Destination Branding Comes of Age


By Gonzalo Brujo, Global CEO, Interbrand

When considering where to go on your next holiday or perhaps looking for somewhere to stay in the long-term, you’ll notice that every destination has its own ‘brand’ – a created set of values and an image which are vital in encouraging tourism and attracting and retaining citizens.

A strong country brand represents the unique vision of a nation. It is a necessary asset to successfully compete for investments, residents, talent, tourists or ambassadors; to involve and attract different interest groups, and, ultimately, have a consistent voice and message. A destination brand can encompass many aspects; pride for a nation, excitement, hard work or even relaxation.

The meaning of a destination brand has altered over the last few years. Today, we have more flexibility and a greater freedom of where we work from and travel to. The world has again opened up since the pandemic but so too have the possibilities of where we go and what we do with our time. This means that now, more than ever, destinations are competing for our attention and how well they do will be fundamental in their recovery following the pandemic.

Creating and communicating a destination brand is extremely complex – much more complex than a product. Destinations must ensure they create a unique image that positions and distinguishes them in the international market, as during this crucial time, a differentiated and more personal destination brand takes on more importance.

Any destination is equally built by the key representatives of the location and the first step when establishing a brand is to identify these stakeholders; from the citizens and tourists, to businesses and politicians. Ensuring internal alignment is arguably one of the most important considerations for your stakeholders as ultimately, citizens and tourists need to be in line with what you’re selling and what you stand for. The main aspects of any strong destination brand will be a result of a consensus of values with which the nation’s stakeholders can identify.

An effective example of destination branding is GREAT, the UK’s international campaign brand. The campaign champions the location by proudly representing the nation and accentuating the key features of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It showcases the UK’s diverse melting pot of thinkers, dreamers and innovators to articulate its new place in the world, transcending politics and retaining the same message at its core.

By understanding how to make its stakeholders feel heard, the campaign transformed insights and outputs into human stories that show how the country offers the perfect environment for creativity and innovation to thrive. As well as reflecting the vibrant spirit of the UK, the campaign showed its reputation for a more united, global future and helped position the country as a first-choice partner for businesses.

When thinking about destination branding, how to attract tourists or investors usually comes to mind. But it’s important to consider the bigger picture and also understand how to entice and retain citizens too. Across the globe, The Great Resignation is far from over and it is estimated that one in five people will quit their jobs in 2022. We’ve all had plenty of time over the past two years to reflect on what we want out of our work (and life); and the popularity of remote work is gaining more attention than ever before.

Now people can increasingly work from anywhere, being able to move abroad is becoming more of a reality and the branding of a destination will have a big effect on decision-making. Not only will people be choosing a lifestyle, they will also be considering their health & wellness, asking where, psychologically and physically, will be the best location for them.

Whilst it may now be more important than ever, it would be false to say that managing the image of a destination is a recent phenomenon. If we look back across history, poets, orators, philosophers, filmmakers, artists and writers have played a part in managing or even inventing the reputation of a location.

As well as historical associations, there will always be external factors outside of our control when it comes to destination brands, be that the weather, its geographical location or even political aspects. However, a destination brand works in a similar way to a strong commercial brand and it can protect the location when turbulence comes. That’s why it’s so important to ensure all stakeholders have a place within the destination brand, to ensure everyone feels involved.

We should see a destination brand as a strategic asset that is built over time. By not needing prior knowledge of a location, destination brands can be powerful tools to increase geopolitical power in a given region, mitigate the impacts of an economic crisis, and speed-up recovery.

Strong destination brands can harness significant influence over the brands we consume, the products we buy, the companies we hire, the countries we travel to, the talent we seek, the places we live, and the destinations we invest in. Whilst we are seeing a significant shift in travel, tourism and long-term moves, creating a clear and defined destination brand can hold significant power for a location.