Interview with José Fernández-Cavia on Digital Media, Place Brand and Destination Branding

José Fernández-Cavia, Head of the Department of Communication at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, in this interview shares findings of his research on the use of digital media, such as websites and mobile applications and its increasing importance for place brands and destination branding. 

Learn about:

  • The current state of digital media and its intersection with place branding;
  • Advice for emerging researchers interested in the area of destination branding;
  • Current trends in destination branding research.

José, your current research focuses on online communication for destination brands. What are your thoughts on the current state of digital media and its intersection with places and destination branding research?

The Internet has become the primary source of information for most travelers in the world, particularly among young people and experienced travelers who are not dependent on intermediaries, capable of organizing the trip by themselves. So destinations must have a powerful and appealing presence online.

One key finding from my research during the last years is that destination branding strategies are too dependent on the marketing perspective and that a communications or a public relations angle can drastically improve the performance of destination brands.

Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) are frequently lacking communication professionals, and often base their communication strategies on a trial-and-error basis. Of course, there are exceptions.

In your position as Head of the Communication Department at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, what advice can you share with emerging researchers interested in destination branding?

Well, at least from my point of view, destination branding is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines tourism and communication. Branding is all about communication. It consists primarily of conveying to the people’s minds the associations we want to link to a name and a logo. So my piece of advice is to focus not only on tourism and marketing, but also include communication.

In our applied research projects, we have demonstrated that too many destination managers are illiterate in communication, with the consequence that their work is not as efficient as it could be.

Over the next six months, you will join The Place Brand Observer as Academic Observer. What focus areas might we hope to read about in the coming months?

My educational background and teaching experience are in advertising and public relations, so my focus will be on brands, promotion tools, and online communication. Specifically, my primary field of research for the past few years has been destination websites, and how to assess their quality. But I’m also planning to tackle topics such as global events or the links and differences between place branding and public diplomacy.

Which are the best academic journals for place branding and destination branding scholars to follow?

Well, first of all, the only one that has the words place branding in the journal’s title is Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, edited by Robert Govers and Nick Cull. But there are a significant number of journals in the business, tourism and communication fields that have devoted some monographs or individual papers to the topic. Those  include:

  • Journal of Destination Marketing and Management
  • Journal of Place Management and Development
  • Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies
  • International Journal of Communication
  • Communication & Society
  • Urban Studies
  • Cities
  • Tourism Management

What current trends are you seeing in destination branding research?

Some of the most valuable recent research has to do with how to manage a destination brand not only from a tourist perspective but a global and holistic one. Focusing only on business and attracting visitors can be a big mistake in the long run. Cities, regions, and countries must act strategically to combine their search for financial profit and economic growth with the well-being of their societies.

Besides that, I’m especially interested in how a powerful brand can help places to achieve their goals.

Tourism is a driving force for the regeneration, promotion, and development of territories. Making the place attractive to leisure or business travelers usually implies that it is also becoming more attractive to residents, international students or investors.

Some well-known examples of cities – Bilbao, Cardiff, Berlin, Buenos Aires – or countries – New Zealand, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Peru – have tried to use their tourism momentum to allocate investments for infrastructure, heritage preservation, cultural equipment or new residential and commercial areas.

Your thoughts on The Place Brand Observer?

In an emerging and promising field, TPBO is a bridge. A bridge between practitioners and academia. A bridge between real case studies and theoretical insight. And a bridge between people and countries.

Thank you, José.

Connect with José Fernández-Cavia on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.


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