Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Benefits of City and Regional Destination Branding - Attracting People, Investment and Airlines

Terminal 4 Madrid Barajas Airport

On Thursday 13 February I gave a presentation on this subject to the annual European Regional Airports conference in Madrid. The theme of the conference was "The Economic Impact of Airports" and, after a general scene setting by Lea Bodossian, Secretary General of the Conference, on the importance of airports to city and economic development, discussion focussed on (1) the impact of airports and (2) what cities and airports can do for airlines. 

Of most interest to me were the presentations by (1) Jean-Francois Benon, the Director of the Val d'Oise Development Agency in France on the role of Paris Charles De Gaul Airport in that agency's development strategy and, (2) Elena Mayoral Corcucuera, Director General, Madrid Barajas Airport, on the initiatives her airport is taking to integrate its development with regional development initiatives.

The brief given to me by Lea for my presentation was to stress the importance of destination branding for cities and their regions and to explore how their airports might play a key role in the development of such strategies. What follows below is a synopsis of the key points I made in my presentation.

I opened by stressing the important role that cities and their regions play in driving economic growth and that it is that growth that needs to be captured in destination branding strategies.

I then explored why brand strategy is important for the development of city regions. In summary, my argument is that they need to (1) differentiate themselves, (2) develop a recognisable identity, (3) understand that they are in competition with many other cities and regions around the world - principally for human talent, investment, tourists and visitors, and (4) take action to retain their existing people, businesses and institutions.

Then I focussed on why airports should be involved in city region brand strategy. Airports are a major driver of local economic development in terms of job generation, workforce expenditure, investment in direct business services connected with their operations and indirectly in terms of tourist and business visitors expenditure. They also have a little recognised but important role to play in that they are, like rail termini, a "brand gateway" - a place where visitors get a first "taste" of the brand offer in action and up to date information on its offer to reinforce any pre-trip research they may have undertaken. 

Airports, particularly hub airports, can showcase major elements of the city's offer, a good example being the exhibitions at Amsterdam Schipol on the offer of the Rijks Museum.

The Riks Museum "taster" exhibition at Amsterdam Schipol Airport

Airport terminals can also play a role in promoting the entertainment and commercial offers of their city. For passengers awaiting flights they can entertain them with performance excerpts from theatre, musical and dance productions currently playing in the city.  

They can also act as a showcase for the major commercial brands that the city gave birth to, for example fashion and food brands - either through exhibitions of their product range (in pop-up spaces) or actual retail outlets where the city brands can sell their product range.

Given that most of the airports represented at the conference possessed little knowledge on what's involved in city and region branding I summarised it as follows:

  • Its not about the design of logos or the composition of tag lines
  • It's being strategic about being competitive
  • It's about the place identifying it's distinctive offers and experiences
  • It's about levering their assets, attributes and attractions
  • It's being clear on their target audiences
  • It's about their ability to attract and retain human talent, investment and businesses
  • It requires an understanding of key international city competitiveness factors and how the ratings agencies compile their statistics on city and region economic performance
  • It involves their levering the attractiveness of their heritage and cultural assets, higher education institutions and research and development organisations
  • It involves them developing and maintaining the city as a quality living environment

Cities and regions which have developed powerful destination brand strategies:

  • Have clarity on the market audiences for their different assets and attractions
  • Develop powerful tailored messages for individual audiences on their offers and experiences
  • Tell their target audiences compelling and powerful stories about their offer and about who is already operating successfully there
  • Assemble brand propositions of value for each of their target audiences
  • Clearly communicate how those propositions can be accessed and delivered
  • Are consistent in their messaging with all stakeholders singing from the same hymn sheet
  • Recognise that you cannot tell everyone, everywhere, everything about your offer all of the time

Cork and Kerry Mountains

To illustrate these points I presented a case study on the initiative being taken in Ireland to develop a destination brand for the Cork Region in the south west of the island. This initiative is being led by Cork City Council and Cork County Council with the active involvement of a number of key stakeholders including Cork Airport, the Port of Cork, Cork Chamber of Commerce, University College Cork, the Cork Institute of Technology and Failte Ireland, the Irish tourism development body.

The impetus for this initiative came from a recognition by a number of these stakeholders that the existing marketing of the Cork region offer and experience was confusing, uncoordinated and lacking a common focus - principally agreement on what constituted the region's destination brand and a focussed brand proposition.

To remedy this and develop a destination brand proposition and a strategic marketing plan to promote it the stakeholders appointed Colliers Ireland (Dublin), Placematters and Fuzion PR (Cork and Dublin). Our work programme consisted of:
  • Assessment of current marketing and messaging about the region
  • Identification of the region's  assets, attributes, attractions and ambitions
  • Development of a brand proposition 
  • Market testing of the brand proposition 
  • Brand refinement following testing
  • Brand briefing for key stakeholders on the agreed proposition
  • Advice on brand management and implementation
Considerable progress has been made and the agreed initial brand proposition is about to be tested in a number of target markets over the coming months.

A copy of my slide presentation can be downloaded from the home page of my web site at

Further information on the Airports Regions conference can be found at www.airport

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