Destination Marketing 3.0: Rebooting the Destination Reputation

Last week’s posting on destination advertising generated some great interest and feedback as expected. Coincidentally, Fast Company ran a story earlier in September entitled “Can Advertising Bring back the Rust Belt” highlighting the efforts of some destination marketers and civic leaders to reboot their destination reputation in the minds of their visitors and also their own residents.

This is obviously no small feat given the magnitude of economic and social challenges cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit et al have recently endured.


The only thing tougher than rebranding a destination’s image and reputation after a high-visibility incident or pursuant to a community reimagining is doing nothing at all. And for destination marketers this is simply not an option.

The traditional approach to a post-crisis rebranding in a Destination Marketing 1.0 world has been to make a bigger, more credible and compelling noise than whatever noise the crisis tainting the image and reputation of the destination had made. Advertising and public relation machines get mobilized to dominate the key media channels with appropriate image-repair messaging. And after the media onslaught, typically with the help of high-cred celebrities or high-visibility politicians, natural order eventually got restored and the destination inevitably considered a rebranding to develop a new story…far removed for the place from which the image trauma emanated. Essentially a destination reboot.

During my time as CEO of Tourism Toronto (the local DMO) this is exactly what we did. In 2003 we faced North America’s first urban epidemiological outbreak courtesy of the SARS virus, costing the community $Billions in lost tourism and business event revenues and a serious black eye to our reputation as one of the safest mega-cities in the world. Our community went as far as hiring the Rolling Stones for $5 million to play a FREE outdoor concert for hundreds of thousands of people and global media coverage right in the heart of Toronto. Strategically, this was our “all-clear signal” to show the world that if it was safe for the Stones, it was safe for everyone.

It’s only rock n’ roll but it sure worked. For residents and locals alike.

For communities that undertake a rebranding to reboot their personae in-line with a new community visión or investment, the challenge is similar: créate enough profile, compelling and relevant new story inertia to displace what´s already entrenched.

That was then.

In today’s world of social media, renegade bloggers and tweeters, fragmented media landscape and low-credibility everything, the Fast Company story asks: can destination advertising and rebranding really make a difference in some challenging community circumstances?

Consistent with last week’s posting I believe destination advertising is not the magic bullet it once was or that some still feel it is. It’s simply too costly and complex today to achieve message control and domination through media or even in adjacent space channels…particularly if there’s been a high-visibility destination reputation trauma. And then there’s the credibility issue.

I strongly believe that destination marketers can and must play THE leadership role in managing their destination brand, particularly after some kind of reputation trauma or when a destination rep reboot is in the wind. In fact, it should be a primary role and raision d’être for the local DMO. But they need to go beyond advertising and traditional communications tactics to tell the story.

At the very least they need to engage with their customers/visitors about the reality of their reputation by asking them to help shape the story and ultimately the brand. This is not a focus group or survey panel. This is about starting a permanent ongoing marketplace conversation because managing a destination reputation never ends.

The Fast Company article showcases some great (and not so great) leadership examples of local DMO’s managing destination brand reboots. But it also suggests that destination marketers need to take engagement beyond the customer/visitor realm by directly engaging local residents themselves in the conversation: “Effective marketing campaigns do prove useful for mobilizing a civic conversation about what’s new–and what’s old and can be discarded.”


Engaging the local community (not just local tourism industry stakeholders) in the conversation about the destination story is a gift-wrapped leadership opportunity for DMO´s looking to elevate their community profile and to demonstrate their relevance. After all its not the DMO’s story or even the tourism industry’s story. Its the collective stories that make-up the experiences of the people in community that are the real, enduring brand essence…the ones that people will build a reputation monument to regardless of the circumstance. And they are also the ones that people talk about and share with others well-beyond any advertising campaign. Who could forget when someone in Las Vegas decided the best way to a destination reboot was to impose a G-rating on its brand?

What does engaging the local community it look like? How about locally crowdsourcing stories, images and videos from the local community? The Canadian Tourism Commission asked an entire country for their stories and got 65 hours of video for authentic guidance. Or just ask them via social media to share their stories…the good, the bad and the ugly…and ideas about how and where their community can be remarkable. Those stories and images are pure gold. The key is to start it happening before a crisis or destination reboot.

Destination Marketing 3.0 leadership today is increasingly about brand reputation management rather than sales transaction management. And if today’s marketplaces are indeed conversations, the destination marketer has to extend engagement conversations about the brand to the wider local community, making them an equal part of the story with the marketplace. That’s because today destination authenticity is designed organically on the street, not in a lab.


2 thoughts on “Destination Marketing 3.0: Rebooting the Destination Reputation

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips to Ensure Your Place Brand is Of the People, By the People, For the People | places | brands

  2. Pingback: 5 Tips to Ensure Your Place Brand is Of the People, By the People, For the People | CONNECTED 'Client Focus' Blog Community: Perspectives to Help Make YOUR Place THEIR Destination

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