Tourism and destinations are central to many place branding initiatives. In this interview, Manolis Psarros, Managing Director of destination marketing agency Toposophy, shares his thoughts on the current state of destination marketing, the main trends, challenges and opportunities.
- How the destination marketing field has changed over the last 5 years;
- What changes/trends he anticipates for the near future;
- To what extent the Sharing Economy influences the marketing of destinations;
- The key challenges in terms of city branding at the moment;
- His favorite place branding book.
Manolis, can you give us a short summary of your current work, projects and responsibilities?
It has already been one year since the launch of TOPOSOPHY as an Integrated Destination Marketing Agency. Being a business unit of ATCOM Internet & Multimedia, Toposophy focuses on the combination of online and offline tools for the provision of innovative solutions to destinations and companies.
The key of our business strategy is the systematic monitoring and assessment of new market trends, such as the global impact of the ‘sharing’ or ‘rental’ economy and the preferences of Millennial travellers. Influential partners, such as the European Cities Marketing, HOTREC, Pacific Asia Travel Association, City of Athens & Diners Club International, among others, appreciate our capacity to transfer knowledge and expertise from one destination to another.
When did you first come across destination marketing and branding – what got you interested?
People are often surprised when they find out about my tourism planning background. This has been however the most important asset in seeing city space as the output of economic and socio-cultural transformations taking place continuously. We are talking about the capacity of cities to create the physical venues for interaction that generate innovation, art, culture, and economic activity.
Understanding new types of mobilities is also part of seeing a future where smart cities will work for both residents and visitors alike. This kind of thinking helped me a lot when I was Director of Tourism Development in the City of Athens, and always keeps me interested in the analysis of destination marketing and branding as integral processes of place marketing and branding.
From your experience as consultant, how has the destination marketing field changed over the last 5 years? And what changes/trends do you anticipate for the near future?
Destination marketing has never been the same since the economic recession and the rapid evolution of digital tools, such as social media, analytics, and mobile apps.
The rise of personalization in travel experience has also highlighted the ‘social’ dimension of destination marketing from both a global and a local perspective.
Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) now have to create content and communicate messages about what makes a city a unique place not only to travel to but also to work, study and live in.
The more the options to convince diverse stakeholders to work together for a common purpose, the more the DMOs will be in search of better revenue sources, such as membership fees and sponsorship.
A model shift from government agencies and nonprofit organizations to public-private partnerships is expected to shape the operational environment of DMOs in the near future.
You recently published a report called Greek Tourism UNCOVERED. From a destination marketing and branding perspective, which are the key tourism challenges and your recommendations for Greece at the moment?
Greece had to learn in the most difficult way that the viability of tourism at each place is largely predicated upon the prospect of socio-political stability and the well-being of local communities.
Three years of growth and positive performance have now reconfirmed the common perception of tourism in Greece as a driving force of the national economy. What remains to be done however is still important in terms of integrating the tourism sector into the country’s development agenda and priorities.
For instance, the development of a long-term national strategy is just as important as the inclusion of its objectives inside sustainable tourism master plans that will be introduced by regional administrations and major municipalities.
Greek businesses and destinations should invest in closing the gap in the usage of technology compared with the majority of countries in the European Union.
Doug Lansky in a recent TED talk called for DMOs to become less marketing and more destination management focused – do you agree?
Certainly. You would only need to consider the various examples from the US, where the coordination of DMOs and Economic Development Agencies yields broad economic benefits in destinations around the country.
The key lies in identifying a more proper balance between efforts to improve the real-time experience of visitors and shape their perceptions on the pre/post stages of their journey.
To what extent does the Sharing Economy influence the marketing of destinations?
The emergence and expansion of the sharing economy in the wider field of travel services is not anymore a peripheral issue. What began at the outset of the global economic crisis as an alternative economic model, now has evolved into an increasingly powerful phenomenon reinforced by changing consumption trends and decisions taken at the highest levels of policy-making.
Destination marketing cannot ignore the transition from the Internet of things to the Internet of everything. We are part of an era made up by the capacity of technological advancements to facilitate the networked connectivity of people, processes, data, and things.
The implications of this transition touch upon the core of service production and consumption, changing the perceptions of visitors throughout the stages of tourist experience and creating significant challenge for all tourism stakeholders
As sustainable tourism expert, how do you perceive the role/importance of sustainable and responsible tourism criteria in contemporary destination branding and marketing, for example in 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.
All lessons related to the economic crisis have actually had a common denominator; investing in the sustainability of an influential economic sector, such as tourism, requires consensus-building and the systematic cooperation of stakeholders from both the public and the private sphere of society through the recollection of financial and intellectual resources.
Having worked in and for Athens for many years, where do you see the key challenges in terms of city branding at the moment?
After a long period of instability, Athens has been the most impressive case of the rejuvenation of Greek tourism since 2013. The social element is the most important of the city at the moment, because the economic crisis coincided with the growing awareness of digital tools and application on behalf of young people.
New entrepreneurs and volunteers who are ready to contribute to the city’s well-being in terms of making the most of contemporary knowledge have been among the most active members of citizen groups. This has also had a positive effect on the quality of the city’s tourism product, with the City of Athens being a key authority dedicated to spending time and resources in enriching the tourist experience and adding an authentic element through the engagement of local people in different ways and activities.
Your favorite place branding book right now?
The edited volume on Inter-Regional Place Branding by Sebastian Zenker and Bjorn P. Jacobsen is a great read for all those excited about the rapid growth of human mobility between areas and countries.
The more future cities will gain visibility as metropolitan areas in the eyes of prospective visitors, investors and residents, the more the people and institutions involved in the management of places will be eager to garner associations with other regions of a different fame as a means to promote their own brand.
The book makes a valuable contribution to this field of study as it draws conclusions from a rich portfolio of case studies from Europe and overseas.
Your thoughts on The Place Brand Observer?
What I mostly appreciate about The Place Brand Observer is the capacity to blend the views of both scholars and practitioners, keeping all of us abreast of the most substantial trends in place branding.
Thank you, Manolis.
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