January 24, 2011

Developing a compelling destination brand


Travelers and distributors encounter a growing number of messages from established and emerging destinations, all competing for limited mind space and descretionary spending on scarce vacation time. Destinations need an efficient means to create a sense of place on travelers' mental maps.

Destination marketers are becoming increasingly so- phisticated in their approach to targeting markets, building emotional appeal, and applying best practices refined in the private sector for disseminating marketing messages. We argue that to compete in the cluttered travel environment, destination marketers need to borrow from the consumer- goods playbook and develop a destination brand.

The use of slogans to market destinations to travel- ers is hardly new. New York launched the phenomenally successful “I Love New York” campaign in 1977, the same year that “It’s Better in the Bahamas” appeared. However, sustainable destination marketing requires more than just a catchy slogan. It demands a strategic approach to building a destination brand. A strategic brand is one that aligns key stakeholders - government tourism agencies, non-governmental orgainizations, private sector tourism suppliers, the media, and travel consumers. The brand must communicate the travel assets of a destination in a way that connects with the needs and wants of the traveling public. A destination brand is essentially the promise of an experience, one that the traveler desires and that the destination can deliver.

A successful destination branding effort can drive real results. After consecutive years of decline in tourism arrivals, India's launch of "Incredible India" in 2002 yielded a near doubling of international arrivals from 2.4 million to 4.6 million in the four years immediately following its rollout. Similarly, after years of sluggish growth, South Africa launched a campaign titled, "It's possible," and increased visitors from 6.8 million to 9.7 million in the following four years. 2 Other destinations have achieved similar success with their branding campaigns, including Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Malaysia, and Singapore.

This report explains how to develop a successful desti- nation brand. We refined the framework and methods duriing a Cornell University project to help rebrand Zambia; several of the examples reference insights from this work. Our team of Cornell students and faculty combined an aca- demic approach to problem identification with a consulting process for problem solving to create a conceptually robust, data-driven model applicable to almost any destination brand - or, indeed, any experiential product.

Download the full report at Cornell University