With tourism making a booming comeback in the past few months, many places around the world have taken advantage of the revival to rethink how their cities, regions, and destinations present themselves to the world. From returning to their roots, to embracing “difficult” aspects of their
place-based identity, we examine where place branding is likely headed in the next few years.
Getting back to your roots
As the world opens back up, it’s no surprise that cities and regions will need to rethink how they present themselves, and just why people are attracted to them. With so many people having spent the past two years cooped up inside, it makes sense that many new travelers are craving an authentic travel experience, one that submerges them in a unique place and culture. As a result, we can expect cities and regions to lean into their historic roots, whether that means unique and storied architecture, an impressive industrial past, or simply a distinctive cultural tradition.
As with any heritage-based branding strategy, there are a number of general benefits places can expect to reap from the approach. Visitors will often develop stronger emotional connections to these “brands,” thanks in part to a greater ability to craft meaningful stories and narratives about the brand’s past. And of course, the sense of trust that storied brands convey could be critical for cities and regions looking to attract tourists craving a reliable, and reliably fantastic, experience.
As with any type of contemporary branding, we can expect place branding to lean into environmental bona fides. Sustainable tourism is one recent trend that’s set to impact how places portray themselves — though of course, a place’s identity isn’t simply about tourism. Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has made sustainable tourism a part of its global reputation, while also leaning into other environmental measures like car-free areas and quality waste management.
We can also expect so-called “slow travel” to impact how places develop their identities. Typified by less frequent but longer vacations and trips, slow travel is an interesting new way to think about decreasing carbon footprints — and by its very nature will mean travel destinations will have to invest in deeper experiences that aren’t simply about a few major landmarks.
Embracing the trickier side of your identity
Of course, as tourism rebounds, cities and regions will face the renewed challenge of “standing out” in a crowded marketplace. Naturally, we can expect some locations to take a quirkier approach to rebranding themselves, focusing on “trickier” aspects of their identity. These might be regional quirks or factoids, specific histories, or other aspects of place-based identity that potential visitors might be aware of, but that might not generally be centered in the region’s self-narratives.
Maybe a city’s home to a lovable but consistently, well, underperforming soccer team. A new branding approach might reclaim this less-than-glorious sports history and spin it into something new and exciting. Embracing trickier aspects of place-based identity might also include two general branding trends that are increasingly common, namely reconciliation and inclusion. Increasing the accessibility and diversity of rebranding consultation and planning sessions can make it easier for places to develop new identities that embrace their complete histories — whether that means making it easier for visitors to identify indigenous-led tourism experiences, as Canada has recently done, or simply the rise of participatory place branding.