Dr Keith Dinnie: Ensuring world beats a path to our doors

Edinburgh is a top tourist destination
Edinburgh is a top tourist destination
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It is with pleasure that I am back in my home town of Edinburgh to lead a masterclass on destination promotion and branding at Edinburgh Napier University.

Edinburgh is a wonderful case study – a leading example of a destination utilising a strong and diverse set of assets to punch above its weight in terms of brand recognition and reach.

Hosting 13 international festivals a year, it has earned a global reputation as “the World’s Festival City” and is the second city in the UK for international tourist arrivals.

Across the globe, a trend over the past decade has been the emergence of leading city brands, linked to the growth of cities as drivers of national economies. Edinburgh undoubtedly has the credentials of a global brand and the ability to perform the role of an “attack brand” for Scotland – a shop window and gateway for the country.

But with the backdrop of the economic crisis hitting the Eurozone countries – currently key markets for Edinburgh – the need for extra efforts and investment at this time could be crucial to continue to raise the global profile of the city.

The importance of emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has never been greatert for a destination like Edinburgh. It is my experience from working around the globe that, while different places approach destination promotion and branding in different ways and there is no right way of doing it, tourism leaders share a common set of experiences and challenges. With the global financial crisis causing a seismic shift in market conditions and consumer behaviours, creativity and innovation can prove to be useful tactics in response to these challenges.

For example, in Barcelona social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are very effectively being used in mobile phone-friendly formats to promote messages to specific target audiences.

Asian visitors learn that the city is an “accessible beach-side cultural metropolis” while North American tourists are told about the “vibrancy of its nightlife” – an effective tool and example of best practice from which Edinburgh could learn.

Budget shouldn’t be a hindrance either. In Amsterdam the organisation behind the city’s promotion, the Amsterdam Partnership, has used sponsorship collaborations and low-cost but powerful marketing activities to boost their brand.

“Guerrilla marketing” and PR techniques using the “I Amsterdam” logo have targeted the United States, Korea and Japan, with Amstel beer featuring the logo in product launches and through a link-up with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

I have observed with interest Edinburgh’s shift in branding to present the city as a contemporary cultural capital, which I believe it has achieved with success.

The destination has rightly taken a lead in “place marketing” – linking its promotion across the visit, invest, live, work and study agendas.

The creation of a destination marketing organisation in Marketing Edinburgh is also an important step to provide leadership and coordination.

But it is the role of citizens and businesses as champions and ambassadors for their destination which is fundamental.

A huge part of the job for destination promotion and branding professionals is engagement with stakeholders to ensure their “buy-in” and support.

This takes destination promotion beyond merely logos and slogans and puts the focus on genuine and clear presentation of the values, essence, personality and tone of voice adopted by the place in its communications. It is vital, too, that this is based on the reality of the place and is not overhyped as this would quickly be seen through.

A destination must have a clear understanding of the distinctive characteristics that define the place, what makes the place special and truly unique. The task in hand for city promotion professionals is to set out a clear set of propositions and messages based on these defining and distinctive characteristics.

With the right stewardship and appropriate levels of investment, I believe that, based on Edinburgh’s unique character, the city has the capacity to continue to perform as a successful leading global destination.

• Dr Keith Dinnie works at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands, and will present the Destination Promotion and Branding masterclass on June 8 at Edinburgh Napier University’s Craiglockhart Campus.