Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe: Uniting Theory and Practice

Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe: Uniting Theory and Practice

by John Heeley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845414924
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 02/15/2015
Series: Aspects of Tourism Series , #66
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

John Heeley runs his own business advising destination marketing organisations, universities and local government on the subject of urban destination marketing. He is also a visiting fellow at Sheffield Hallam University, where he teaches destination marketing and is developing associated industry links and research.

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Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe

Uniting Theory and Practice

By John Heeley

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2015 John Heeley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84541-495-5



A world view or dominant logic is never clearly stated but more or less seeps into the individual and collective mind-set of scientists in a discipline.

Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch (2004) Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing

This book is a sequel to my first one, Inside City Tourism: A European Perspective, which sought to provide an overview of urban destination marketing (Heeley, 2011). On its back cover, the book was described as a 'crossover text'. What the reviewer (Brian Wheeller) meant by this was that while I had a considerable grounding in the academic study of tourism, the book had essentially been written from 'the practitioner's perspective'. He was referring to a career which had begun as a tourism researcher and lecturer (1972–1990), but which was followed by more than 20 years as a chief executive officer (CEO) of urban destination marketing organisations. Another reviewer pointed out that I had utilised a language which was 'less formal than is often the case' with academic texts, making the book accessible and 'easy to read' (Pirnar, 2012: 211). The book which follows is written in a similar vein, adopting as it does a more or less practitioner perspective – the 'less' a reference to recent academic experience as mentioned later on in this chapter – and aiming to be just as readable as its predecessor.

The reasons for once more putting pen to paper are threefold. They are discussed below in descending order of significance, and are interlinked and overlapping. Indeed, respectively they form a grand aim, a consequence, and a means to an end.

1.1 The Grand Aim: Uniting Theory and Practice

In writing a second book, I wanted to elaborate upon and take forward a point I had mentioned only in passing three years ago in Inside City Tourism, viz. the gap between the academic literature on urban destination marketing and the manner in which it is actually undertaken (Heeley, 2011: xix). At that time, it seemed to the author that the 'theory' conjured up an essentially different world from that of day-to-day 'practice', without my then being able to put my finger upon the 'why' and 'how' of it all. After leaving my last practitioner job in April 2012 as CEO of European Cities Marketing (ECM), this gap between the theory and practice of urban destination marketing came into ever-sharper focus as a result of my taking up undergraduate and postgraduate teaching responsibilities, beginning in October 2012 at MCI Innsbruck. Specifically, I found myself teaching on destination marketing modules in which I was obliged to familiarise myself with the now voluminous academic literature on the subject, a literature comprehensively and adeptly summarised by Pike and Page (2014) in their recent review. Progressively immersing myself in this literature, I was puzzled by its preoccupation with 'destination branding' and 'market positioning' and with techniques such as market segmentation and the various types of resource audits. Over my 22 long years as an urban destination marketing practitioner, such matters had hardly loomed large, whereas the politics, finance and partnering which had been such dominating factors scarcely received mention in the literature.

An all-important 'light-bulb' moment occurred in April 2013 as I was researching this book, conducting interviews with senior staff in the offices of the Vienna Tourist Board (VTB). Contrary to what the books and journal articles were positing, it dawned on me in those offices that the content of urban destination marketing in contemporary Europe was 'much of a muchness'. It was strikingly similar both in form and content. While convergence in respect of form came as no surprise (among towns and cities there is, as we shall see in Chapter 3, a more or less standard DMO 'marketing template'), a pervasive uniformity of content in respect of imagery and messages was most surprising, bordering on astonishing, given that academics and practitioners alike adhere overwhelmingly to the view that urban destination marketing is a process of marketing competitive advantage based on uniqueness and differentiation. Pike and Page themselves could not be more definitive when stating that 'the quintessential goal of all DMOs ... is sustained destination competitiveness', and that fundamental to this is a 'comparative advantage' based on attractions characterised by their 'relative uniqueness' and 'unimitability' (Pike & Page, 2014: 206–207). As already discussed in the Preface, this 'way of seeing' represents a Kuhnian paradigm, a shared belief-system through whose values, concepts and propositions the world of destination marketing is made sense of by academics and practitioners alike (Kuhn, 1970). As per my comments in the Preface, I refer to the paradigm-cum-mantra operative in the field of urban destination marketing as the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage'. Pike and Page (2014: 218) entitle it the '4Ps marketing paradigm'. Whatever the label, my Viennese 'light-bulb' moment was at long last to recognise that a central tenet of the '4Ps marketing paradigm' was manifestly at odds with the mainstream DMO approach to urban destination marketing. Instead of bringing a differentiated offer to market based on more or less unique selling propositions, DMOs overwhelmingly did exactly the opposite in an approach I characterise inChapter 4 as the 'marketing of everything'. The fact that this moment of realisation occurred in Vienna was down to the DMO there being almost unique in using its destination branding to systematically market competitive advantage in the way ordained by the paradigm (refer toSection 4.4 of Chapter 4).

