This year the Master Tourism Destination Management hosted the second Symposium on Overtourism, City Marketing and Place Branding. This symposium served the purpose of wrapping up the first module with interesting presentations given by guest lecturers. As the first module evolved around destination marketing, the presentations given were also on city marketing/place branding and the ever inevitable overtourism several cities face (also due to overly successful marketing).

Our program manager Ineke van Keulen kicked-off the symposium with an introduction of the first guest speaker: Bart Neuts. Bart graduated as a M.Sc. in Applied Economics, a M.Sc. in Tourism and a Ph.D. in Tourism with main areas of expertise in social carrying capacity studies, managing heritage sites, and tourist satisfaction research. He is also familiar with forecasting of tourism demand and return on investment analyses on private and public scale.

He started with the diamond-water paradox. The diamond is rare, unique, very expensive and actually completely useless, while water is common, widely available, cheap and absolutely necessary for human survival. If one had to choose in a normal situation, the diamond is almost always chosen. However, if the context is different and you’re dying of thirst in the desert, no-one would choose the diamond over a bottle of water.

This paradox also translates into tourism. According to Bart, tourists tend to seek out unique experiences, one-of-a-kind destinations and attractions. Often, if the destination is not unique enough, attempts are made to increase the value through adding entertainment (think of myths and (historical) stories). The paradox here is that everyone wants a unique experience, so everyone travels to an ‘unique’ destination. However, because more and more people travel to these destinations, it is not only becoming mainstream and overcrowded, but even unpleasant for most.

This image below was shown to explain this issue.

Figure 1:

This is where carrying capacity comes in; carrying capacity is the maximal capacity at which a system (or in our case, a destination) can still function safely (or in our case, can still guarantee sustainability).

Figure 2: Source: Bart’s presentation

The issue of overtourism is difficult to manage, because of the different causes, the different perceptions on the subject of overtourism and the different solutions.

For example, politicians don’t necessarily see negative outcomes to tourism growth, while the residents might hardly see positive sides of the growth.

After Bart’s compelling presentation, it was Marco’s turn to talk about City Marketing. Marco is an experienced consultant and urban development lecturer. As an seasoned city marketeer, he has specialized in complex spatial challenges, including in particular the integrated approach to the (re-) development of any type of urban areas.

From the beginning of the presentation it is clear that context is extremely important. Would one destination be attractive enough to visit for two weeks in August? Depends who the visitors are. Would the same destination be as attractive for a cultural trip in October? And for who? Or would it be more suitable to visit during Christmas and why? Or why would one NOT go?

It is important to know what makes a destination unique and use that uniqueness to market itself. This also means that certain target markets are more attracted to a particular destination. It is important to keep the relevant target markets into consideration while marketing the destination. Even more importantly, how should the destination present itself? As a place of culture or history, a place to meet/study/live/work etc.

For each purpose, the marketing is different and the destination needs to provide all the ‘ingredients’ for attracting the right type of people. For example, what if the destination markets itself as a place to visit. Target groups are tourists/leisure industries, you need income, education, lifestyle and time. To attract that, the destination needs to provide attractions/events, catering industry, safety, uniqueness, accessibility, culture and image.

It is clear that a destination needs to figure out first what it wants to be known for, and make sure those ingredients are already present, since it’s difficult to make a destination famous with features it does not naturally possess. The message is, use your strengths and marketing is not the same as making a logo!

As for the final presentation, Erik Braun spoke about the complexity of Destination Branding. Erik is a senior researcher and lecturer in urban economics, real estate and place marketing. He teaches in educational programs of the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) and has a longstanding commitment to the Master’s specialization Urban, Port and Transport Economics of the ESE.

According to Erik Braun, human behaviour is more dependent on images than objective reality. Impressions and perceptions play a huge role in their decision-making and is naturally influenced by outside forces. Place branding is about changing the perceptions people have about a certain place.

For a destination it is important to convey a clear message that entails the core of the destination. Why should people come? What can the destination offer? Just like a brand, a destination can market itself to a particular audience and make sure people have positive associations with the brand/destination.

The level of complexity of the branding needs to be taken into consideration as well, as a higher level of complexity often leads to a higher degree of identification with the destination as opposed to a simplified message. However, it is possible to brand a destination too successfully, for example residents who are not happy with the large amounts of tourists visiting. Some even come up with their own de-branding, so to speak, discouraging tourists to visit their destination. The figure below shows such an attempt. This attempt backfired as the T-shirts became immensely popular.

Figure 3: Source: Erik’s presentation

As always, everything should be done in moderation and continuous growth does not have to be positive for everyone involved, including the destination itself, as was mentioned in Bart’s presentation.

The presentations were well-received by the students and afterwards drinks and snacks were organized so the students and the guest lecturers were able to discuss the topics.