The year is 2025. How has place branding evolved?

Imagine. The year is 2025. Take a moment to picture it, and then ask yourself – what will have changed? What trends will we see continuing to grow? What might remain the same?

Since we’re coming to the end of the year, we challenged our panel of experts to share their predictions to help you understand how approaches to place branding will evolve. Here’s just a few of their insights…

PREDICTION 1: With increased focus on sustainability, ‘slow travel’ will become more prevalent.

As the effects of the pandemic subside, sustainability will be at the forefront of the agenda for brands. To this end, ‘slow-travel’ will become a trend with visitors taking longer but less frequent trips overseas to help reduce their carbon footprints.

Place brands will need to work hard to innovate and build experiences that engage travellers on a deeper level in ways which allow them to see the unseen. It will be less about ticking off the big hit sights and more about enjoying the local experience and way of life.

Gary Bryant, Executive Director, Strategy, Landor & Fitch

PREDICTION 2: ESG will be a key pillar of place brand strategies

With ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) already manifesting its way in developments across the globe, it has become the latest talking point and opportunity of growth. The increased investment focus by developers prioritising it as a key aspect for new projects highlights its importance on how we approach place-branding. We have noticed an increase in ESG initiatives in the Gulf, in particular, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia given the country's objective to create a greener and more sustainable future. For example, KSA has been on the top of renewable energy with the development of NEOM smart city, which is a new model for urbanisation and sustainability.

The year is 2025 and we envision more countries incorporating ESG in their approach to place branding. We hope for sustainability to be at the forefront of developers' minds as we realise a circular economy and sustainable future is protocol for every country if they want to initiate progressive change.

Guillaume Cocken, Head of Business Development, Brash Agency

PREDICTION 3: Inclusive and representative storytelling will be the norm.

The next three years will accelerate two significant and related trends that are already well underway in many place branding practices: inclusion and reconciliation. Inclusiveness is a fundamental tenet of responsible, socially sensitive brands for places. It’s not only about the diversity of who participates in consultations, it’s also about more representative, honest histories – whose stories are we acknowledging and celebrating? These can be difficult themes to navigate (as the1619 Project chronicling slavery and Black resistance in the US attests) but they are essential. Reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities is another critical piece of creating authentic place propositions. The fact that many communities are embracing traditional Indigenous place names (and renaming some “colonial” locales) is one aspect of reconciliation. But there are far more significant issues and opportunities to address in terms of integrating Indigenous communities, traditions and knowledge into future planning and placemaking.

Jeannette Hanna, Chief Strategist, Trajectory

PREDICTION 4: Tourism boards will shift to become true destination management organisations.

A strong place brand reflects the emotions that people feel when they consider visiting, living or working there. By 2025 every place will have made sure they are taking serious steps to tackle visitor, resident and workers’ deep and increasing concerns about sustainability and environmental impacts.

Tourism boards will have shifted to become true destination management organisations, considering the widest impact of their work on their community and environments. That may mean some destinations actively deterring visitors, or shifting target arrivals. Ambitious leaders will have signed up to the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism and undertaken a sustainable destination management audit, or workshop such as those we offer together with the Travel Foundation.

In urban destinations, property landlords and owners will always set up installations and events that can be reused or recycled. They will be well on their way to carbon neutrality and bring visitors with them with a far more discernible circular economy in play. Leading places will have set inspiring initiatives in place to ensure social inclusivity and physical and mental wellbeing through local community funds and calming and mindful spaces packed with culture or entertainment.

Debbie Hindle, CEO, Travel, Four Communications

PREDICTION 5: Places will take a more holistic approach to destination development.

Our approach to place branding in 2025 will fully embrace and consider all the key sectors and factors that impact on the visitor economy such as inward investment, transport, retail, planning and the needs of residents and visitors.

Furthermore, in 2025 all of these aspects will be considered during the development of destination management plans which will be recognised as an essential step in the strategic process before places even consider branding and straplines.

Deirdre Wells OBE, CEO, Go To Places

PREDICTION 6: Future-thinking and planning for the long-term will allow places to be more resilient.

In 2025, places brands must see the future (to the best of our ability). Predictive analytics will be required insights for all place organizations. Insights that show how a place will fare (product, marketing, digital, investment, visitor, customer satisfaction data) at specific points in the future will prove critical to pivoting and lasting in the long-term. Annual predictions will not be enough, places will need to prepare, and specific predictions taking into account risk, dependencies, and strategic shifts will be needed. These analytics, which exist now (and we prepare at Trove), will be needed for all cities, regions and nations looking to sculpt a brand message, marketing strategy, or product development roadmap.

Danny Cohanpour, Founder, Trove Tourism

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