The ambitious intent of this book is to provide a critique of the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage' across all its central tenets, and to establish the foundation for a new and revised paradigm within which academics and practitioners can more readily and convincingly account for urban destination marketing – hence the theory and practice parts of the book's title. Having been a DMO CEO for over 20 years, I therefore find myself critiquing the very theory of which I had been such an enthusiastic and earnest supporter. Ironically enough, one of my last major projects as the outgoing CEO of ECM had been to organise a seminar held in Sofia for which I recruited as keynote speaker Eddie Friel, a much respected tourism consultant and former Glasgow tourism chief. His address in the Bulgarian capital represented in pure, unadulterated form the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage'. In it, he referred to DMOs as the 'champions' of cities, and to their marketing 'competitive difference' as enshrined in 'powerful narratives' (Friel, 2011). The audience of senior DMO executives nodded contentedly and knowingly, and otherwise lapped up all that Eddie had to say. Immersed as they were in the paradigm, most if not all of them would have been hard put to name its parts and recognise it as a 'collective mind-set' (Vargo & Lusch, 2004: 2). That's how paradigms work – they seep unrecognised, but nonetheless powerfully into the psyches of academic and practitioner communities. Piling on the irony for the author, it had been Eddie – some time back in the early 1980s when I was a tourism lecturer in Glasgow at Strathclyde University – who had introduced me to the basic idea underpinning what I am now calling the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage'. Eddie's simple but nonetheless compelling message to me then was that the essence of promoting and selling cities was 'marketing the difference'.

To be fair, the gap between theory and practice in destination marketing is recognised by some of the academics specialising in this field (see, for instance, Pike & Schultz, 2009). This, however, still begs the question of why there should ever be, at any one point in time, such a gap. Taking academe first, I think it fair to say that much the greater part of how teachers and researchers account for urban destination marketing is conceived from an 'ivory tower' position; such detachment is, after all, a fundamental part of the academic ethos. Referencing my long years as a practitioner, I hardly ever encountered academics observing urban destination marketing, let alone participating in policy making or day-today operations. As a general rule, academics 'find it difficult to gain access to the inner sanctum of DMO decision making' (Pike & Page, 2014: 209). When academics do 'soil their hands' in this way, the experience may well turn out to be strange and even uncomfortable. One academic alludes to his anxieties in an account of his tenure as a board member of a regional-level DMO, Welcome to Yorkshire (Thomas, 2011). Although 'constrained from reflecting openly' (Thomas, 2011: 497), he questions the unevidenced and seemingly irrational manner in which large amounts of public money were being used to attract events to Yorkshire whose local economic impact was highly questionable – notably a 'one-off' Royal Ascot staged at York, and the International Indian Film Academy Awards held in Sheffield (Thomas, 2011: 498).

Scholarly writing on urban destination marketing is typically grounded neither in experience nor empirical observation. As a consequence, principles and procedures advanced in conventional academic descriptions may come to have no counterpart in practice; they may be unworkable and/or irrelevant and/or outmoded and/or done tokenistically. In ways which ultimately can only be conveyed by 'real life' experience and evidence (as in my previous book and in this one), urban destination marketing in practice is less a science and more the art of the possible; as such, pragmatism, opportunism, expediency and compromise loom large, and are major factors determining the scope and content of what is undertaken. Politics, in particular, 'is notoriously destructive to the marketing process' (Cooper & Hall, 2013: 234).

