Climate Emergency or Pandemic: How Global Issues Impact Destination Branding

Disruptive events like the pandemic and the changing climate have caught global attention, and countries, cities as well as regions are ramping up measures to handle future crises. But how do such global issues affect destinations and their brand(ing)?

We asked our panel of place brand specialists and – in collaboration with Sustainability Leaders United – leading tourism experts to find out how such events affect destination branding (highlighted respondents are available for consulting or as speakers).

Our key takeaways:

  • A destination’s stand on global issues impacts its brand;
  • In the current scenario, incorporating a message on such impacts is a differentiating factor among destinations. It signals commitment on matters of global interest;
  • Branding (=brand development and management) should address risks caused by the pandemic, climate or regional instability, to create a sense of security among visitors;
  • Some destinations have started to acknowledge climate change and incorporate the action taken into their communication strategies;
  • The actions of important stakeholders within the destination – especially government or leading industry – on global issues have an impact on the reputation of the destination. Hence the branding should reflect actual realities and initiatives.

Brian Mullis, sustainable tourism expert panel member

Brian Mullis

Speaker profile

USA | Progressive destinations have an opportunity to: 

  • Identify their strongest and most competitively appealing natural heritage assets;
  • Identify how the destination and tourism businesses are working together to protect and regenerate these assets and invest in addressing climate adaptation and resiliency in a clear and compelling manner;
  • Similarly, identify and promote how they have implemented safety and security protocols to make it easy to visit and protect visitors.

Fiona Jeffery, sustainable tourism expert panel member

Fiona Jeffery

Speaker profile

UK | Global issues do impact and need to be taken into account by DMOs whose perspective should include reflecting on long-term implications and opportunities, building this into local strategies for short and long-term impacts.

Gunter Soydanbay

Günter Soydanbay

Consulting / Speaker profile

Canada | It is important not to paint with broad strokes. Like it or not, for instance, 45% of Americans don’t believe humans cause climate change. Similar numbers can be said for the pandemic as well. So, it comes down to “authentic values alignment.”

If as a destination, you strongly feel one way or another, then you can be real about it and shout it out. Destination branding could help DMOs in understanding visitors’ perceptions, priorities, and preferences.

Jonathon Day, sustainable tourism expert panel memberJonathon Day

Speaker profile

USA | Destination branding is an important tool in ‘managing’ sustainable destinations. Effective branding influences both consumer understanding of the destination and tourism operations in the destination.

Kirsi Hyvaerinen

Kirsi Hyvaerinen

Speaker profile

Montenegro Many destinations have re-engineered their communication strategies. Destination brands that have sustainability in their core have an advantage if they also deliver their promise.

Natasha Grand

Natasha Grand

Speaker profile

UK | DMOs can interpret global challenges through values and character, and archetype of their brand, and shape responses accordingly.

If the brand character and archetype are, for example innocent, then emphasise how your destination takes care of the visitors; if it is a smart leader (hero or wizard), emphasise the usage of new technologies.

Robert Govers panel

Robert Govers

Consulting / Speaker profile

BelgiumThe nonsensical concept of destination branding is stretched much too far here. Tourism in itself is usually not the problem and it needs to be managed, but even then it can certainly not be the only solution. We need interdisciplinary strategic thinking about integrated solutions across sectors.

Todd Babiak, place branding panel

Todd Babiak

Speaker profile

AustraliaIdeally, we have a strong enough place brand that we know how to use destination branding and marketing activities to benefit locals and visitors. If our brand isn’t strong, coherent, and well understood, we will fall into random tactics and campaigns that could contradict our brand and strategy.

Tom Buncle

Tom Buncle

Speaker profile

UK | Destinations need to demonstrate sensitivity and incorporate measures to mitigate climate change and reduce carbon emissions into their marketing, but not their branding.

This is because a brand is inherited, not created. You can alter how you talk about the place and to whom (marketing), but you can’t alter what centuries of tradition, people, and landscape have made the place (brand).

Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith

Speaker profile

UK | Destination branding can bring a spotlight to issues – to consumer front-of-mind awareness, and sector focus to prompt addressing impacts.

Recent experience with Madagascar shows that some will accept awareness-raising for famine issues, but not if they are linked to climate change (heat, drought and floods affecting food production, distribution and security). That is, famine issues become less ‘digestible’ when climate-related.

Is this denial still? The reasons are given (not from a DMO though). Maybe because it isn’t proven, just that the issue exists. Is it because climate change isn’t yet ‘normalised’ where famine is somehow more palatable given decades of it? (and would we want it to be?!).

I suspect it comes down to cognitive dissonance: people feel guilt over climate, knowing their actions contribute. In a way they don’t over famine – famine can be solved with one answer – food; the climate crisis cannot.

Adam Mikołajczyk

PolandOf course, they influence on many levels. However, managing risks related to external conditions should be an integral part of any brand strategy today. In the case of Poland, this includes the war in Ukraine.

Many tourist destinations, not only in the east of the country (such as Krakow), are automatically perceived as dangerous by external customers. So DMOs must now take additional measures to build a sense of security, which is not an easy challenge.

Andrea Lucarelli

SwedenGlobal issues are global because they circulate via communication channels, so it cannot be that destinations are not affected. 

There is an assumption that branding can affect DMOs. Yes because branding is not only made by DMOs but by other stakeholders. How branding is affecting DMOs then? Most of the time by creating a contradiction.

Efe Sevin

USA | It is difficult to give a universal answer here. Some destinations do not have the luxury of ignoring these global issues. Some have the power to do something about them, while others do not. Hopefully what branding can do is make DMOs realize there is more to destination-based communication than short-term sales or incentives. DMOs need to take a step back and look at how they want to be known locally and globally. And yes, their stance on global issues should be a part of their brand.

Malcolm Allan

UK | Given the increasing awareness of people around the world about the known and potentially damaging effects of the climate emergency, I have been arguing for the last three years that the action that places are taking and planning to mitigate those impacts is now one of the major differentiating factors between places.

A major determinant of their reputation and identity, and incorporating it into their brand strategy, will strengthen it and convey the seriousness with which the place is taking these issues, and be an important determinant of the differences between places.

If this can happen, and it needs to, then a destination management organisation should be working with its sectoral stakeholders to ensure they are aware of the potential threats from the climate emergency that might damage their offer.

When stakeholders are taking them seriously to make their place safer for residents and visitors and the operation of their attractions, then this positive news should be transmitted by their destination marketing organisations.

Rachel Dodds

Canada | Climate change and the pandemic definitely affect how destinations are branded as well as their overall marketing. Check out Las Vegas, it did a good job of pivoting during the pandemic. Norway has done a good job of acknowledging climate change and how they position themselves.

Richard Butler

UK | Branding should follow destination goals including minimising non-sustainable uses and activities. Branding should reflect issues like climate change as long as the branding matches reality and actions and developments.

Steve Noakes

AustraliaThe destination brand will be influenced by how local stakeholders – especially the national governments – manage major global issues such as climate change and the pandemic.

For example, compare the way Japan has managed the pandemic to the way the USA or the UK has handled it. Japan’s brand as a destination with high public safety has been reinforced.

Another key global issue is manufacturing, distribution and access to military-level guns. Continuing the comparison of destinations like Japan and the USA, the vastly different gun laws and death/injury rates from gun-related violence must surely impact the safety perceptions which is so important for destination brands.

While the marketing team within DMOs might be cautious about highlighting how a global issue like climate change is impacting their (say) tropical low-lying island or mountain ski resort, I am sure the planning and policy teams with DMOs need to take realistic assessments and actions to deal with such significant issues of rising sea levels, more intense and frequent storms and short winter snow seasons.

Previous questions answered by the place brand panel here.

Enjoyed this snapshot of expert views on how global issues like the climate emergency or the pandemic impact destination branding? Thanks for sharing!


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