New research from City Nation Place highlights emerging priorities for place brand and marketing organisations
Each year, we reach out to our community of place brand and marketing leaders to benchmark how the industry is developing and to take stock of emerging challenges and opportunities. With the continued global uncertainty [and wouldn’t I like to start a survey without saying that one year soon] it once again seemed particularly pertinent to understand how strategies were evolving. Here are just a few of our key takeaways from the research to help inform your own strategies…
Economic uncertainty - the biggest challenges facing cities, regions, and nations?
Even with free-text responses from 170 places around the world, it was clear there were some shared concerns around the current economic instability. Around a quarter referenced the cost-of-living crisis as a key worry – both in terms of how far organisations could stretch their own resources and of the awareness that audiences will be more budget-conscious about their own actions.
We also asked about budgets, and most appear to be adequately supported by their budgets – 21% expect an increase in budgets and half [50%] expected budgets to remain the same.
However, there’s still quite a high minority [28%] who were expecting a decrease in budget, and as Cat Leaver, Head of Brand & Global Marketing for VisitScotland, highlighted on our webinar, budgets remaining the same when costs are going up still means that many organisations will find themselves doing more with less.
So how are places responding to this? 44% of respondents mentioned that they’re evolving their funding structures, and of those 60% referenced increasing the diversity in funding sources, sourcing grants, and securing commercial or private sector funding. As an example, we’ll be hearing from Visit Lake Charles in Louisiana at our upcoming Americas conference, who are leveraging an economic development grant to build a museum that they will then lease out. As well as growing the product, it’s also a vital new revenue stream.
Another common response was looking to collaborate more with place stakeholders in order to stretch resources further. As well as collaborating internally, the economic crisis could also encourage places to think more creatively about their partnerships. For example, a few years back Paris and London identified that they were both interested in targeting young American travellers, and they launched a shared campaign that highlighted the accessibility of visiting both cities in a single trip. Taking the time to develop new collaborative initiatives with other places could prove to be a valuable way to continue to reach audiences without increasing costs.
New focuses on collaboration
Speaking of collaboration, we also asked how many of our place based respondents had an umbrella identity for attracting visitors, investors, talent, or engaging with citizens, and we’re pleased to see that this year’s survey suggests a gradual improvement in collaborative place brand and marketing approaches – 59% agreed that they had a unified narrative, an increase of 5% from the previous year.
We also asked where places would like to see improved collaboration. Historically, we’ve usually seen an interest in improving collaboration between tourism and economic development teams, but it seems that the foundations for these partnerships are now firmly established and cities, regions, and nations are looking to strengthen other partnerships. Over half [57%] selected that they’d like to improve their collaboration with their private sector, with government [48%] and universities [33%] coming in second and third respectively.
Your private sector is an integral part of your place and often have the most vested interest in helping you grow awareness of your destination. The GREAT Britain campaign, for example, is founded on partnerships with leading British brands; there is a great synergy between the private sector partners who are both contributing to and profiting from your reputational success. On the flip side, there’s the recent news that Toblerone will no longer be able to use Swiss iconography to promote their chocolate now that the production has been moved outside of Switzerland. Knowing how to manage the reputation between place and private sector is essential; we asked our expert partners for their insights on how to engage your private sector in your place vision and you can find their ideas here to help inspire your own strategies.
Building a better place – now and in the future
We also asked our respondents whether or not they believed that having a sustainable approach to tourism or economic development provides a competitive advantage – and an impressive 90% of our place respondents concurred, up 3% from our 2022 study.
In terms of how this is being put into practice, over half [57%] say that they are either working to integrate Sustainable Development Goals into their strategy or have already embedded SDGs at the core of everything they do. Another 26% are in the process of thinking through how they can best respond. Clearly articulating your values can have huge dividends.
For example, places like Costa Rica and Barcelona are using their sustainable commitments as a platform to welcome more investment from companies that are looking to showcase their own sustainable credentials. And as consumers also are increasingly looking to be more ethical in their own choices, tourism destinations will benefit from being able to authentically communicate their own sustainable proposition. As Luis Araujo, President of Turismo de Portugal, shared on our Place2Place podcast, “this is the time for us - together – to change the value chain of tourism, from the supply to the demand. We have to tell people that they need to travel better, they need to experience better, to enjoy another country’s culture, get immersed.”
If we’re talking about building a better future through sustainable means, it’s also important to look at how place brand and marketing organisations are looking to improve the experience of their own destinations. It was encouraging to see that places are increasingly looking to enhance the quality of life for their residents and 54% of place respondents are looking to measure the impact that they’re having in these areas.
We talk at City Nation Place about the importance of the virtuous circle, a sustainable approach that balances the needs and wants of residents, visitors, and investors. As they say, a great place to live is a great place to visit - but the reverse is not always true. And as place organisations take on stewardship and product development roles outside of their initial marketing focus, it’s great to see that this balance is increasingly being addressed.
Confidence for the future
Finally, we asked all our respondents to rate their confidence in tackling the challenges they’re facing, and the majority [47%] rated their confidence at 4 out of 5, where 5 is very confident. And on average, the confidence rating is 3.7 which is up from 3.5 when we asked in last year’s survey. As always, destination marketing, economic development, and place brand organisations are running to keep up with the new societal changes, but it’s encouraging to see that they’re equally rising to the task and confident about the future.
In total, we had 170 responses for the survey, with responses collected between January 3rd and January 31st, 2023. 72% were from place-based respondents while 28% were consultants. Of the place-based respondents, 24% represented nations, 20% represented regions, 43% represented cities, and 13% selected ‘Other’.
Our place based respondents were primarily based in Europe [47%] and North America [28%], but we also had representation from around the word: South America [6%], Oceania [6%], Asia [5%], Africa [3%], and the Middle East [1%].
In terms of the seniority of our place-based respondents, 26% were Leadership [Ministerial, Chairman, CEO, General Manager etc], 39% were part of the Leadership Team [Head of Strategy, Head of Marketing, Director, etc], and 35% were Managerial or Senior Team Managers.