Turning to the practitioners, there is a sense in which urban destination marketing professionals (like all practitioners) are preoccupied with 'doing', to the extent that they rarely consciously 'test out' their own fundamental practitioner beliefs. Reflecting once again on my own experience as CEO of ECM (2009–2012), it is remarkable how this association's annual programme of seminars and workshops was throughout devoted to 'nitty-gritty' financial, administrative and operational matters, such as the latest budgetary projections or bookings software, the routine swopping of 'hot' convention leads, the modernisation or 'look and feel' of a particular tourist information centre, trends in visitor arrivals relating to, say, the burgeoning Chinese market, visitor card sales performance for the past year, etc. Rarely, if ever, was there discussion or debate about 'the bigger picture' – those fundamental, paradigmatic tenets which comprise the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage' (or Pike and Page's '4Ps marketing paradigm'). Whether or not we were conscious of the fact, all of us at ECM subscribed to this theory as a paradigm. It was there as 'background', so that whenever one of its axioms surfaced explicitly – as recounted above with Eddie Friel's call to market 'competitive difference' – we would wisely nod our heads, purr contentedly, and otherwise feel soothed and reassured. This is the way paradigms work for practitioner communities; they are 'givens' that are accepted, working essentially out of view. They are only from time to time articulated, by industry 'gurus' like Eddie Friel and by the university lecturers who write 'authoritative' texts and journal articles for their students and peers. As a practitioner, the day-to-day job is one of 'doing the business' as opposed to reflecting on the theory of it all. It is, of course, an entirely separate matter as to whether or not the axioms or fundamental generalisations of a theory hold true in practice at any given point in time. Even if the 'facts' or experience appear to contradict elements of the theory, the latter may still be accepted because it is 'neater, more suitable, and simpler' (Kuhn, 1970: 155). It is in this sense that 'theory' can and often does become more or less divorced from reality. Neat, suitable and simple, by the way, are the very adjectives I would use to describe the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage'.

1.2 The Consequence: Closing the Quest for the Holy Grail of What Makes Urban Destination Marketing Succeed or Fail

A related motivation for writing a second book was suggested in another review of my first:

Informally the book (Inside City Tourism) can be read as the quest of a city tourism practitioner seeking the holy grail of what makes city tourism succeed or fail – and Heeley is to be credited for also recognising that not all attempts to develop city tourism are successful. (Clarke, 2012: 366)

Although the 'holy grail' referred to by Clarke was most certainly a thread running through Inside City Tourism: A European Perspective, the book was essentially an overview of urban tourism marketing. As a result, it skirted around what made for success and therefore best practice, as opposed to delineating and explaining these matters 'full on'. It presented examples of best as well as worst practice, and advocated public–private partnership (PPP) as an organisational way forward. However, it fell short of developing a theory with which to understand and appraise the practice of urban destination marketing in terms of the effectiveness or otherwise of the bespoke delivery mechanisms established to take forward these tasks, viz. the destination marketing organisations (DMOs). Notwithstanding the truism that 'achieving success in tourism is challenging and ill understood' (Bornhorst et al., 2010), the academic literature is remarkably non-committal as to whether or not destination marketing operations are effective in delivering the turnover, employment and other benefits on which they are premised, although there is recognition of the widespread lack of rigorous performance monitoring, and the related difficulties faced by DMOs in arriving at meaningful key performance indicators (Pike & Page, 2014: 210, 212–213). The literature, as it were, sidesteps the question of the efficacy or otherwise of destination marketing, and is more or less silent as to precisely where best practice is to be found. Nowhere does it identify the DMO 'leaders of the pack'.

Building on the author's previous book (Heeley, 2011: especiallyChapters 4, 6 and 8), this text breaks new ground in setting out a conceptual model within which success or failure can be evaluated and best practice identified and adumbrated. Its conclusion for many academics and practitioners will be as surprising as it is controversial; viz. remarkably few DMOs in a town or city context are really 'making a difference' to the urban economy and profile, mainly because the practice of urban destination marketing presents formidable challenges and obstacles with which these organisations in the main are ill-equipped to deal. European best practice in urban destination marketing is limited to only a handful of DMOs; they are referred to in Chapter 5, with the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB) and VTB emerging as the outstanding 'leaders of the pack'.

The holy grail of what makes for success and failure in urban destination marketing runs through Part 1 of the book, which profiles and then appraises how DMOs are organised and financed, with DMO professionals 'in their own words' portraying how they conduct their operations (another sense in which this book breaks new ground). Success or failure is also a cross-cutting theme running through Part 2, inasmuch as the 'theory of marketing competitive advantage', and my proposed revision and reshaping of it, both contain strong normative dimensions. As such, the existing and revised theories set out the principles and practices which a DMO has perforce to follow if it wishes to be effective, reach operational targets, deliver desired outcomes in terms of urban economy and profile, attain best practice standards and otherwise possess leading-edge capabilities and infrastructure. As we shall see in Chapter 5, the starting point for the new theory adumbrated in this book is that success in urban destination marketing is an end-state in which the net local economic impact of tourism is being maximised. This, in turn, is conditional upon the interplay of four variables whose outcomes in practice mean that remarkably few urban DMOs end up optimising that net local economic impact. Set against the latter criterion, DMO destination 'losers' predominate over DMO destination 'winners.'

