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Eduardo Oliveira

Place branding in strategic spatial planning: New research

Eduardo Oliveira

Placesbrands is delighted to announce the publication of an important piece of doctoral research, which we’ve been eagerly following since this site’s inception in 2012.

Dr Eduardo Oliveira, Placesbrands deputy editor and resident expert, has just published his PhD thesis, exploring the role of place branding in strategic spatial planning.

Firstly, congratulations Eduardo! Here’s the brief on the thesis.

The research focuses on bringing together place branding and the strategic spatial planning approach, specifically at the regional scale. It critically scrutinises the actual or potential roles of place branding as an instrument for reaching strategic spatial planning goals. This discussion is currently gaining momentum at a time when the application of branding techniques and principles to places is firmly on the agendas of local and regional governments.

Place branding has also become an increasingly appealing topic for academic research. The theoretical assumption offered in this thesis is that place branding could and perhaps should be integrated into strategic spatial planning, independent of the geographical scale of application and whether the place branding initiatives are novel or a re-branding exercise. This thesis investigates the empirical significance of a regional branding strategy for northern Portugal, integrated into wider strategic spatial planning, and its ability to overcome the entrenched regional, economic and social difficulties and imbalances.

To achieve this aim, a qualitative methodology is used, specifically involving content analysis of strategic spatial plans, development plans, strategic initiatives, and online traveller-generated content. Sixteen regional stakeholders are also interviewed. By drawing the attention of readers – academics, practitioners, policy makers and spatial planners – to place branding as a strategic spatial planning instrument, this thesis contributes to the theoretical underpinnings of place branding, helping to make it more effective, efficient, and socially and environmentally responsible.

Read the entire thesis on open access at the University of Groningen.

Eduardo can be reached on Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Kostroma place branding

Branding the Golden Ring: Case Study of Kostroma, Russia

Kostroma place branding

Now that destination branding has become popular worldwide, Russia is trying to catch up. However, the whole thing is seen by many as yet another way of money laundering and/or budget wasting. Russians are traditionally pretty pessimistic about most things that promise time-delayed results. They think their lives are likely to change drastically by then, so why bother?

The place branding industry has just started taking shape in Russia. Those involved in the field are mainly specialists in design and company branding, with an additional sprinkling of passionate amateurs. The main issue they face is strategy building for a destination. According to experts, in order to truly have a strategy and follow it, a city should rely on government, business, or the local community – ideally all three.

But in Russia, city branding is mainly initiated and supported by local governments. On one hand, this ensures necessary budgeting and coverage. On the other hand, though, governors often use city branding to their own political and business advantage, and once the regional head is gone, the branding process is discontinued – or slammed and U- turned by his successor. That said, city managers rarely engage specialists to work out long-term strategies as they need results to be seen (or rather shown off) while they are still in office. The measures they take are often bold, costly yet pointless, such as reviving an airport no-one uses, or trying to drive culture in a region with a programme that includes closing 200 libraries and 300 leisure centres.

Examples of businesspeople who encourage city branding are rarely found in Russia because the branding process requires tight cooperation between competitors, and a feeling of stability; while today, businesses hardly perceive themselves as a community and just try to survive. It’s every company for itself. Several places in Russia have movers and shakers that invest time and money into destination branding just for the love of the city. These people often work bottom-up and start by engaging locals into discussions on what makes their hometown unique and what should be done to highlight it.

This is a slow process as people often appear skeptical and reluctant. If you start a topic at a city forum and tell people you are writing a city guide, the first response will probably be, “You do this rubbish out of boredom – better start a family or, if you won’t, then write about poverty and drinking issues”. However, persistent attempts have proven successful in some regions – yet even there, measures are isolated and mainly driven by the efforts of individuals.

As a result, most destinations in this huge country are still largely unknown outside their immediate vicinities, and cannot benefit from the immense potential many of them have. 

Kostroma is an ancient Russian town included in Russia’s Golden Ring, a tourist route first introduced in the 1960s. Back in Soviet times, Kostroma attracted numerous visitors as internal tourism was the only option available for USSR citizens.

The city had no need to attract people in any special way, and the infrastructure was limited and low-quality. Still, when the Iron Curtain came down, people discovered places such as Turkey and Egypt that had better facilities, warmer climates, exotic sightseeing and even lower prices due to market competition.

