Three critical factors for the new era of destination branding

By Shaun Loftman, Executive Creative  Director, CEEMEA, LANDOR & FITCH


Transforming destination branding post COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world’s largest industry into crisis. Here we outline how destination branding plays a vital role in recovery; if there’s one thing we’ve learned at LANDOR & FITCH it’s that strong brands are more resilient during hard times and bounce back more quickly. In an ever-changing world, what are the three critical factors that will define success for destination brands as we look to the future?


Factor 1: The critical role of trust 

Historically travel and tourism have been about adventure, exploring new frontiers and trialling the unexpected. However, tourists’ expectations have now changed as a result of the pandemic, and customers are looking for trust, responsibility and safety. The entire tourism industry must transform to meet this need and find a way to balance the paradoxical components of adventure and safety.  

The place brands that are able to retain and reclaim the trust of travellers will recover the quickest. This can be achieved by providing certainty in these uncertain times through responsible behaviour and a concern for customer safety.

Take City of Covington as an example, whose brand is anchored around its sense of community and offering each other a helping hand. Covington responded quickly yet creatively to the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed people to trust the brand by creating a new ‘COVID-19 Handy Guide’ app. Adapting to new circumstances quickly is an important sign of trustworthiness and actively shows that the destination brand really cares for their community and customers.


An example of Covington's COVID-19 Handy Guide appAn example of Covington's destination branding during COVID.


Implications: 

The pandemic has resulted in the destination brand-scape being reset into a level playing field. No longer is it a given that the so called ‘established’ destinations will continue to dominate, instead there is an opportunity for different destinations to come to the fore to tell new stories – often better ones – built on the notion of trust. A place brand that anticipates people’s desire for adventure and experience while pioneering new safety and hygiene concepts, reassuring potential customers, stands to benefit most from the new situation.


Factor 2: Destination brands need to flex for the future 

The best destination brands are able to react to the moment and flex for the future. This was the case before the pandemic but is now even more important.

The City of Melbourne, once in Sydney’s shadow, is a great example of this. Together we created a dynamic, future-focused brand with the ability to flex whilst staying culturally relevant at its core.

Firstly, the brand identity had to be relevant for everyone, it needed to speak to a number of audiences at the same time, from visitors and locals, through to stakeholders. As the city’s portfolio grew, Melbourne needed to adapt its brand to different occasions such as the Melbourne Spring Fashion Show. An extremely flexible brand was created, one that could respond to any given situation and allows many organisations to merge into one entity. One brand with limitless potential.

Three people walking past an example of Melbourne's branding.

Implications: 

As we face the future and the unknown repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic it is more necessary than ever that destination brands are resilient and able to adapt quickly to change. For a destination brand to succeed and bounce back from crisis, your entire brand world must have the ability to transform and innovate with the changing times. We have many opportunities to unlock true brand potential through using verbal and sonic identity, branded environments and defining rituals and behaviour. This is essential for all aspects of the travel industry, from country and national brands to regional destinations, hotel chain and airline branding.


Factor 3: Place brands need  to create experiences

Creating engaging experiences is crucial in the new era of destination branding. If brands can stimulate a sense of experience, then we will feel a far greater connection with them. The tourism industry has come a long way from just logos, with destination brands now offering an array of innovative 360-degree brand experiences that fully engage the customer’s senses.

We created a brand personality for the luxury Maldives island resort ‘JOALI’ based on someone who truly cares – both for the sustainability of the natural environment and the well-being of her guests to the island. The brand was inspired by her passion for travel, art, world and local cultures. She invites her guests into her world to feel a deeper emotional connection to the experiences and virtues of island life. The overarching brand idea centres around joy and is brought to life through her personally curated activities. Her story can be felt on the JOALI website that details her personal travel recommendations to the locally sourced sustainably made art commissioned for the destination, and her taste for the best of world cuisine. The entire brand experience reflects the personality of welcoming host driven by her love for nature and creativity.

A few examples of JOALI's branding and design style.

Implications: 

As we look to the future it becomes more and more important to consider brand experience at all stages of the customer journey. In the age of new brand truths, we must revaluate, analysis, and optimise the most important touchpoints with intelligently considered experiences. To do this we believe that the human senses need to be engaged. Not only sight, but also through music and sound signatures, as well as aroma and touch. Destination brands have the growing opportunity to differentiate and innovate the customer experience through a combination of physical, human and digital interactions.


In the new era of destination branding, we need to develop place brands that understand new customer expectations and embed the critical role of trust, whilst developing the ability to react and flex their identities to the moment. Perhaps most importantly, destination brands must transform and innovate as we look to the future to create fully immersive brand experiences with unique connections between place and customer.



Related reading

Three critical factors for the new era of destination branding | Global 2020 Webinar

What Melbourne's flexible design identity says about the value of a logo

Destination branding in a time of lockdown

14 steps to nation branding: a practical guide

Investing in reputational capital 101: using data for informed decision making 

Using digital data to adapt to a changing travel landscape

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