Annette Pritchard on Tourism, Media Representations of Places and Destination Branding

Annette Pritchard, Professor of Tourism at Cardiff Metropolitan University and Director of the Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, in this interview shares her views on tourism and destination branding in highly competitive regions. Annette reveals how the film industry has influenced destination branding in Wales and pays special attention to long-term sustainable visions of place branding.

Learn about:

  • The film industry’s impacts on the brand and branding of Wales;
  • How online media is transforming the way destinations are presented;
  • The trends and challenges of destination branding and marketing in Wales;
  • Why place branding should support the sustainable development of destinations.

Annette, do you remember what first attracted your interest in the study of tourism?

Well, I suppose I’ve always had an interest in tourism since I was a child. I grew up on the island of Anglesey (off the coast of North Wales) and in the summer lots of people would come for their two week holiday by the sea.

My path to the academic study of tourism was more convoluted, however, as I took degrees in International Politics and Sociology and then a Masters in Media Studies.

At that time I was working in the research department of the Wales Tourist Board, where I was lucky enough to manage a wide range of projects, exploring issues such as image and perception of destinations, attitudes towards destinations and holiday taking, and marketing effectiveness.

When a lecturing position came up at what is now Cardiff Metropolitan University, I jumped at it and embarked on what has turned out to be a lifelong fascination with tourism. It’s something which you never really switch off from.

Most people look forward to their holiday for their total break from work. For me, I just can’t help thinking about the implications of my holiday for my research interests!

As a scholar with strong background in media studies, what role do you think media representations of places play with regard to their brand? And would you generally consider media coverage an opportunity or potential threat for place branding initiatives?

I’ve always been fascinated by the media and its influence on us. To be honest, I find myself getting really annoyed with media commentators and journalists who belittle degrees in Media (and Tourism for that matter), dismissing them as Mickey Mouse courses, somehow not worthy of study. Would you really dismiss the exploration and understanding of two of our most significant and influential global industries? Relegating them to the margins undermines our ability to examine their reach and impact at any number of levels, from the very conscious to the very subconscious.

Media representations are incredibly important for places. Negative coverage can have serious consequences for a brand’s value. At the same time, the media can provide a huge stimulus to its value.

It’s not surprising that many destinations are fiercely competing for film and TV to be shot there. I think most destination branders would have looked on in envy at the success of Game of Thrones, for instance, and its impact on tourism in Northern Ireland. It’s been very cleverly harnessed to enhance Northern Ireland’s brand value through various campaigns and it’s created its own niche tourism packages as well. Who wouldn’t grin at a ‘Deposit your Swords’ bin in Belfast airport or search for a giant’s print on a deserted Irish beach?

While media exposure through TV series, such as Game of Thrones, provides the opportunity, the destination has to be ready and able to grab that and take it to new and exciting levels, to exploit that potential brand value.

Arguably we are now seeing new forms of film/media tourism evolve, such as scene filming, as people take their iPads and take ‘live’ shots of the actual scene in the place where it was filmed, which they then share on social media. All of this adds to the destination buzz, particularly online. The world of online media is transforming how destinations are presented and imagined.

To be honest, as academics and branding practitioners we are struggling to keep up in terms of social media’s impact on how and what we know about destination branding.

In your view, what is destination branding all about? And how do you distinguish between branding and marketing?

That’s a difficult one because in the tourism context destination branding is quite clearly evolving within DMOs [Destination Marketing Organizations]. And as an academic field of inquiry, it’s evolved within Marketing. In many cases destination marketers became destination branders and in many instances they work closely together.

Branding, I guess, is much more about the whole. It’s about destination evolution, about how you can shift destination perceptions over a long period of time, a destination’s place in the world and its aspirations for the future. Branding is also about public diplomacy and being the best place you can be.

Marketing provides some of the tools for the destination brander, so perhaps it’s more about the implementation in the short to medium term of specific campaigns.

Which trends and challenges do you observe as a scholar and consultant, with regard to the marketing and branding of destinations, for instance in Wales?

Destination marketing and branding is a hugely competitive sector. For many small destinations, including Wales, it can be a real struggle to find your voice and place in the world. Most tourists – around 75% – go to the global top 6 destinations. That leaves everyone else competing for the attention of the remainder.

Of course, the top 6 destinations are made up of various sub-brands. For example, the UK has 4 national brands (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England) and many regional brands. So we have a very fractured environment and it’s difficult to navigate your way through this.

Many of the old certainties in destination marketing are crumbling. People used to ask their friends and family for recommendations about where to go on holiday. Now people are much more likely to rely on the Internet and platforms such as TripAdvisor.

Added to this: with the rise of social media, branders (although I’m not sure they ever were) are definitely no longer in charge of the conversation around a brand. Brand chatter can quickly go viral and that’s great if it’s good but if it’s not then the consequences can be very damaging.

A key issue for branders are the timescales involved. Branding is about evolutionary, rather than revolutionary change.

However, many of the resources which branders rely on are drawn from the public sector. The financial crisis is still exerting a very destructive grip on the public purse and the impact of events such as Brexit have yet to be made clear. Moreover, politicians are keen to see immediate results. It can be hard in those circumstances to talk about the long-term.

At the same time, in many areas there is still an attitude that tourism is a bit of a candy floss sector. There is a real danger that the public sector may increasingly withdraw from investing in the industry. The reality for many areas is that tourism is a vital economic sector. A decline in investment would have serious economic consequences.

Residents, the tourism industry itself and politicians at all levels need to recognize the significance of tourism for their economies and continue to invest in it.

How can place branding support the sustainable development of destinations? Where’s the link?

If we take the approach that branding is about the long-term and about the place as a whole, then branding and sustainability are inextricably linked. Sustainability is not an optional extra, it is a real-time necessity. Yet how many places recognize this in their statutes or governing principles?  When the National Assembly for Wales was established, I believe it was the only one which had sustainability written into its statutes!

Destinations need to be sustainable if they are to have a long-term future. The communities which live in these destinations all year round need the security that sustainability brings. We only have one planet and we need to place this at the centre of what we do. This may well lead to shifts in the global tourism industry and our own specific holiday taking habits – even though there is little evidence of that as yet.

How to measure the success or effectiveness of destination branding programs?

Measuring effectiveness is always a tricky area. I remember a survey recently undertaken which suggested that, whilst over 80% of destinations had a branding strategy, less than one third actually attempted to measure its effectiveness. I suppose that says it all. It’s a bit like the holy grail, extremely elusive.

Nevertheless, there are examples of how to build effectiveness measures. I recently co-authored an academic industry collaborative publication with Professor Nigel Morgan and Ella Hastings of VisitWales, exploring the effectiveness of the marketing funnel as a success measure. Undoubtedly we need to promote further academic-industry collaboration to build expertise in this area.

Thank you, Annette.

Connect with Annette Pritchard via her staff profile at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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