London, Barcelona, Brussels, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, Manchester... The list of prime European tourism destinations affected by terrorist attacks in the last two years means that drawing up strategic recovery plans to repair a destination’s safe image could well be added to the to-do list for DMOs in case disaster strikes.

Today, more than ever, the success or failure of places to brand themselves as a ‘safe’ destination have a significant impact on how places are perceived, governed and promoted. Having an “unsafe” and “insecure” reputation can put travellers off visiting, or potential residents from settling from the very start, and can quickly cement stereotypes which lead to negative long term economic consequences. Sudden security incidents can change the tourist’s perception of risk very quickly. Thus, a fast response by the public and private sector in the destination affected by terrorism is crucial to mitigating the magnitude of a terrorist act, the magnitude of which is easily enlarged by the media).

Recovery through targeted marketing

Take Nice for example. Last year carnage on the Promenade des Anglais was unleashed at the peak of the tourist season and resulted in a serious drop in demand for the hospitality industry in the city and beyond. Indeed, 73% of local business owners reported the decrease in activity following the tragic event.

However, despite the overall pessimistic mood, the security crisis proved decisive for the local tourism authorities. Within the weeks after attack the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur regional tourism committee launched a €1 million ‘#cotedazurnow’ revival campaign via social media using targeted marketing messages. The campaign encouraged internet users, visitors and residents to share their real-time images of Cote d’Azur on Facebook and Instagram, using the #cotedazurnow hashtag. 

The campaign aimed to restore confidence and the attractive image of one of France’s most important leisure destinations, and was generally heralded as a massive success. The public responded with more than 30,000 posts in the weeks after the attack and the campaign is estimated to have reached around 12 million internet users per week. Crucially the campaign received significant support from local businesses and event-makers who seized the opportunity to bring in more customers. More important, coordination and engagement with local government brought in the necessary resources and publicity to sustain the project.  

How to respond to this new challenge

Unfortunately, we live in the times when disruption whether of economic, political or natural character is becoming a new reality and even a norm. Fortunately, the economy seems to be adjusting to periodic shocks, including terrorism. In fact, the World Economic Forum has reported how the recovery times from the shocks have shortened significantly over the last 15 years. The emergence of a “carry on as normal” culture in European cities as a response to terrorism seems to prove this this.

Preparation is key

Obviously, the best way to handle an image crisis is to be ready for it, i.e. to try to foresee the kinds of crisis and to anticipate the measures to withstand it. This is something we were clear about in our recent Manifest on the Future of DMOs, produced with European Cities Marketing. “don’t wait for disaster to strike to talk to your partners”, we explained. “start now, and build a prevention, reaction and recovery plan that will guide you when local residents, businesses and political representatives look to you for leadership and confidence”. 

Embrace a new role 

The example of Nice clearly illustrates that becoming stronger after a crisis requires a new mindset by which DMOs become more confident in their growing role in city governance (something else we explained in detail in the Manifest). With this changing reality, the DMO’s role is shifting from being simply managers and operators towards enablers, facilitators and coordinators. To utilize its full potential and to adapt to this new role, DMOs need to understand all forces at play and to be agile in their response to pursue the opportunities

Respond rapidly

A quick response to the shifting conditions to capitalize on opportunities is vital for any business. Maintaining or restoring the secure image of a place affects the ways the place branding process is managed by all place stakeholders, from politicians and businesses to academia and civil society. Cities which adopt a strategic and entrepreneurial approach have a clear advantage to successfully capitalize on recovery and to take a stronger market position.

Collaborate extensively with other government agencies 

Cooperation with policy makers on destination promotion is paramount for the tourism industry to maintain a consistent message from the industry to the consumer. Particularly in the times of political instability and security threats, government supported actions can help to reduce the fear and paranoia spread by the media through publicizing and through financially supporting recovery campaigns.

Be credible

The deterioration consumer confidence which can undermine destination development is one the most negative effects of any terrorist attack. While denial or ignorance of a threat is counterproductive, being properly aware of the situation and putting the risk into perspective helps locals and visitors to cope with the situation in more relaxed and less-stressful manner. Consistently communicating a credible message about the real-time situation translates into more credibility for all DMO brand communications.

Activating local residents

Residents are powerful ambassadors of their places and local culture, able to drive the positive perceptions of their place upwards. When locals are reassured about the security of their cities this is immediately translated into positive message about their place brand.

How can we help you

Are you developing your destination brand strategy or need to refine your brand? Toposophy has helped many city marketers and place makers as a unique partner through workshops and consultation. To learn how you can build a successful place brand contact us today.





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