Summary: 5th Intl. Conference on Destination Branding and Marketing, Macau

In December Malcolm Allan, MD of Placematters, attended the 5th International Conference on Destination Branding and Marketing in Macau, 3-5 December 2014, to give a couple of keynote presentations on his work on the development of a brand strategy for the Cork region of Ireland and the brand proposition for the Wild Atlantic Way, the new 2500km tourism driving route on Ireland’s west coast.

Here he gives his reflections on the conference proceedings and the papers that interested him the most.

Destination and Place Branding Conference –  Highlights

This is the second time in recent years that I have given a paper at this conference, the last being at Cardiff Metropolitan University in December 2012. Then it struck me forcibly that it was pitched at and attended largely by academics in the field of place and destination branding and marketing and that there were very few practitioners attending and presenting.

This conference was no different with, by my calculation, five presentations from practitioners and 38 from academics. As a practitioner I’d have liked to see more of my kind presenting and joint presentations by practitioners and academics, as Prof Nigel Morgan (Surrey University, UK) and I did on the Wild Atlantic Way.

That’s not to say that the contributions from the academic community were of no interest to me; the reverse is the case as there were many that offered useful insights for future practice in the field, as all good academic research should. Below I summarize what were, for me, the highlights of the conference.

Can One Place Have Two Brands? Keynote by Professor Alan Fyall

One keynote presentation in particular has stuck in my mind and given me plenty of food for thought. It was by Professor Alan Fyall (University of Central Florida) entitled “Destination and Place Brands: Collaboration, Coexistence and Common Goals?”

Alan explored the development of two separate and complementary brands for one of the USA’s principal tourist destinations, Orlando in Florida, principally as a result of the development there, from 1971 onwards, of Disney World, which has served as a major catalyst for the area’s development.

Essentially Alan was asking the question – can one place legitimately and simultaneously have two brands, and his answer was yes! Orlando has a strong and effective visitor Destination brand, largely driven by Disneyland. Alongside it there is the Place brand for the rest of the offer of the city of Orlando, with a major and expanding non-tourism economy driven by the aerospace, defence and life sciences sectors, offering many opportunities for inward investment and job creation.

What Alan demonstrated in this case study is that it is possible to promote two brands for a place side by side providing that you carefully segment the messages and offers for the separate audiences and are laser like in your communications to them.

Nation Brands and Good Countries: Keynote by Robert Govers

Also of great interest to me was the keynote presentation given by Robert Govers (joint editor of the Quarterly Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy) who talked about Nation Brands and Good Countries. Robert piqued my interest with his opening remark that destination branding is a misnomer as a term. He argued that most places offer more than simply tourism and its unwise to brand a place just on its tourism offer alone.

This is an argument that I agree with having recently prepared a place brand strategy for the London Bridge area of London, probably one of the most historic areas of the city of major interest to visitors to the city, where the tourism offer would by no means do justice to the full offer of the area.

In line with this approach, Robert argued that in branding strategy terms it is more appropriate to look at places from multiple perspectives and consider place reputation as a holistic concept. Spot on in my view. Branding, he argued, should take into account all sectors and the community of a place even if it has a strong tourism offer.

“The Crayola School of Place Branding”

He also coined what is for me a deliciously subversive concept – “The Crayola School of Place Branding” – the places and practitioners who spend time and many dollars on the creation of logos which have the counterproductive effect of making them seem unusually alike.

Robert finished by sharing with the audience a number of reflections on his work with Simon Anholt on The Good Country Index. What the index measures is not just the holistic offer of a country to the rest of the world but also how, through its offer, a country does good for other countries and other peoples, how it contributes benefit and helps them solve problems.

He shared with us that he calculates that there is a 70% correlation between the Nations Brand Index and the Good Country Index. So, it looks like being good at what you do is good for the rest of the world.

Challenges of European City Branding: Best Paper by Teemu Moilanen

Among the many other papers given at the conference one in particular stood out for me. This was on the “Challenges of City Branding: A comparative Study of 10 European Cities”, by Teemu Moilanen of HAGGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland.

This paper was of particular interest to me as a practitioner as it provided hard evidence on the common problems and challenges faced by cities and their advisers in attempting to develop effective and lasting city brand strategies. Teemu identified ten major and common challenges:

  • The large number of stakeholders who need to be consulted and involved in city branding for effective strategy to result;
  • The limited understanding of what’s involved in effective place brand strategy among city stakeholders;
  • The often limited internal buy-in to city branding by staff and politicians of city councils;
  • The challenges in securing internal buy-in;
  • The challenge of securing sufficient funding for the scale of the task;
  • The slowness of many city branding projects and time related issues often caused by the complexities of consultation and decision making;
  • The issues that have to be addressed in organisations with multiple constituencies;
  • The challenges of operational brand management as a strategy gets implemented;
  • The challenges of monitoring and evaluating the impact and delivery of the brand strategy, for example, choosing meaningful performance indicators that can be measured.

Personally, I have encountered all of these challenges in my work on city branding over recent years and it was “comforting” to find out that they are common across Europe, as they are in other continents.

Place branding expert Malcolm AllanWhat is less comforting is that there is little active interchange of current and effective practice in addressing these challenges, which is required to halt those new to the field and practice of city branding repeating others mistakes. In my opinion, this is a priority field for further research by academics and greater sharing of practice by practitioners.

Professor Nigel Morgan in his summing up at the last session of the conference picked up on this theme of greater cooperation between those who develop brand strategies, those who manage their implementation, those who manage and market destinations and those who carry out research.

Malcolm is the founder of and can be reached via PlaceMatters.co. Follow him on Twitter @malkyallan


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