Russia’s Golden Ring towns developed a reputation of being outdated, overpriced, comfortless ruins only suitable for low-income seniors. Meanwhile, SMB started to develop as the economy turned to capitalism, and little yet comfortable hotels and restaurants opened in Kostroma, transforming the place into a nice surprise for visitors.

Local farmers tried to capitalise on the Soviet-time fame of local cheeses and beef, and even discovered marble meat in Kostroma-bred cows. Russian Orthodox Church supported restoration of the old churches and turned local monasteries into blossoming gardens.

As a result of the recent economic recession and following the events of the Arab Spring, some Russians turned back to internal tourism and were happy to find proper infrastructure in Kostroma. Nowadays, the tourist traffic in the town is slowly growing year on year. But still, the town faces a number of problems.

The previous Governor of the Kostroma Region was a typical attention-seeker who initiated film festivals and Faberge exhibitions in Kostroma but left the economy exhausted and aggravated many problems. Branding-wise, he introduced a logo and a slogan that were lame and obviously imitated those of Putin’s party the Governor tried to please.

The current Governor now tries to make up for all the problems at once and chooses to restrict any culture-oriented costs. Thus, the town had hardly any celebrations planned for the Romanov Dynasty 400th Jubilee in 2013, an event that Kostroma played an important role in, and that could bring IMMENSE tourist traffic to the town. This swinging approach does absolutely no good to a town that is very rich in historical heritage.

It is clear that Kostroma lacks the necessary vision of the city brand. It also lacks local support, as the Governors’ policy is so misleading and the visitors do not directly influence the lives of many local people. The city’s businesses struggle all on their own but receive no support from the community or authorities.

This spotty, sketchy approach is well illustrated by public transport stops in the city centre that feature posters divided in 16 squares called ‘Our Touristic Brands’. The ‘brands’ are pictures of different sights in Kostroma and region, chosen with no logic or order. Some of those have good coverage and access while others are neglected.

Here are several suggestions for proper Kostroma branding.

1. Kostroma’s roads perfectly match the famous saying, Russia has two problems, roads and fools. To encourage individual tourism, motorways, railroads, and region-wide helicopter routes must be optimised, developed, and well cared for. The region is pretty big (about a Switzerland and a half) and covered in thick undisturbed forests where little beautiful towns are scattered, some of them about 900 years old. All the towns (that the region can also benefit a lot from) need to be easily accessed from Kostroma and surrounding regions despite the swampy soils and tight freeze-thaw conditions. Kostroma stands on the Volga, and water tourism infrastructure should be seen as a priority.

2. The government should not merely rely on SMB but should support it by maintaining stability within the region and initiating new tourism projects while keeping an eye on monopolies arising. This would bring more logic to tourism evolving throughout the region.

3. A balance should be kept between old and new, local and global, public and commercial. Today, we see projects to transform unique 18th century shopping arcades into ultramodern malls, which include total restructuring of the place and destruction of most of the actual buildings. This is unacceptable and frightening. Instead, we should make good use of the old constructions, but only together with archaeologists and historians. The town’s cosy, relaxed, 19th century atmosphere should be preserved by all means.

4. A committee should be formed to work out a long-term strategy for the town branding, featuring all stakeholders, e.g. government, local community (bloggers and other opinion leaders), hospitality, museum professionals, environmentalists, and industry. Tourism is not the only thing that can interest visitors. Kostroma has the largest college-per-person ratio in Russia, a strong cultural background, and industrial legacy/potential.

5. A customer-oriented approach should be encouraged in the hospitality industry as well in the whole of city management. The system of public transport is leftover from Soviet times and is not efficient enough today, meaning many hotels, sights, and museums are tricky to reach. Hotels, however warm in greeting guests, do not have free-of-charge town maps and are not proactive in offering extra services like excursions, shops, or places to eat. Best practices and international standards should be promoted, and training sessions should be held. The town should be as comfortable and inspirational for both citizens and visitors as possible.

6. Awareness of Kostroma should be promoted in Russia and internationally, using a tight-knit vision, SMART goals, and clearly defined identity. Kostroma is a town that Russia should be proud of!