The Epilogue found at the end of this book seeks closure in an historical and ultimately philosophical manner of the author's quest for the holy grail of what makes for success and failure in urban destination marketing.


Excerpted from Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe by John Heeley. Copyright © 2015 John Heeley. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Figures ix

Tables xi

Acknowledgements xiii

Foreword xv

Preface: Bradford, 1980-2014 xvii

1 Introduction 1

1.1 The Grand Aim: Uniting Theory and Practice 1

1.2 The Consequence: Closing the Quest for the Holy Grail of What Makes Urban Destination Marketing Succeed or Fail 5

1.3 The Means to an End: Towards a Theory of the Mid-range 6

1.4 The Author's Perspective 8

1.5 Defining and Disentangling Urban Destination Marketing, Destination Management, the DMO, Place Marketing, City Marketing, City Branding and Integrated City Marketing Agencies 9

1.6 Research Method 13

1.7 Format of the Remainder of the Book 14

Part 1 Practice

2 The Practitioners: Profiling the Ubiquitous DMO 19

2.1 Introducing Urban DMOs 19

2.2 A Potted History of Urban DMOs 20

2.3 Nomenclature and Core Purpose 23

2.4 Organisational Status and Structure 27

2.5 Finance and Partnering 35

2.6 Commentary 48

3 Urban Destination Marketing Operations 50

3.1 Introducing the DMO Urban Destination Marketing Template 50

3.2 Media and Travel Trade Relations 52

3.3 Advertising and Promotions 53

3.4 Conventions or Business Tourism 58

3.5 Sporting and Cultural Events 62

3.6 Print, Web/Digital and Visitor-Servicing 65

3.7 Brand and Planning Frameworks 68

3.8 Performance Management and Appraisal: The DMO Measurement Toolkit 72

3.9 Conclusions to Part 1 80

Part 2 Theory

4 A Critique of the Theory of Marketing Competitive Advantage 85

4.1 The Evolution of a Paradigm: The Theory of Marketing Competitive Advantage, 1980-2014 87

4.2 Discordant Voices 96

4.3 'Mind the Gap': Marketing Everything Rules OK 99

4.4 Exceptions that Prove the Rule: Innsbruck and Vienna 109

4.5 Theming 'Urban Sameness' 110

4.6 Conclusions 112

5 Towards a New 'Middle-range' Theory: The Dynamics of Urban Destination Marketing 114

5.1 The Dynamics of Urban Destination Marketing 114

5.2 Politics: Leadership Understanding and Commitment 117

5.3 Product: Accessibility, Venues and Urban Attractiveness 122

5.4 DMO Organisational Status: Resourcing and Business Culture 125

5.5 Marketing Operations: Quality of Delivery 126

5.6 The Vienna Tourist Board: Attracting Leisure Tourism 128

5.7 Glasgow City Marketing Bureau: Winning Conferences 135

5.8 Classifying Urban Destination Marketing by Scale and Quality 139

5.9 Interpretations and Observations 143

Epilogue: Coventry Millennium Eve, 1999 151

References 155

Index 162

What People are Saying About This

Alan Clarke

This is a book that challenges the received understanding of the relationships between marketing, cities and tourism. By looking at current practice through a gaze sharpened by critical theories, Heeley is offering a different view of this crucial nexus and to the ways in which cities can drive tourism development.

Annals of Tourism Research 55 (2015) 184—192 - Tom Griffin

This is a timely, useful, and accessible text that could be valuable for academics interested in DMOs and place branding, and senior level practitioners in DMOs, as well as instructors interested in looking at DMO policy and marketing practices.

G.J. Ashworth

If there is one quality that pervades the book, it is a practical, down to earth, feet on the ground common sense and as I come from an academic world of often arcane and esoteric theory, I find this book a breath of much needed fresh air.

Mike Peters

As a scientist and industry expert John Heeley understands the need to address city managers, urban planners and tourism practitioners, but also students in the field of marketing and tourism. This well-written book is a great contribution especially to any master program in this field. Lecturers will appreciate the richness of examples and practical insights.

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