How Place Branding Can Support the Sustainable Development of Cities, Regions and Destinations

Most place brand strategies aim at attracting visitors, investors, talent. But can place branding also improve livability and the sustainable development of cities and regions? Exploring the links between sustainability, branding, place competitiveness and reputation is both exciting and timely. Even more so as sustainability (or better: lack thereof) is becoming a threat not just to the image, but to the very legitimacy of tourism activities in overcrowded destinations.

In our interviews with place professionals we often include a question about the links between their respective field of expertise (economic development, public diplomacy, human geography, destination marketing,…) and sustainability.

Below a few extracts and answers from our interviews, intended to offer you a snapshot of expert views on the topic.

How can place marketing and branding support sustainability and the sustainable development of cities and regions?

Andy Levine, USA:

Let’s start with a definition, courtesy of the International Institute of Sustainable Development:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Marketing that successfully attracts investment and talent which supports the long term growth and progress of a community without mortgaging its future is the key to success.

Bill Baker, USA:

Sustainability should embrace economic, social and environmental principles. In theory it should be a fundamental strategic and operational consideration for all place brands, but in reality it is often something that slips between the cracks.

To truly adopt sustainability takes a holistic approach across all governments, organizations and residents in a location. Very often achieving this is beyond the political and corporate influence of the project leadership team to foster the degree of cross-community unity, cooperation and commitments required.

Can-Seng Ooi, Denmark:

If one sees place branding as part of a wider urban regeneration project, then issues of physical, social and economic sustainability can be integrated into the project. If place branding is seen as a marketing exercise, then urban sustainability can be a focal point to inspire residents.

Frank Cutitta, USA:

People and businesses are increasingly drawn to sustainable and resilient ecosystems. Business continuity equates with stability in the work environment, which results in happier workers and customers. Communicating those brand attributes in smart city branding strategies assures competitive advantage when people are choosing where to live, where businesses decide where to locate, tourists decide to travel, and organizations decide on a venue to convene.

Jordi de San Eugenio Vela, Spain:

Place branding creates a story. In my opinion it’s an excellent tool for sensitizing, for explaining clearly, the need to preserve the environment, which is critical in maintaining place attractiveness. For example, landscape at a tangible and intangible level plays a crucial role in creating a place image. Therefore, it’s recommendable to insert a ‘green branding’ campaign to strengthen respect for the environment.

Juan Carlos Belloso, Spain:

Well, in fact, the ultimate objective of place branding is to contribute to the sustainable social and economic development of places by helping them design and develop a competitive identity that would make them more attractive to visitors, talent, investors, consumers, etc., generating economic activity and employment for the benefit of their citizens.

With regards to environmental sustainability, I personally consider this of fundamental importance for places and any place branding strategy should have this objective in mind.

Magdalena Florek, Poland:

In my opinion, like no other approach, place marketing is suitable for sustainable development of places.

If sustainable development involves a broad view of social, environmental and economic outcomes; a long-term perspective (concerning the interests and rights of the future generations as well as the contemporaries) and an inclusive approach to action which recognises the need for all people to be involved in the decisions affecting their lives, it naturally corresponds with the elements of the place marketing approach.

Manolis Psarros, Greece:

None of the groups of stakeholders associated with destination branding and marketing can afford to remain indifferent to issues of tourism sustainability and environmental/social responsibility. Greece is an illustrative example of a country in need to be proactive in protecting natural and built assets in top destinations while working for a better future in undeveloped areas.

Mihalis Kavaratzis, UK:

The key word here is participation. It is all about allowing, facilitating and encouraging peoples’ participation in the construction of the place brand. We need to give them the means and the reasons to get involved in the story that their place is telling on their behalf. In this way, place branding becomes a powerful tool for development and cohesion.

Robert Govers, Belgium:

Surely for sustainable development in general, if you accept the link between reputation management and ‘doing good’.

Philip Kotler, USA:

Before marketing got a conscience (i.e, social responsibility), it assumed that the world’s resources were infinite and human wants were insatiable.

We are aware that industry brings wonderful goods into being but we are growing more aware that industry extract a toll on our resources (which are limited) and on our climate. We are also aware that businesses do not cover the full costs of their negative impact on our environment.

We need to require companies to internalize these costs and raise their prices if necessary. More companies today are recognizing their need to practice sustainability. In the best cases, a company will also insist that their suppliers practice sustainability.


The sustainability of cities and regions – especially as tourist destinations – is becoming a major concern and responsibility for place managers and marketers. Issues such as “overtourism”, “tourismophobia” and “overcrowding” all challenge the legitimacy of tourism, threaten to damage place images, make “happy world” promotional campaigns look ridiculous and undermine the competitiveness of cities and regions.

Apart from the ongoing transformation of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to destination management organizations, proactive, deliberate use of marketing techniques can also help to avoid such scenarios – ‘de-marketing’ being one such approach.

If interested in tourism sustainability leadership, we recommend you to keep an eye on the Sustainability Leaders Project, featuring more than 250 interviews with leading sustainable tourism professionals.

Beyond tourism, economic development success depends on being able to attract business/investment, which (at least at the high end of value creation, which is also the most lucrative in terms of tax revenue) goes where talent is. And with an increasingly mobile, location-independent workforce, urban sustainability as livability indicator is going to be a key factor for talent attraction.

Please note that the information and views set out in this article are those of the authors (interviewees) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the organizations they work for.

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