By Oksana Klyuchinskaya

The DNA of places: Q&A with John Till

Place branding city branding

How does the DNA of a place help to inform its story?

John Till has been creating place brand campaigns for many years. Now heading up the place branding agency Thinking Place, John talks to Placesbrands about the DNA of places, creating a shared sense of purpose among stakeholders, and what he’s learned from more than a decade at the front lines of place branding.

Placesbrands: John, what’s your core philosophy of place?
John Till: We’ve always believed that there’s a problem with the word ‘brand’. This word creates a lot of unhelpful images in people’s minds, about logos, advertising and so on, none of which really figure in what we do. Place branding is about looking into the future about what a place can be for, who it’s for, and how it’s distinct, and how it should focus its development.

It’s a strategic process. Much of what we do is try to bring stakeholders together behind a shared sense of purpose. That’s always been important, and even more so in UK at present because of austerity. At the heart of everything we do is creating a place story. That’s the centre of our universe and we believe in it passionately. It’s the mechanism that we use to engage people throughout the process.

Place branding is also about developing strong engagement with different stakeholders in different ways depending on who they are, which could be business owners, media, youth, community, and so on. It’s important to engage rather than just consulting. Listening to people is about them starting on the journey as ambassadors for that story. We want them to do that for the place long after we’ve gone, as it’s absolutely critical. We spend a lot of time on the ground getting a feel for the place, walking, talking, taking photos, and understanding spatial relationships.

What have you learned from a decade working in place branding?
After ten years we’ve gained the benefits of comparisons and of having a variety of perspectives coming together to create the story. It’s like a funnelling process getting rid of what’s less important and working towards the most important. It’s a forward projection of where they are and where they could be. We view history as a continuum.

The DNA of a place is very important and should be used to project a place forward. Take Belfast for example. They once created the biggest ships in the world, based on vision and strong work ethic. Belfast doesn’t make ships anymore, but the city is using the same qualities in its cyber-security approach: “From ships to chips.”

Momentum is very important. Sometimes the time just isn’t right, but then three or four years later the place gets some major new investments, or different leadership. It’s important to remember that places are the fastest moving and most dynamic entities you can imagine. There are multiple audiences, demands, and challenges, so you need an approach that’s completely flexible. You can flex stories according to which audience you’re talking to.

A logo just isn’t enough. Logos are rigid and inflexible. You want people to embrace the place brand, but you can never get any organisation to use a logo that effectively competes with their own brand. Getting them to talk it up is the only route to success, so you need a flexible way to engage with them. We’ve created an approach called ‘the visual language’, which can work like a logo or a watermark. Places can use it without needing logos. It’s much more subtle while still engaging with the brand, and has proven very popular.

What’s been your most satisfying project, and why?
Working on Lancashire, my home county. It’s a real privilege to be working on my own county. South Downs National Park would come close because it’s not actually an entity. Everyone told us it couldn’t have a shared story or a shared visual representation, but we managed to do that and get it signed off through the governance of the national park, which can be quite tough. I think that’s a major achievement.

What sort of challenges did you face promoting the image of Hull?
Hull’s an interesting one. I formed my attachment to place branding there. I spent seven years as chief executive, way before many views about place branding became prevalent. My remit was to transform the image and investment climate of Hull. We’ve been back since to refresh the story and promote the city as Hull and Humber. Hull isn’t a clone town. It has a strong relationship with the Baltic ports, it has fishing and trade, plus it oozes character and quirkiness.

Hull’s location is actually an important port to Europe. Hull has a very European outlook. It also has a good university and a very strong business cohort. The project was about mobilising people’s passion and bringing the assets together. Now Hull is booming and has been awarded City of Culture for 2017. The fact that Hull bid for City of Culture at all is largely thanks to the early work in building up the city’s confidence.

So what’s next for Thinking Place?
Being ten years old is a landmark. We’ve prospered through the recession, which is a great acknowledgement of the quality of work I think we’ve done. This year will be about doing what we don’t do so much of; celebrating our achievements. The greatest success is when we go to Burnley, Coventry, and many other places and see everything we achieved still bearing fruit. There’s great opportunity in the UK at present, as place has never been higher on the agenda. There are lots of opportunities for us to help places translate what they do into something meaningful for their customers.

For more, follow Thinking Place on Twitter.

