Increasingly, reputation, quality of place and the perceived brand of a city is determining where talent, capital and tourism flow. But what role do visitors play in changing and shaping perceptions of destinations?

In a recent article entitled, “Why your city’s brand will determine its prosperity”, Resonance president Chris Fair argues that as economies in developed countries have shifted from manufacturing to services, geography and location-based factors have become less important in determining the prosperity of places. Increasingly, reputation, quality of place and the perceived brand of a city is determining where talent, capital and tourism flow.

Indeed the factors that drive businesses, talent and visitors to choose a city have become increasingly aligned.

As Jason McGrath, Senior Vice President at Ipsos, eloquently stated at City Nation Place Global, “Tourism, economic development, and livability are all inextricably related. The things that make a great place to live are often the factors that make a great tourist destination. In addition to the obvious role tourism plays in an economy, there are ancillary impacts for economic development more broadly.”

But what about tourism’s role in changing and shaping perceptions of destinations?

PERCEPTIONS OF TOKYO

To better understand how people perceive cities, the Institute for Urban Strategies at The Mori Memorial Foundation conducted a survey and analysis of the perceptions of over 2,000 respondents in 40 global cities.

One element of the study compared the perceptions of visitors and non-visitors. The example below indicates the spectrum of perceptions of the city of Tokyo, Japan, from non-visitors to regular visitors.

The Mori Memorial Foundation’s spectrum of perceptions of the city of Tokyo from non-visitors to regular visitors.

Those respondents who had not actually visited the city described Tokyo as a STRESSFUL and NOISY city, suffering from POLLUTION. These largely negative perceptions are associated with typical traits of any sprawling, developed city with a large population.

Those with first-hand experience in the city, however, mentioned more favorable terms such as SAFE, POLITE and CLEAN. These latter impressions may represent the aspects of the everyday life in Tokyo only noticeable through close observation.

EXPERIENCING A DESTINATION = A MORE FAVORABLE PERCEPTION OF IT

What this demonstrates is the power of a visit to alter preexisting perceptions of a destination. Resonance’s work in developing tourism master plans for destinations has uncovered similar insights. In the development of a tourism master plan for the Richmond region in Virginia, we surveyed more than 1,000 previous visitors to the destination.

What we discovered was that around half (51%) of previous visitors had either an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ perception of the Richmond region prior to their visit.

This number swelled to over 80% following the visitor’s time in the region! Nearly 20% of previous visitors had a ‘neutral’ perception of the Richmond region prior to their visit. This number fell below 4% following their visit.

On the other hand, roughly 16% of previous visitors had an ‘excellent’ perception of the region prior to their visit and this number climbed to 36% following their visit.

Resonance‘s work with Richmond, Virginia, demonstrated the power of a visit to alter preexisting perceptions of a destination.

We’ve seen similar results in our work with Tucson, Arizona, where the number of individuals who had an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ perception of the destination went from 57% prior to their visit to 81% after their time in the city. Even in Los Angeles, a city with a well-established global brand, we saw perception of the destination jump eight percentage points following a visit to the destination.

As Maura Gast, Executive Director of the Irving CVB has prominently proclaimed, “If you build a place where people want to visit, you’ll build a place where people want to live. And, if you build a place where people want to live, you’ll build a place where people have to work. If you build a place where people want to work, you’ll build a place where business wants to be. It all starts with a visit and the visit starts with us.”

It all starts with a visit and the visit starts with us.
Maura Gast, Executive Director, Irving CVB

Maura couldn’t be more right. A visit shapes our perception of a destination’s character, and today, the perception of place and its relative quality play growing roles in the prosperity of communities, cities and countries.

THE SPECTER OF OVERTOURISM

At the same time, too much tourism, or tourism left unmanaged, can negatively shape the perception of a city or destination. At the City Nation Place Global conference in London last fall, Resonance President Chris Fair discussed so called “overtourism” and its effect on the identity of place with Tourisme de Barcelona Managing Director Joan Torrella.

Joan explained how the rapid rise of tourism within just a 20 year period made it difficult for the city to keep up with the issues created by the increased spike in visitors. The city now is widely regarded as a leader in developing policy and programs to manage tourism.

Barcelona is widely regarded as a leader in developing policy and programs to manage tourism—and how the city is perceived.

Our current work to conduct a Destination Assessment for Marketing Edinburgh has also highlighted potential risks for the city. While Ediniburgh offers more quality experiences per resident than almost any city in Europe, swelling visitor numbers have caused the city to fall towards the bottom of our benchmarking versus other European cities in terms of the number of quality experiences available per visitor.

Managing both perception and the product, we believe, is key to the future success and sustainability of not only Destination Marketing Organizations, but to the cities and communities they serve.

LET’S KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING AT CITY NATION PLACE JUNE 5 – 6

To discuss this and learn more about Global Trends and International Perceptions of Key Tourist Destinations, please join us at City Nation Place Americas, June 5 – 6 in West Hollywood, California, where Jason McGrath will be sharing Ipsos’ recent global trend data on the state of the world and current perceptions of the USA and Canada from other global markets.

We’ll also hear from industry leaders on how they’re utilizing place branding strategies to connect tourism to economic development and local quality of life, and shape perceptions of their respective communities. It’s sure to be a stimulating and thought-provoking couple of days. We hope you can join us.