Attracting More Tourists to New York City
A recent article in the New York Times entitled "Remaking the city's image, with 50 million tourists in mind" (2/27/07) informed us about a planned marketing campaign to improve New York City's image in order to increase its attractiveness to potential tourists from abroad. This is an interesting and justifiable idea. If cities in France and Spain can attract over 50 millions tourists, there is no reason why NYC cannot do the same. But before the city's decision makers ask the marketers to start writing slogans, designing logos and thinking up shiny ads, it may be a good idea to stop for a second and think.
After completing a research project in which we analyzed dozens of campaigns for cities, countries and tourists destinations all aimed at improving a negative image, my colleague and I reached several conclusions that can help the city's marketers. In the same way that advertisers analyze a product's image before starting an ad campaign, cities' images need to be analyzed in advance. Such an analysis of NY's image will show that it is relatively positive to begin with—NY enjoys high international status, contains many international tourism assets that are considered "must-sees", has considerable resources, etc. Thus, according to our research, there is no need to adopt an extreme strategy that will lead to a total change in the city's branding. Rather, it is worthwhile to focus specifically on the negative components of the city's image, so as to understand well the obstacles to a greater tourist flow and try to remove them.
George Fertitta, the Madison Avenue veteran who is spearheading the new campaign, was quoted in the article saying that the problematic components of NY's image are that it is expensive, suffers from high crime rates and has rude residents. I doubt that these are the reasons that more foreign tourists don't visit. From discussions I have had with place marketing experts around the world, it is clear that they appreciate the way NY has dealt with its crime problem. The predominant feeling is now that NY is a relatively safe place to visit. The stereotype of the "rude New Yorker" is also disappearing rapidly. In any event, the best way to know for sure what potential tourists think of NY is simply to ask them. A survey done among the target audience of a marketing campaign is an invaluable asset. It will clearly show where the campaign needs to focus its message.
If, for example, the survey shows that NY is perceived as too expensive a destination, the marketing strategy will need to include a great deal of cooperation between the various players in the tourism industry. A good example is Singapore's campaign to salvage tourism in the wake of the SARS health crisis. One reason for Singapore's quick recovery was the cooperation between all of its tourism industry players, including agents, tour operators, hotels, government authorities and airlines. Such cooperation in New York—coordinated deals with hotels, airlines and attractions, for instance—can have a very positive effect in countering the negative image.
Another obstacle mentioned in the article was the general reputation of the US—which has suffered in recent years—and the perception of NY as being "too American". Here it is worthwhile to look at the marketing of Nova Scotia during the 1980s. A survey of the US travel market in 1985 found that most of the Americans surveyed had no intention of visiting Canada. In response, the province of Nova Scotia launched a creative campaign, presenting itself as a freestanding entity. The surprising result of this campaign was a significant increase in American visitors to Nova Scotia. This "geographical isolation" strategy has been successfully used by many other destinations as well. Another way to battle the idea that NY is "too American" would be to convey an opposite message in ads and emphasis the city's many multi-cultural and international aspects.
The successful use of this or any other strategy abroad depends upon the target audience. It would be a mistake to use the same ads throughout Europe. Although the European countries are closer to each other than ever, there are still significant differences between target audiences in France, Germany, England, Poland and Scandinavia. Each target audience has different tastes, different relations with America, and a different history with New York and its various ethnic groups. These differences force NY's marketers to produce unique campaigns for their audience in every country. At the same time, it is important to market the city to residents of other US cities and in other continents besides Europe.
Above all, it is vital to remember that the right campaign strategies are not enough to bring about the desired change. Other factors that can affect the city's image need to be considered as well, including visa and immigration policies and the cost of tourism services. It is also good to remember that there are many marketing techniques and they all need to promote a unified message.
In sum, a marketing campaign will only succeed if it clearly defines its various target audiences, understands well what that audience thinks of the city and what prevents it from visiting, plays to the strong points of the city's image and addresses the negative points in a coordinated fashion.
Interested in learning more?
Media Strategies for Marketing Places in Crisis
Tourism destination marketing book by Eli Avraham and Eran Ketter