Putting sustainability at the heart of your strategy

The impact of overtourism is gaining media coverage. Along with reducing plastic wastage, creating a place brand strategy that balances the needs of tourists, citizens and businesses is increasingly crucial. Inga Hlin Palsdottir, Director of Visit Iceland at Promote Iceland outlined how your place brand can address this holy trinity and ensure your strategy is sustainable.

CNP: Is there anything that you’re particularly hoping to see as a member of our jury? Or a top tip for entry writing that will grab your attention?

IHP: I very much look forward to being a part of the jury this year. I have been following the development in place branding and marketing for over a decade now. What I will be looking for is of course creativity and measured success. However, what would grab my attention specifically is to see how sustainability is integrated into the strategies – it is the most important factor for the development and being a citizen of the world today. 

CNP: How do you think places should be incorporating sustainability into their strategic thinking?

IHP: There is a great opportunity in integrating relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals into the strategies for places. We have e.g. been encouraging less plastic use and responsible travel behaviour in our strategies for marketing our destination under the umbrella brand of Inspired by Iceland.

CNP: What is the greatest challenge when it comes to engaging citizens in your place brand vision?

IHP: Authenticity. It is impossible to engage citizens if they do not connect with your place brand vision on an authentic level. Your vision must reflect shared, authentic values that citizens take pride in. 

CNP: Do you think that the increase in experiential-based tourism and the rise of the millennial traveller has made destination marketing easier or harder? Why?

IHP: Neither. The game is constantly changing and you have to adapt with it. New target groups, new platforms, new products – there is always a new challenge just around the corner.  

CNP: Do you think that place branders are improving their usage of social platforms? What would your top tip be to leverage social media more effectively?

IHP: Social media is not just one thing any more. There are different platforms for different audiences. It’s a lot more fragmented than it used to be. I think the best tip is to maintain a consistent voice where it suits your brand and not try to be all things to all people. Talk to your audience where you are likely to find it. 

CNP: Design is so much more than a logo – how do you believe place branding strategies should incorporate great design thinking?

IHP: Place branding is not a about a logo. It is about keeping the authenticity and keep a focus on the strategy for your place and be creative in getting the message across to reach out to related audience. I really do not think you can survive in today's competitive environment without being creative and use design thinking – it is just part of it all!


CNP: Given the long-term vision and collaborative approaches required for effective place brand strategy, what is the most important skill for place branding teams – creativity or diplomacy?

IHP: Resilience, consistency, patience and adaptability are very important factor for everyone working in place branding teams. It is important to listen to everyone opinion and ideas – but still keep a focus and remember this takes years. For myself I have said that keeping up the JOY, for yourself and for your stakeholders has been so important and made it all more worthwhile.

CNP: If you had a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel anywhere – all expenses paid – where would you go?

IHP: I would go on a luxury interrail on the other side of the world from Iceland. Travelling to New Zealand, Australia, Maldives, Fiji, Japan and Singapore. Not necessarily in this order but I would travel to see the sites, local culture, activities and also to relax, enjoy local food and stay in various different luxury accommodation. 

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