Last week the well-known guidebook company Lonely Planet released their annual ranking of the trendiest and the most interesting places to visit in 2014. The destinations on the list are selected by the predicted travel trends the upcoming year, and the first five destinations are Brazil, Antarctica, Scotland, Sweden and Malawi.
This ranking is interesting from a place management and place branding point of view. Visitors, both tourists and business travellers, are important targets for a place brand and one way to measure place branding is in tracking numbers of visitors, and in rankings such as the one from Lonely Planet.
During the last few decades Place Management has developed from a few simple quantifiable elements into the complex art of attraction development. This means that, besides tangible and hard factors that are easy to measure, a number of subtle, soft factors, or intangibles, have gained importance. Place branding is an important component of contemporary place competition in the globalised economy. Brands contribute to the construction of regional advantage, where place branding is the development of a place brand and its promotion in order to differentiate from other locations, to gain advantage for its firms, organisations, people, products and services. Let us explore these concepts by looking at the top five destinations from the Lonely Planet list.
Number 1 – Brazil
Perhaps it is no surprise that the huge Latin American country Brazil is in the world’s absolute focal point right now. The country has a combination of unique cities like Rio de Janeiro and fantastic sceneries such as stunning villages preserved from the colonial time, endless beaches, the Amazon delta and deep green rain forests.
As the location of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil will host soccer fans and elite athletes from around the world next summer. In preparation for the event and for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the nation has made significant investments to improve its hotel and tourism infrastructure, meaning that there has never been a better time to plan a trip to Brazil. Between its diverse cities, exquisite beaches, rainforests, and natural wonders such as the Iguazu Falls, the country offers something for every traveller.
Brazil has coordinated these developments in the National Tourism plan 2007-2010. I quote: “When we decided to create the Ministry of Tourism, few people could imagine how far this measure might take us or the importance of making tourism an official priority. Four years later, Brazilian tourism has made qualitative leaps and become one of the country’s main economic activities. Tourism is now the fifth largest source of foreign exchange for Brazil, close behind automobile exports. Results so far show a promising future, as the sector’s top 80 companies had R$ 29.6 billion in turnover in 2006, up 29% over 2005.”
Number 2 – Antarctica
Antarctica, in second place on the list, may be seen as a bit niched and it is probably not the first place you bring your whole family to; both for the extreme climate and prohibitive costs. Nevertheless, on the Antarctic continent one can get a lifetime adventure and many tour operators organise trips.
Tourism to Antarctica started with sea tourism in the 1960s. Air over flights of Antarctica started in the 1970s with sightseeing flights by airliners from Australia and New Zealand, and were resumed in the 1990s. Private yacht trips started in the late 1960s. The summer tour season lasts from November to March and most of the estimated 14,762 visitors to Antarctica in 1999-2000 were on sea cruises. During the 2009 to 2010 tourist season, over 37,000 people visited the continent.
Expedition cruising was pioneered by the Swedish entrepreneur Lars-Eric Lindblad, who pioneered tourism to many remote and exotic parts of the world. in 1969 he launched the MS Lindblad Explorer a purpose-built liner. Today many of the sea cruises leave from Ushuaia in Argentina. Costs can range from $3,000 to $30,000 depending on the route and tour operator chosen.
Thee are many adventure stories related to Antarctica, such as the journey of the Endurance and her crew. 2014 marks a hundred years since the British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton crossed the snowy and cold expanses of Antarctica to save his crew after his ship was crushed in the ice.
Antarctica has no coordinated vision or strategy for how to attract tourism. Rather the popularity of the destination depends on global trend of experience tourism.
Number 3 – Scotland
Scotland ranks third, which is motivated by many upcoming events next year, the completely breath-taking nature and cultural sceneries and the country’s interesting political development with the upcoming referendum on September 18th 2014 if Scotland should become an independent nation. BBC has mentioned 2014 as Scotland’s big year.
There are a million ways to fill a holiday in Scotland with many things to see and do. Tourists can step on-board historic boats on the River Clyde. Scotland was once the shipbuilder to the world and the heart of its industry was sited on the south bank of the River Clyde in the Glasgow district of Govan.Tourists can take a train ride through a former film set, or taste stunning local food and drink. Tourist attractions in Scotland include charming castles and country houses, fascinating museums and friendly wildlife parks. But there are also many other things to see which include visiting the stunning variety of hills and lochs, and maybe even spot the Loch Ness Monster!
Development of the visitor industry is guided by Tourism Scotland 2020, which has been developed through extensive consultation, led by the Tourism Leadership Group (TLG). They have also prepared an implementation guide and aim to make Scotland a destination of first choice for a high quality, value for money and memorable customer experience, delivered by skilled and passionate people.
