Destination brands, like all brands, require a coherent strategy, resources, determination and a skilled team to implement and communicate their offer across channels.
Successful brands, whether the Coca-colas, Londons or St Tropezs of the world, can attribute their success to multiple factors not least of which are vision and creativity and an unwavering adherence to a long term strategy.
The problem is that unlike product or service brands, destination brands have no single leader or advocate instead they are at the mercy of their multiple stakeholders' ability or otherwise to negotiate, compromise, persevere and put collective interests ahead of personal gain.
If a destination like Puerto Vallarta is to survive and flourish it must clearly articulate a strategy and vision of itself for the future that not only inspires and attracts tourism and investment, but ensures the support and buy-in of its citizenry. A destination strategy is about much more than a beach ad or a catchy slogan. A strong strategy will unite the various and opposing interests in the city or region in question and, through a common agreed framework, serve to coordinate the efforts of multiple stakeholders to realize seemingly disparate ambitions.
Vallarta faces the same challenges as other destination brands the world over. The struggle to preserve heritage and culture while spurring economic growth through development is not new. In order to succeed, Vallarta requires leadership that forgoes short-term gains for long-term sustainability and prosperity. These leaders will need to build a solid case for their vision of tomorrow and secure the support of the city as a whole. This means answering difficult questions and focusing on the bigger picture in order to carve out a sustainable niche in global tourism for Vallarta.
Branding a destination and changing ingrained perceptions is never easy, but is possible.
New York, New Castle and New Zealand have all done it with varying degrees of success. New Zealand successfully re-branded in the late 90s as a leader in logistics and new technologies after decades of being routinely dismissed as a country of sheep. The re-branding exercise involved all levels of government, industry and deployed a vast array of international agencies to develop the strategy and implement the brand. The outcome was a coherent program that received plaudits for its creativity and innovation. The resultant fern logo and New Thinking and 100% Pure slogans that launched the campaign now enjoy international recognition and have come to embody the very essence of New Zealand both at home and abroad.
But, for every success story there are plenty that tell tales of missed opportunities, political mismanagement and lack of coordination that result in destination brands losing their way. One need only think of Acapulco or Spain's Costa Brava to think of 2 once glorious brands that damaged their brand images to confirm the importance of maintaining a comprehensive brand and urban development strategy. Through many years of unhampered growth, poor planning and lack of a long-term strategy, both resorts have essentially been relegated to the second tier of holiday destinations. What were once fashionable get-aways have increasingly become low-premium, all-inclusive, mass market destinations.
Brand Vallarta is at a cross-roads. The challenge now is to implement a strategy that supports a brave and inclusive vision of the future. While work is being done to achieve this, the success of Vallarta will ultimately depend not only politicians, but business and community groups and ordinary people in articulating what it is we want for our city's future.
Over the coming weeks we'll review different aspects of brand Vallarta and consider some of the challenges and opportunities we'll face in the future.