This week more than 5000 travel and tourism organisations will exhibit at the 25th - and biggest ever - World Travel Market at ExCel in East London (8-11 November). It is the biggest travel trade fair in the world: 190 countries will be represented, as tourism bodies from Australia to Zanzibar strive for a bigger slice of the global tourism cake, which is now worth hundreds of billions of pounds annually.
Treasury figures suggest UK travellers alone will spend £27bn this year on foreign travel. Their tastes are changing too. Market research firm Mintel has identified a trend toward longer-haul, more adventurous destinations.
This is why countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are ramping up their marketing budgets, ploughing tens of millions of pounds annually into promoting what they believe are their distinctive brand messages.
'Globalisation has made virtually every place on earth a potential competitor,' says Alan Williamson, a specialist in destination brand development. 'To compete in this overcrowded market, destinations must attract with a single branded proposition, then distract with multiple products and experiences.'
New Zealand applied this strategy five years ago, raising the bar in destination marketing. The nation ditched its previous approach of tailoring campaigns to different territories in favour of a single '100% pure' positioning, which was rolled out in all its main tourism markets.
The campaign, created by M&C Saatchi, used strong visuals to convey the many reasons to make the long flight to the country, including fishing, skiing, scenery or the indigenous people. At the same time, Tourism New Zealand completely revamped its website to give it more aesthetic and practical appeal to upmarket tourists.
Thanks to this activity and the blockbusting Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, which was famously filmed in the country, UK visitor numbers grew from 155,000 in 1998 to an estimated 290,000 this year, an increase of almost 100%. The campaign continues to run, and Tourism New Zealand is launching its latest '100% pure' TV execution at the World Travel Market.
Experts believe '100% pure' works because of its simple, powerful, yet flexible, message. Williamson argues that such flexibility stems from the creation of a hierarchy of destination brands, from country to region to city to resort.
'Destinations need a big brand idea,' he says. 'But today it is difficult to please so many stakeholders. The idea therefore has to be multi-dimensional, incorporating tourism, exports and inward investment. These elements must be fully integrated to satisfy the key stakeholders while competing with a focus on their individual strengths.'
In a relatively small and homogeneous country such as New Zealand, this could be achieved, but it may be more of a challenge for a diverse nation such as South Africa. Nevertheless, President Mbeki's government is trying a similar approach in the ongoing strategy of South African Tourism (SAT).
SAT spent two years developing the approach before implementing it in August. With little funding available, it asked multinationals such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola for free strategic input to ascertain the essence of the nation and its people. It also adopted advanced consumer research techniques to segment visitor groups and identify any damaging misconceptions.
The new positioning, 'It's possible', focuses on the diversity of people and viewpoints in the rainbow nation and plays on South Africa's sense of optimism a decade after the end of apartheid. The message is designed to appeal not just to tourists, but also to South African workers - a stakeholder group SAT feels represents the 'face of the brand' - and the travel trade, which it believes is critical to tourism success.
Last month Moeketsi Mosola was promoted from chief operating officer to chief executive of SAT, which is based in Sandton, close to Johannesburg. The Harvard-educated executive takes a highly pragmatic approach to destination marketing.
'Brand awareness isn't really an issue for us, so we're taking a deal-driven approach,' he says.
'A big part of our UK audience falls into what we call the "next stop South Africa" segment. These tourists are over the age of 40, have more money and time than average, and if they find the right deal, will come here. So our marketing effort is making sure they encounter the right deals.'
Since the launch of 'It's possible', SAT has actually reduced its advertising spend in the UK, investing instead in educating British travel agents about the country and how to put together appropriate itineraries for visitors.
Australia, a fierce competitor with both New Zealand and South Africa for UK holidaymakers, is another nation that has adopted the hierarchical branding approach, but it faces a different set of challenges.
Earlier this year Tourism Australia announced a £150m relaunch of 'brand Australia', the first major change in its marketing since 1995. A new strapline, 'A different light', was designed to sum up both the nation's stunning natural colour and Australians' unique perspective on life. It was also chosen to allow the country's diverse and competing geographic regions to buy into the strategy: Ayers Rock could continue to promote its striking colours and scenery, while Sydney and Melbourne could reposition themselves away from the Australian cliches of barbecues and the Sydney Opera House.
Emma Bradley, Tourism Australia's marketing director for Europe and a former British Airways marketer, believes the discipline of treating the nation as a product brand has brought both focus and flexibility to promoting Australia. '"A different light" is a really stable communications platform,' she says. 'Essentially it's a creative canvas that gives us the freedom to portray Australia in a new way.'
Like South Africa, Australia does not need to boost awareness - many Britons apparently still cite it as their dream holiday destination - though it does need to overcome certain perception barriers, such as the idea that it is a gap-year backpacker destination or that there is little cultural appeal beyond Sydney Harbour and Ayers Rock.
But it is possible that such a strategy will undermine Australia's proven icons and core appeal. 'There is a risk that a tourism authority will tire of its communications before consumers,' admits Bradley. 'It's certainly a fine line, and national icons must be celebrated rather than dismissed.'