Number 4 – Sweden
Sweden is ranked on fourth place. This is motivated by popular Swedish icons, such as the author Stieg Larsson and his extremely popular Millennium trilogy and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire tale “Let the right one in”, that has given potential travellers an intriguing picture of Sweden as cold, beautiful and a little bit frightening.
Stieg Larsson and John Ajvide Lindqvist both play important roles as icons in the Swedish place brand.
Even though it probably wasn’t their initial intention; both of the authors have found good ways to make their stories interesting by dramatizing the locations where their stories take place, which in turn pays of on the number of travellers to Sweden who wants to experience this themselves first hand.
Both authors have written delineated stories that make the readers want to experience and explore the dark and beautiful, terrifying cold country way up north. The eager to visit, and the excitement and adventure visitors can get from exploring the country of their favourite piece of literature has become a important element in place branding, and place branding has in its deepest sense become a very important tool in tourism-attraction.
Swedish gastronomy is moreover one of the reasons for why the country is placed so high on Lonely Planets list. Only a few years ago, Swedish food wasn’t very famous and Sweden was definitely not a well-known country for gourmands to travel to. But with a completely clear vision, and a well thought through strategy, this has drastically changed. Through active participation in almost all large international gastronomic and baking contests the rumour of great Swedish food has been spread globally. Thus, these competing chefs and bakers are also to be seen as great examples of place managers pushing Sweden a little bit more forward in the place race. Because that is exactly what it is; Place Management is a complex and highly competitive race with winners as well as losers.
There is a national strategy for Swedish tourism sector, created by Swedish Travel and Tourist Industry Federation in 2010. The goal is to double the number of visitors in Sweden between 2010 to 2020 and to create 21 new destinations for the market to export. However this is a private association of the travel industry and there is no ministry or government agency for tourism, so there is no central coordination of attraction development on the national level. Rather the place brand depends on private sector development as the examples above shows.
The primary purpose of the European Capital of Culture award is to increase the cultural exchanges in Europe, to show and thereby spark the interest in the cultural wealth that exists in Europe as well as to contribute to improve Europeans citizen’s mutual knowledge of their cultural cities respectively. In order for a city to become the European Capital of Culture the culture in the city has to be alive and offer something unique to the rest of Europe. The ranking shows the importance of taking under such a role; it triggers individuals to visit the city and thereby also the country as a whole. Subsequently, it reflects, as a part of a good place management strategy, the importance of cities and villages hosting for them suitable events and applying to become, for example, the capital of culture.
Number 5 – Malawi
The fifth destination on the list is, surprisingly, Malawi. This small nation in East Africa is is among the world’s least-developed countries. According to Lonely Planet, the presence of the so called Big Five wild animals, less crowded natural parks than elsewhere in Africa and also beach life without the crowds makes Malawi a perfect destination for tourists.
Whilst Lake Malawi dominates the country, this is not a country of a singular attraction. It is the mixture of beautiful landscapes, fascinating wildlife and rich culture that combine to make this small country such a wonderful place to visit. Malawi has a national tourism policy which clarifies assets and shortcomings and need for development.
Destination development in the context of place management and place branding
Place Management is complex and requires tough work with diverse factors in order to reach success. However, when digging economic management literature, and working with innovation and growth challenges in such diverse fields as strategy development for SMEs to investment banking to place management and talent attraction, I have come to understand one very important aspect of how to achieve success.
At the end of the day, no matter what it is, it is extremely important to have a crystal clear and well-packaged vision. A vision that is shared and anchored by the people in the place or organisation. I is as simple as that.
The vision needs to take realistic target markets into account, whether this is tourism, business visitors, recruitment of new residents or investors.
Then based on the combination of the place assets, the vision, research on target markets and benchmarking of competing places, one can develop a strategy for how to achieve the vision.
One of the tools to develop in the strategy is place branding. Place branding has internal and external markets. Internal place branding is concerned with brand development in relation to place identity, including community pride and the creation and maintenance of an attractive environment. External place branding is concerned with the communication of brand and brand values, including place attributes, to the external markets in order to fulfil place branding goals and objectives, such as demonstrated by the Lonely Planet ranking, in attractiveness for tourists.
Sweden had a vision; to become well known for its gastronomy worldwide, and the city of Umeås vision was to become The European Capital of Culture. The more precise the vision is, the easier it is for the place managers to be clear about the strategy to make it a reality. Accordingly, once the vision and strategy is clearly defined, one can start to work with the development to make the vision become true and thereby a great success!