliver.

The impact of AirBnB – hailed as the pioneer in helping visitors to “live like a local” but also creating rent increases that drive the locals out – has been widely recognised.   Cities around the world are trying to regulate the impact of AirBnB, but regulation on its own is not sufficient – what’s needed is better destination or place management.  “Many neighbourhood groups have voiced their displeasure with vacation rentals in Palm Springs,” Scott White, President & CEO, Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau told us recently, “However, the city created a separate department to address noise, traffic, illegal listings and an avenue for the citizens to report feedback. It has been a tremendous success.”

For inclusive prosperity to be successful, it must combine the knowledge and resources of local government, anchor institutions, and community members. 

Steven Pedigo, VP of Strategy, Resonance

Communication is key. If you want the community to support your strategy, it’s not just about listening to their complaints, but also about advocating for the benefits that changes created by economic development and tourism development can bring to the wider community.  If your neighbourhood strategy is to work, then your neighbours, your citizens, need to be welcoming and engaged to provide that sought-after authentic experience.  Steven Pedigo, VP of Strategy for Resonance explained that “for inclusive prosperity to be successful, it must combine the knowledge and resources of local government, anchor institutions, and community members." If you want to promote the unique stories that can be unearthed in a neighbourhood, you first have to nurture the stories and ensure that you don’t alienate the local community by allowing the tourists to overpower their voice. Providing unique experiences for the residents as well as visitors is essential.

“This balance of home and hosting is what makes a neighbourhood enticing,” Doug McLean, Director of Events at Edmonton Tourism told us, “This means it provides amenities and opportunities to interact with others while uniquely reflecting the nature of those from the neighbourhood.”

This balance of home and hosting is what makes a neighbourhood enticing 

Doug McLean, Director of Events, Edmonton Tourism

It’s all about nurturing the “halo effect” – a good place to visit = good place to live = good place to invest or bring business.  Increasingly, tourism and economic development teams recognise that they need to work more closely with Business Improvement Districts and neighbourhood communities to ensure that the needs of visitors, citizens, and business are balanced and that there is a shared vision for tourism and economic development that everyone is working towards.   

In our globalised world, whether you are working to attract tourism, talent, or investment to your city, your great neighbourhoods should be your best asset – but only if you nurture their individual and authentic character with an effective and collaborative place branding strategy.


Further reading:

How Gentrification Powers New York City’s Tourism Industry:

Place Making as Place Marketing panel session at City Nation Place Americas 2018, featuring Ethan Kent:

Interview with Scott White, President & CEO, Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau:

Interview with Doug McLean, Director, Edmonton Events:

How Developers Built Inclusive Public Spaces and Won, Resonance Article

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