Leonardo Nieto on Advancing Colombia’s Place Branding and Destination Management

Meet Leonardo Nieto, a seasoned professional in destination management and place branding, with a special focus on Colombia’s diverse and vibrant landscapes. We caught up with Leonardo to learn more about his expertise of crafting effective communication strategies and fostering collaborations that enhance the perception and success of destinations, both locally and globally.

Leonardo, how can effective communication strategies address the challenges and leverage the opportunities presented by Colombia’s cultural and geographical diversity?

Colombia is a mega-diverse country, and this in itself is a challenge. Creating communication strategies that encompass all the cultural differences, landscapes, and people requires some effort in social and political integration.

Firstly, I emphasize the integration of local voices and stories into national communication strategies, which not only increases the authenticity of the message but also empowers local communities. This can be achieved through storytelling that reflects the unique identity of each place and simultaneously connects with universal themes.

On the other hand, there is the use of technology and digital platforms to segment and personalize messages. Social media, mobile apps, and interactive platforms can target specific audiences and collect data that help continuously refine communication strategies.

Additionally, I would include the development of strategic alliances that establish collaborations with local entities, such as convention bureaus, chambers of commerce, and cultural organizations which can amplify the effectiveness of the campaigns developed. These alliances allow for better coordination and a broader reach of promotional activities, leveraging local knowledge and influence.

Lastly, local training and empowerment are key. Investing in local actors so they can develop and manage their communication strategies is crucial. This not only ensures the long-term sustainability of the initiatives but also fosters local economic development.

In your experience, what are some of the most successful governance models and strategic alliances in Colombia that have influenced its country branding or destination marketing?

In Colombia, as in many Latin American countries, establishing and maintaining collaborative alliances between public and private entities presents unique challenges, especially in the field of place branding.

During my tenure at the International Marketing Board of Bogotá, I significantly contributed to the development and maintenance of an effective governance model. This model has consistently and systematically improved the perception and recognition of Bogotá as a key destination. The public-private collaboration structure, coordinated through a mixed entity like Invest in Bogotá, has been crucial for effectively directing the strategy and management of the city’s brand, regardless of political changes.

As the leader of the technical secretariat of this alliance, I had the privilege for several years of leading initiatives that strengthened Bogotá’s narrative. We implemented efficient low-cost processes to increase the visibility of the city and developed a graphic style and brand that, more than a decade later, are still recognizable emblems of Bogotá.

This approach not only ensured consistent strategic direction but also highlighted the importance of stability and long-term vision in the success of destination branding.

Joint narratives are crucial in the storytelling of a place. Can you discuss a case where such narratives have effectively boosted the global competitiveness of a Colombian destination?

The unification of narratives in place branding is crucial for projecting a cohesive and appealing image of a destination.

I firmly believe that true global competitiveness of a place is enhanced when synergy is achieved among the different facets of the place—tourism, investment, exports, culture, and talent— thereby creating an integrated story that reflects the complete essence of the territory.

This narrative cohesion not only improves the perception of the destination but also strengthens its position in the global market.

The case of Colombia’s country brand itself has achieved this integration of narratives in an ongoing process of over 15 years. Despite facing challenges and changes over time, campaigns coordinated by ProColombia have managed to maintain and strengthen Colombia’s image abroad. This integration has been essential for attracting tourists, investors, and international buyers, demonstrating that a unified narrative not only effectively communicates the country’s values and offerings but also plays a crucial role in overcoming negative perceptions and strengthening the national economy.

For example, recent campaigns have highlighted not only the natural beauty and cultural richness of Colombia but also its economic dynamism and the quality of its human capital. This comprehensive strategy has allowed presenting the country not only as an attractive destination for tourism but also as a serious and competitive hub for investment and international business.

Such a holistic approach is vital in a globalized world where destinations compete not only for visitors but also for talent and capital.

Considering the rich cultural heritage of Colombia, how can destination managers better integrate this aspect into their branding strategies to enhance both national and international perceptions?

It is crucial in place branding to discover and highlight the authentic essence of each destination, what truly makes it unique and special.

