For the first time, the Master Tourism Destination Management hosted the Symposium on Urban Tourism, Urban Competitiveness, and City Marketing. In three interactive presentations our guest speakers talked about the special position of tourism in the development and management of cities, before participants were invited for lively discussions. Here we summarized some impressions and learnings from the interesting and informative event. 

Introduction to Urban Competitiveness

Jos van der Sterren, director for the Academy for Tourism at NHTV and TDM program management, kicked-off the TDM Symposium. He welcomed an audience of approximately 40 people including both current and past TDM students as well as NHTV lecturers. 

Symposium audience

Participants of the Symposium

A more specific introduction into the content of the program was given by Jeroen Klijs, TDM lecturer and expert in economic impact analyses. He presented the concept of urban competitiveness. It concerns making a city more attractive not only to tourists but also to inhabitants, businesses, and investors. Attracting flows of information, technologies, capital, culture, people, and organizations while maintaining and developing the quality of life for local residents is the essence of urban competitiveness. These considerations lead to the question for the according role of urban tourism and city marketing which introduced the topic of the event.

Triangle relationship

Relationship between urban tourism, urban competitiveness, and city marketing

A Future for Tourism in Cities?

First speaker of the day was Jan van der Borg, associate professor of KU Leuven and advisory consultant of national and local governments on tourism and regional tourism policies. He started his talk by emphasizing the extreme pace of global tourism growth. The UNWTO foresees current numbers of travelers to have almost doubled to 1.8 billion people per year by 2030. This creates opportunities for social and economic growth and is considerably raising competition within the industry. Jan argues that for urban tourism destinations to become and stay competitive, they are required to be both smart and sustainable which is an integral part of the concept of competitiveness. 

Smart destinations

Jan van der Borg on ‘smart destinations’

Tourism developments in cities need to have impacts on jobs, image and income that exceed initial efforts and must respect the carrying capacity especially of places with spatial boundaries. The cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Venice serve as examples for an increasing risk of negative externalities caused by growing visitor numbers. Only smart destinations that use innovative information and communication technologies and create systems able to integrate a multitude of stakeholders will manage to successfully reap benefits from increased visitation in the long run.

The Complexity of Place Branding

Erik Braun gave the second presentation of the event. Erik is a senior researcher and lecturer in urban management and development at the Erasmus Centre for Urban, Port and Transport Economics. He is further involved in five programs at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) at both Bachelor and Master level. He started his presentation with introducing the audience to the phenomenon of rankings such as the annual ‘Places to Go’ list by The New York Times. It quickly emerged that most of these rankings are not based on objective measures, are not at all scientific and rather established for commercial reasons. However, Erik emphasized that they can play a major role in steering the mindset of potential visitors. Hence, every city destination has a rational interest in being included regardless the actual rank. Ironically, being included in these list seems to mostly stimulate domestic tourism – which our guest speaker illustrated by the example of Rotterdam. 

“Place branding is a way to influence perception”

Erik went on defining the essence of place branding as a way to influence perceptions. Brands are much more than just a communication tool. They establish images and create networks of association within the mind of customers. Ultimately, they influence their behavior and decision making. Therefore, a successful place branding strategy is going much further than designing colorful logos or constructing catch phrases. This is especially the case as perceptions differ among target groups. Residents for instance have a much more complex picture of their cities than visitors. Place brands need to consider local characteristics and engage with not only tourists but all relevant stakeholders of urban areas. Sub-brand communication can be used for reaching out to the multitude of target groups, however need to be elements of a ‘shared city umbrella brand communication’. 

Essence of branding

Erik Braun sharing his experience on branding strategies

Putting Theory into Practice

The third talk of the day by Marko van Hoek completed the program. Marko is the director and owner of City Consult Nederland, a Dutch company offering services related to project and strategic management, research and evaluation of spatial policies, and development strategies for urban areas. He is an experienced marketer, consultant and guest lecturer at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

To the audience Marco described his job as to find out why a city or a place is interesting. For our TDM students, that in Phase 1 of their master are mainly concerned with tourism theories, it was amusing to hear when he mentioned that local stakeholders mostly do not care about theories.. The two questions that are of upmost importance to investors, mayors or other local government officials are: ‘What are we going to do’ and ‘how much will it cost’. An interesting aspect of putting theory into practice. However, based on his speech it was clear that Marco surely knows about the subject matter he is talking about.

“Relevant target groups are target groups that help to achieve my city goals”

For him city marketing is about two terms: ‘Customer Journey’ and ‘Story Telling’. He argues that the focus of successful marketers should move from locations and attractions to stories and experiences. These implications are the backbone of a contemporary brand and affect a place to become top of mind. The key message of Marco van Hoek’s presentation was that all place branding strategies start with the question of ‘why?’. This automatically leads to other considerations that need to be taken: Why should we attract tourist? Which groups of tourists are relevant to our goals? Do we have something to offer them and is it worth the effort? Marketers have to decide on what is relevant to the context of their goals. In a way it can be stated that relevance is relative – what is relevant for one city might not be relevant for the other. 

Place Branding

What about place branding?

The event was wrapped up with a forum discussion moderated by Jos van der Sterren. The audience had the opportunity to direct questions at the speakers and dig deeper into their respective topics of interest. Participants were especially keen to learn how marketers and city planners can deal with overcrowded city centers in Amsterdam, Dubrovnik or Venice. Also, the application of potential debranding strategies was topic of the discussion.

The first Symposium on Urban Tourism, Urban Competitiveness, and City Marketing was a complete success. We would like to thank our key note speakers, the organizing team and all participants. We hope to some of the faces again next year.