Destinations in the Middle East face a different set of communication issues altogether. Despite the fact that more British tourists are looking for flexible breaks in mid- to long-haul destinations with guaranteed sun, fears of terrorism and war have damaged these nations' appeal.
Jordan is a traditionally tolerant, moderate and peaceful country, located within a region of constant turmoil. Following the outbreak of violence in Palestine in late 2000 - dubbed the al-Aqsa Intifada by Arabs - and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tourism to Jordan fell into steep decline in the early years of the millennium.
As a result, the country - blessed with some powerful tourist attractions, such as the temples at Petra, the Roman city at Jerash and the Red Sea - began what it calls the 'reassurance programme'. With limited resources, the Jordan Tourism Board outsourced its UK tourist office activities to London travel marketing specialist The Brighter Group. The strategy was to position Jordan as a diverse cultural and specialist holiday destination.
With so many complex political issues, public relations formed the basis of the campaign, although Brighter also negotiated national press inserts and supplements. The Jordan team targeted niche operators in the adventure, Christian, cultural and health travel markets to create specialist programmes, such as the promotion of the country as part of the 'original Holy Land'. Its credentials as a specialist destination were reinforced by appearances at events such as the Adventure & Travel Show and the London and Birmingham Dive Shows.
The specialist focus appears to have worked. Not only is Jordan part of standard Holy Land tours, it now commonly features as a standalone Christian destination, while 'soft' adventure holidays - those that don't involve extreme sports - are the country's fastest-growing tourism sector. Visits from the UK between January and August 2004 were up 87% year on year.
According to Sue Whitehead, former director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and now head of Brighter's representation, sales and marketing division, successful destination marketing is based on co-operation. 'It all starts with the strategy,' she says. 'But the critical factor is up-front communication of the message and providing the time and systems for all parties to buy into the strategy.'
Numerous books and seminars have sprung up over recent years on the subject of destination marketing. But for one marketing consultant who has masterminded several successful destination campaigns, the key is to keep it simple.
'There is a lot of rubbish talked about destination rebranding. You can highlight the urban sophistication of Australia, but most people will still want to climb the Harbour Bridge,' he says. 'Of course it's fundamental to elucidate the product truth about a destination, but with such a competitive market and range of possibilities, the real secret is to package it up to the tourist in a simple and attractive deal.'
UK visitors 2003: 673,000
Forecast growth 2004: 4%
Brand relaunch: May 2004
Strapline: 'A different light'
Annual UK adspend: £4.8m
Agencies: Whybin TBWA (global), Grey London (UK)
UK visitors 2003: 458,000
Forecast growth 2004: 4%
Brand relaunch: September 2004
Strapline: 'It's possible'
Annual UK adspend: £440,000
Agencies: The Agency (SA), Starcom (global media)
UK visitors 2003: 265,000
Forecast growth 2004: 10%
Brand relaunch: January 1999
Strapline: '100% pure'
Annual UK adspend: £1.2m
Agency: M&C Saatchi (UK)
UK visitors 2003: 34,765
Forecast growth 2004: 50%-100%
Brand relaunch: September 2000
Annual UK adspend: £400,000
Agency: The Brighter Group (UK)
In a book published last week to coincide with the US presidential election, branding expert Simon Anholt argues that America is more than just a country. 'It is the biggest and arguably the most controversial brand the world has ever known,' he writes.
The book, Brand America: The Mother of All Brands, argues that the US has done more to control its reputation than any other country in history.
'In war and in peace, through words and actions, inside and outside its borders, there is no other person, place or thing that has managed to achieve a recognition as wide, as deep and as lasting as that of the US,' says Anholt.
That the country stands for liberty, or freedom, is hardly a revelation, but Anholt believes its image has historically been well-managed. He argues that, like great advertising, there is a product truth in the US proposition: 'It's a flattering idea that ... once you get to America your natural talents will at last find free expression and you will fulfil your natural potential.
It's an exaggeration, not a lie.' But Brand America is beginning to look a little sickly. Tourism was devastated after 9/11, and while UK tourists have begun to return thanks to a weak dollar, inbound leisure tourism has yet to return to pre-9/11 levels, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
More worryingly, Anholt argues that a growing anti-Americanism is 'repainting the country's brand image in harsh and lurid colours'. The book identifies the increasing perception of the US as 'bullying, polluting, imperialistic, fat, selfish and arrogant' and argues that the nation needs to take a long-term view to regain its brand integrity. 'Only then,' Anholt concludes, 'will America once again enjoy its unique status as the mother of all brands.'
- 70% of adults escape abroad three times a year, and 7% do so five times, according to MyTravel.
- 17.2m Britons will holiday abroad in 2004, compared with 17.4m in 2001. The decline is partly due to the growing popularity of holidays within the UK.
- 26.3m international visitors will come to Britain this year, eclipsing the 1998 record of 25.7m, according to VisitBritain.
- Just 10 years ago 81,000 UK tourists visited Dubai. This year that figure will be about 600,000.
- 3.8% more tourists visited Spain during the first five months of 2004 than in the same period last year.
- 10% more tourists visited Germany in the first quarter of 2004 compared with the same period last year.
This article was first published on Marketing