How to Brand a City Destination: Case Study Vienna, Austria

Vienna, just like Barcelona, forms part of an elite group of cities much envied for their global recognition and favourable reputation. In this case study, Bernhard Klein reflects on his experience as head of brand strategy and destination branding of Vienna, capital of Austria.

Learn about:

  • Why destination brands matter in tourism;
  • How to manage a city- or destination brand;
  • How to control a brand image of a city or destination;
  • How the international brand image of Vienna was determined.

Destination Branding Example: Vienna as Brand

“Brands” have begun playing a major role in today’s tourism industry and are already recognized as a successful opportunity to develop a destination. Many years ago, the City of Vienna began exploring the avenues of brand management, when a young and ambitious tourism director asked me to come to Vienna to implement a corresponding management program as the city’s new director of brand.

At that time, I was basically barging into the company’s somewhat naïve discussion on what a brand might be and become. Aside from debates on matters of taste, there was certainly also a lack of knowledge on how to actually approach and implement a brand program.

This is hardly surprising, though: Vienna is just one of many cities where the top positions of tourist boards are filled based on “political affiliation” instead of relevant qualification. Even lower-ranking positions are usually filled by tourism instead of marketing experts.

Nevertheless, it did not take us long to agree not to simply change our looks in terms of logo, corporate design, claim or abstract mission statements, but instead to substantially refocus and redesign the city’s marketing strategy.

We were fully aware of the fact that changing established brands is an extremely slow process. There is no such thing as a quick fix and all serious studies on this topic consider a period of 10 to 12 years to be a realistic timeframe for image changes.

However, this is only true for “closed” brand systems, where you actually control all the parameters of a more or less controllable system, such as procurement, production, product management, marketing, sales, pricing, etc.

In contrast, destinations are “more open” systems with a multitude of players beyond our control: inhabitants, for example. This is why any image change of a destination requires even better relevant qualifications of the responsible team, even more effort and commitment, and above all, even more time. Still, destinations are subject to all the brand laws and principles as well.

How to manage a city or destination brand

Now, how can we implement brand management and change an image in a system that is so difficult to control? Is it even possible on our own and just based on management decisions, or are we only pawns in the hands of a greater system with overpowering framework conditions?

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The Editorial Team

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