Turkey to join the great Trans-Europe walk

Via Francigena Way Turkey
Hiking on the Via Francigena Way (photo: Kate Clow)

Recent months have been difficult for Turkey.

How has the country brand been affected?

Turkey is still reeling from damage suffered after a string of unfortunate incidents.  Since summer 2015 there has been growing unrest in Turkey’s east, combined with increasing security concerns and an unfolding diplomatic crisis with Russia. These events have had an unsurprising effect on perceptions of Turkey, causing tourism numbers to drop significantly.

Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of country brand.

Although tourism suffers when perceptions of a country are bad, it is possible to use a good strategy to reconfigure country brand perceptions and regain losses.

Fortunately, package holidays are not the only kind of arrangement that brings inbound tourism to Turkey. Turkey’s best strategy in the current climate is likely to involve diversifying its tourism offering to appeal more strongly to more adventurous and independent types of visitors.

As far as being adventurous goes, walking from England all the way to Turkey via the Balkans may be one of the most exciting journeys that anyone could hope for!

Turkey’s tourism credentials are set to receive an extra boost from its plans to join the Via Francigena Cultural Route. Once Turkey gets connected to this trans-Europe walking network, it will open up many possibilities for new kinds of tourism.

Placesbrands spoke to Kate Clow, head of the Culture Routes Society of Turkey, and Hüseyin Eryurt, head of PR, about the project.

Pb: Where did the idea for this project come from?
KC, HE: The Lycian Way route was established in 1999 as the first walking trail in Turkey. In 2012 the Culture Routes Society of Turkey was formed to run everything more efficiently. We have close relations with the European Institute of Cultural Routes, which is important because they set the standards for all cultural routes in the EU. Turkey has been approved to join this agreement and will sign it very soon.

In 2014 we decided to work together with the Via Francigena route, on a plan to join it to Turkey using the Via Egnatia. The latter is the original Roman road to Constantinople and passes through Albania, Macedonia and northern Greece.

Historical Patara, situated along Turkey's Lycian Way (photo: Kate Clow)
Historical Patara, situated along Turkey’s Lycian Way (photo: Kate Clow)

In Turkey, we plan to link three existing routes together into one longer route, rather than starting from scratch. The St Paul route has a strong Christian history, while the Lycian Way is very historical in general, and the Evliya Celebi route is more Islamic. (Evliya Celebi was a famous Ottoman traveller, who described many of the villages he visited in colourful detail).

Alternative and sustainable tourism is important because it can be aimed at a wide variety of tourists, including those from the Arab world as well as Europeans.

What are the key project milestones over the coming year?
The Culture Routes Society is working with three different Turkish municipalities along the route. Each of these areas will plan the route through their territory, improving accommodations, making masterplans, and holding exhibitions. One of them will host a group of Italian visitors along the route.

Another very important goal is to present the Tourism and Culture Ministry with alternative methods of providing a legal framework for the routes, to protect and preserve them by providing stability and maintenance, including forestry, dams, damaged roads, mining, and so on. This will hopefully be easier now as the ministry have already approached us to discuss the issue.

The timing of the project is good in that sense, because it is necessary now, to raise the issue even more. During the project we will present the ministry with a case study for laying the foundations for extending the Via Francigena right the way through Turkey. January 2017 will be the closing conference of the project.

What’s your opinion on the current situation of Turkish tourism?
Our members dealing with sustainable tourism have not been quite so badly affected [as package tours] because they are catering for more adventurous individuals and they put more effort into finding new markets. But in general, we’re seeing a big fall off in visitor numbers. We plan to meet the government soon to discuss how to secure this area of the market on a fairly low budget. We don’t have the resources to get this message across as much as we’d like to. So we do it through our member travel agencies, and they keep their customers on side as much as they can.

Sustainable tourism will be a growing sector in the long-term, that’s for sure.

How will the Via Francigena route be marketed?
Mainly by using social media and via our partner travel agencies. There will also be joint marketing efforts with Italy, at the festivals, and by bringing Italian students over to blog about the routes in Turkey as part of this project. We’re keen to develop strong connections with Italy.

Some areas get better promotion efforts than others, for example Via Francigena has been promoted in Italy via a series of summer festivals in various towns along the route. Promotion efforts have also included a marathon, music events, and so on. It’s an extensive programme.

