Transforming Places into Destinations

Singapore Skyline (#12)
Singapore - a leading destination for work, study and play (courtesy of Christopher Chan)

A core part of my work currently revolves around how we can make an art gallery not just a venue for visual art exhibitions but a lifestyle destination. What are the drivers needed to transform any place - country, city, neighbourhood, leisure attraction, heck, even a garden or building - into a well-loved destination? How does one shape a location into the "happiest place on Earth" (borrowing from Disney)?

First, we could perhaps look at the definition of Destination Marketing. According Karl Albrecht and the Destination Marketing Association,

"Destination Marketing is a proactive, strategic, visitor-centered approach to the economic and cultural development of a location, which balances and integrates the interests of visitors, service providers, and the community."

Destination (or Place) Marketing is a holistic discipline, balancing the needs of various stakeholders while making a place viable and sustainable. There are entire books written about it (including this one by the Destination Marketing International Association), but this model below by Philip Kotler probably best sums up what its key considerations are:

Levels of place marketing by Kotler (source of image)

As seen from the chart above, developing a place into a destination requires one to consider multiple factors.  They range from the planning group comprising residents, businesses and government agencies and how they're involved in developing a place marketing strategy, its impact on marketing factors like infrastructure, people, quality of life, and attractions, as well as the wider target markets of a destination: new residents, manufacturers, investors, tourists, conventioneers, and exporters.  How these work together is a highly complex process requiring extensive planning, negotiation and development over a period of years.

To make the above work, it is critical to position a destination correctly against an entire army of competing places. What are the unique qualities that can differentiate your place from other places under the Sun? My favourite way to do this is to employ a perceptual map. See if you agree with the example below placing the US, Poland, Germany and China.

Courtesy of the Scottish Government

The next thing to consider is of course a destination's logo. Here, many cities and countries around the world have developed their own distinctive visual identity elements in a bid to differentiate themselves. These are often very painstakingly done, involving numerous consultations with stakeholders and focus groups ad nauseum. See how many of these you can identify from the example below:

Source of image

Here are more country logos for those of you addicted to this stuff. See if you agree with how the logos reflect the place's personality and key attributes.

Courtesy of Hospitality Times

In terms of destination marketing strategies and tactics, there are numerous ways to make a place endeared and loved by many. These range from making movies about a location (for example Australia), organising world class events (Formula One, Olympics, World Cup), developing unique attractions (anything that is first, largest, highest, or oldest), to ensuring that service standards and hospitality are unsurpassed (Thailand and Japan are great at this).

New York is probably the most filmed city in the world (courtesy of IMP Awards)

Finally, having a strong destination brand brings many benefits to its communities, marketers, visitors and other stakeholders. Bill Baker in Branding Strategy Insider, cited the following as examples of successful destination brand benefits:

1) Provides peace of mind by increasing trust and confidence.

2) Saves time and effort.

3) Simplifies choices.

4) Associations with the place reflects well on them.

5) Taps into their needs and desires.

6) Provides perceived added value and benefits.

What are some of your favourite places (big and small) around the world? Why do you like them so?

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