Colombia, with its diversity of cultures, offers a rich palette of distinctive elements that can be the focus of these branding strategies. From the colonial architecture of cities like Cartagena, and traditional festivities like the Barranquilla Carnival, to unique landscapes like those of the coffee region, each aspect offers an opportunity to tell a fascinating story that can capture the imagination of both national and international visitors.

To effectively integrate this rich cultural heritage into branding strategies, destination managers must adopt an approach that goes beyond simple tourist promotion. This involves conducting in-depth research to understand not only the most attractive cultural elements but also how these elements resonate with different audiences.

Using methods of visual and digital storytelling can be very effective, such as short videos that capture the authentic experiences of locals and tourists, or social media campaigns that allow people to share their own experiences with local culture.

Additionally, it is crucial that these strategies not only showcase the beauty and uniqueness of the Colombian heritage but also communicate how these cultural elements contribute to a better quality of life, investment attractions, and business opportunities.

For example, highlighting how music and dance can be part of international events and conferences, or how local cuisine can be a meeting point for business and tourism. This not only improves the perception of the destination but also adds value by integrating cultural aspects into broader economic and social experiences.

From your perspective, what are the key elements in establishing a shared vision among different stakeholders in destination management? How does this impact the overall success of place branding initiatives?

From my perspective, the main element in establishing a shared vision among different stakeholders in destination management is the active inclusion of the local community throughout the process. It’s not just about inviting community members to listen to plans and strategies, but actively integrating them, ensuring they feel they have a significant voice and a direct responsibility in the development and execution of the vision and actions for managing the destination.

This community-focused approach facilitates an understanding of their perspectives and needs, resulting in a stronger alignment of branding objectives with local expectations and realities.

Involving the community turns residents into ambassadors for their destination, enhancing the authenticity and impact of marketing campaigns.

To effectively achieve this, it is crucial to implement community engagement methods such as participatory workshops, surveys to collect opinions and feedback, local ambassador programs, and projects involving trade and sectoral associations.

These activities not only strengthen internal cohesion but also ensure that place branding initiatives are sustainable and more responsive to the dynamics of the destination.

Ultimately, a shared vision that emerges from consensus and active collaboration among all key actors—including the local community, private sector, and government—is fundamental to the long-term success of any destination branding strategy.

These coordinated efforts significantly increase the likelihood that place branding initiatives are well-received both nationally and internationally, thus maximizing their effectiveness and return on investment in marketing and promotion.

Looking towards the future, what emerging trends or innovations do you believe will most impact destination management and place branding in regions like Colombia over the next decade?

In the next decade, emerging trends that will significantly influence destination management and place branding in Colombia focus on digital transformation and the adoption of advanced technologies.

Cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali are at the forefront of this movement towards Smart Tourism Destinations (DTI), each with notable initiatives that highlight their commitment to technological innovation.

Bogotá has made significant efforts to improve the quality of tourist services and visitor experiences through the implementation of technologies such as cameras and sensors, unifying data collection to gain a comprehensive view of visitor dynamics and attractions. This technological integration has been essential for the development of more inclusive and accessible products and services.

Medellín, recognized as the first Smart Tourism Destination in Colombia, has led the integration of technological solutions that improve visitor interaction with the environment and enhance the quality of life for residents. This approach not only improves the tourist experience but also strengthens the sustainability and social responsibility of the destination.

Meanwhile, Cali in the Pacific zone is in the process of consolidating itself as a DTI, focusing on technologies that support efficient tourism management and promote economic and social development. The city seeks to integrate technological solutions that contribute to the development of more competitive, inclusive, and sustainable tourism.

These advancements in Colombian cities not only enhance the competitiveness of the destinations on a global scale but also establish a foundation for sustainable and responsible tourism development.

With the expansion of Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies, maintaining a balance between innovation and the preservation of the rich cultural heritage that defines each region is crucial.

Thank you, Leonardo.

Leonardo has been nominated by his peers for inclusion in the Who’s Who of Global Place Brand Impact Makers. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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