What’s the value of cultural routes for improving country brand?
Europe approaches its long distance walking routes in a very different way to the rest of the world. Only in Europe do routes have a solid cultural basis. They may be based on historical themes or perhaps the routes of a particular traveller. One key advantage is to preserve the local culture and use that as a marketing hook to attract people interested in cultural themes.

Turkey tourism country brand
Turkish villagers along the Cultural Route (photo: Kate Clow)

Another big advantage is the participation of local people along the route. The Lycian Way is a great example. Tourists walking this route enjoy interacting with the locals and experiencing the culture as it is today.

This type of tourism is quite different from mass tourism, where people stay in big hotels without learning anything or giving money directly to the local people.

Unlike mass tourism, cultural routes generate alternative income for villagers. In fact, we’ve seen the villagers sometimes get up in the middle of the night and adjust the route markers to make sure the route goes through their door, or their part of the village!!

Find out more about the work of the Culture Routes Society Turkey on Facebook, or at the official website


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Telling stories by the sea

The Hague Bloggershuis city brand

The Hague knows the value of telling a good story.

So much so in fact, that the city’s marketing team has created the ‘Bloggershuis’, a dedicated space where visiting bloggers can stay while they discover all that the Hague has to offer. As an added bonus, the Bloggershuis is situated right on the beach! 

Placesbrands talked to Mieke Smid, public relations manager at Den Haag Marketing, to learn more about the Bloggershuis project, due to launch this summer.

Pb: What gave the city the idea for the Bloggershuis?
Mieke: Having our own Bloggershuis was on my professional wish list for several years now. This was after we heard about the first successful initiative of Blogville Emilia Romagna in Italy. But we, The Hague Marketing, the city itself and the municipality, weren’t ready for this kind of initiative yet, and we were still searching for the ultimate home to profile The Hague as a city by the sea. Now, with this beach house, our relevant experiences with bloggers & vloggers over the past few years and the ability to monitor social media properly, have made 2016 the year to open our Bloggershuis, the first in the Netherlands!

What are the unique selling points of The Hague?
The Hague has a few unique selling points: we are the only Dutch city by the sea, we are the international city of Peace & Justice (with the Peace Palace as an icon) and we are a Royal city, The Hague is where the Royal family live their lives and work. That has been the case for centuries now and you can sense the Royal allure in the city.

How does the Bloggershuis tie in with all this?
The Hague’s Bloggershuis is a beach house on the beach. This is the perfect tool to profile  and position the city as a city by the sea! It shows that you, as a tourist, can combine two type of destinations within one trip: a beach holiday and an interesting city trip.

The Hague Bloggershuis Netherlands

“The power of this bloggers house is that other people will tell the story for you. How great is it that this can be done from a building on the beach in the only Dutch city by the sea?”, said Marco Esser, director of Den Haag Marketing.

What sort of stories do you hope the bloggers will write about?
We’re looking for different kinds of stories, destination reports from the real destination geeks, and stories by niche bloggers on food, arts & culture, festivals, sports (sailing/surfing) , lifestyle and beauty or shopping. With must sees like the Girl with the Pearl Earring from the famous painter Vermeer, The Peace Palace, our Royal palaces, 11 kilometres of beach, the Victory Boogie Woogie or the museum of Escher, the range of stories can be very wide!

What do The Hague residents think of the Bloggershuis idea?
The Hague residents are enthusiastic and proud! We’re the first to have a Bloggershuis, we can show the city that we love to influencers all over the world. We would also love to hook up certain bloggers (niche) with a local expert on the same topic. Several locals have already shown interest in this idea.

Does The Hague have any additional goals for the Bloggershuis initiative?
Our main goal is, of course, to draw attention to our city by the sea in a special way and a way that’s unique for Holland. We love to see and hear from other people talking about their experience in The Hague. We strongly believe in others telling the story of The Hague and we’re curious to see all the stories, pictures and videos from our visitors.  But an initiative like this one can only be a success when your own residents believe in it, and support it. So we’re also happy that it makes residents of The Hague feel proud.

The Bloggershuis will start up at the end of March on Kijkduin Beach in The Hague. It will be open during the 2016 beach season, exclusively for Dutch and international travel bloggers and vloggers.