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Marketing cities and local NZ tourism

Our cities compete for visitors’ attention. How about giving the locals some love?

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Our cities compete for visitors' attention. How about giving the locals some love?

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[MARKETING]

It seems there’s just one incentive to create a strong brand for any New Zealand city: to attract domestic and foreign visitors. Unsurprisingly, the tourism-oriented approach makes many of our cities’ marketing efforts seem pointless, unfamiliar and even cringe-worthy to the locals, who are not part of the target demographics. A loftier goal is to create metropolitan identities that resonate with the locals in the same way they hail out-of-town audiences.

That approach has been used in New York City for the past two years. The intention is to create a uniformed identity for the city, across the public and private sectors, and not just to attract tourist dollars. Whether you’re filling out a tax bill, taking a vacation or simply hailing a cab, you’ll encounter the familiar motifs of the ongoing ‘This Is New York City’ campaign. It’s designed to make life in the city feel seamless and centralised.

Getting the locals on board—and giving them a sense of ownership of their city’s identity—is proving vital for New York. A key aspect of the marketing is ‘Just Ask The Locals’, in which the city’s famous faces share their own experiences and hotspots. In the face of an economic slowdown, New Yorkers are being encouraged to effectively become tourists in their own neighbourhoods. It’s difficult to convince residents to take a vacation in their own cities if the only marketing they’re exposed to is directed at lucrative out-of-town audiences.

Unfortunately, that’s the case in our own capital. ‘Have A Love Affair With Wellington’ is a tourism campaign built on the limited premise that Wellington is perfect for short, romantic getaways. And the campaign seems to have worked, increasing hotel occupancy and winning big at the 2006 Tourism Industry Awards. The campaign, however, is largely irrelevant to those who already live in Wellington, and its tagline does little to define a sustainable identity for the city.

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‘This Is New York City’, a tagline coined at the end of the design process, seemed neutral and humble enough to have some street cred. The trademark states the obvious but it’s backed up by uniformed imagery of the various aspects of New York that can be discovered. ‘This Is New York City’ is now emblazoned throughout the city, and not just in visitors’ guides.

Another important aspect of city marketing is the structures that support it. It’s been two years since the creation of NYC and Company, which handles all of the city’s branding, marketing, advertising and hosting needs. Prior to this, those functions were exercised by a range of private and public arms, as they are in New Zealand. NYC and Company claims to be the only firm of its kind in the world and raises over half its funds through corporate sponsorship, rather than relying on taxpayer dollars to create and maintain the city’s identity.

So, could our cities take any lessons from New York City’s approach? According to Kimberly Spell of NYC and Company, the answer is yes, although the tactics may be different. Spell believes the authenticity of any metropolitan branding is paramount: “You just can’t sell a fake experience, and the locals won’t buy it either.” Having said that, Spell says there is an audience for every location, and it’s in any city’s interests to play to its strengths.

An emerging branding mechanism that New York City seems to have rejected is the ‘creative city’ mantra. Willy Wong, a creative director at NYC and Company, believes New York is indeed a creative city, as a capital of fashion, galleries and theatre, and also less tourist-oriented industries like design. However, he agrees that marketing a city as a ‘creative city’ can appear pretentious, and in New York that mantra is unlikely to have big payoffs.

Much of the branding experience in New York is not about cashing in, but about improving the experience of those who live in, or visit, the city. An obvious motivator is the need to rebuild the city’s confidence after the terror attacks of 2001. It shouldn’t take a crisis for a city to define itself. Many New Zealand cities have the chance to do so, indeed, with fresh canvases. It might cheer up the residents too.