The Internet as Place Branding strategy in tourist destinations management: a proposal for practical application


Raimia Lima

Master Student, Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal

Oliva Martins

Business Sciences Department, Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal

Célio Gonçalo Marques

Techn&Art-IPT|Information and Communication Technologies Department, Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal

Eunice Ramos Lopes

Techn&Art-IPT|Social Sciences Department, Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal





The Place Branding emerged from the need to differentiate cities by the tourist as a unique destination and brings together a series of strategies aimed at attracting visitors and investors, generating a positive movement in the local economy mainly to residents. With the changes in tourist behavior in the 21st century, tourism marketing strategies are undergoing adaptations. In the current scenario, the Internet acts as the main intermediary between the tourist and the destination, which today has the possibility of planning the entire trip, being a fundamental step in the tourist decision-making process. This paper developed a proposal of digital marketing tools for cities as a Place Branding Strategy. It is suggested that the destination could use the digital marketing as a branding strategy to promote the unique destination. The digital marketing tools can integrate all the marketing communication process around the world.

Keywords: Place Branding Strategy,  Digital Marketing Tools; Tourism.



According to Buhalis in 2000, "A tourist destination can be considered as a combination of products, goods and services, and experiences provided by the place" (Manobanda, G. P., 2017).

Following the changes in tourist behavior in the 21st century, Tourism Marketing strategies have also been adapted. Before, there was talk of aspects such as product, price and place in Tourism Marketing strategy, currently, are added new important aspects as experience and emotion.

The concept of Tourism only as a way of seeing monuments was left behind, which leaves the iconic landscapes of a place in the background, putting in the foreground intangible aspects like the culture of the place and the integration with the local population (Simón Rúa, 2017). Gracia (2015) mentioned that the postmodern tourist wants to speak,  feel, touch and refers social networks as useful tools in this new process of transmitting values and making the tourist participate in the experience.

Due to the need to differentiate destinations from competition, the literature cites the extension of Marketing to the management of territories, cities and countries, not having an exclusive focus on business strategies as usually. In this context, there are terms such as City Marketing and Place Branding, which we will comment on later.

Branding, according to Kotler (2005), is the concept that relates a set of activities designed to give products and services the power of a brand, adding value and differentiation to competitors.

Petrea, Petrea, Olau and Filimon (2013) cited Gotham said in 2007 that Branding strategies should define a city's local attractions, differentiate it from competitors in the minds of visitors, and create a promise that fits the destination experience for the visitors.

With the advancement of the Internet, there has been a revolution in the way that people make their travel decisions. Thus, the Internet has an important role in the context of tourist destinations. Manobanda (2017) mentioned that according to the Nova Scotian Tourism Agency in 2013, should be taken into account that "the fast evolution of digital communications and marketing platforms only increases our need to be agile and flexible in all aspects of commercialization and delivery to tourism experience."

In this context, the objective of this paper was to study the concepts and trends related to tourist destinations as a brand and, from that, to propose digital tools for the Place Branding Strategy.




Prilenska (2012) mentioned Lorentzen who in 2009 approached that the city and its experiences become object of consumption, being able to have a mark and to be shared, like any other product.

Ashworth and Voogd (2000) have described the concept of place marketing as "specific planning actions designed to improve the relative market position of cities with regard to particular activities". Pereira (2013) cited Ashworth and Kavaratzis, in 2010, identified the following trends related to this concept: Branding of Nations, Branding of Tourist Destinations, Cultural Branding and Integrated Place Branding.

Although cities are not products, Prilenska (2012) cited Chatterton and Hollands, in 2002, and Karavatzis and Ashworth, in 2004, that argued the Place Branding has an important role in the context of "competition" between them.

However, the Place Branding Strategy can not be summarized simply by creating a brand, logo and slogan for the destination. It is a process that aims to develop a broader and longer-term strategy.

This strategy can be the basis for the development of the city's economy, attracting more tourists, investors and residents, and also generating a positive impact for current residents to identify with their city, for a more complete and effective strategy (Kavaratzis, 2014; Martins, Costa and Silva, 2013).

A good example is the city of Hamburg, Germany. According to Kausch (2017), in 2004 the city left behind the traditional Marketing of tourist destinations to invest in a strategy of City Branding, transforming the city into a brand.

This happened after observing that the city was communicated through several channels and, as this process was done from time to time and a little at a time, often even passed on messages that did not communicate with each other, which left the image Hamburg's rather vague.

In return for the brand work carried out, since 2005 there has been a more than 100% increase in the number of overnight guests, growth rates have been above average, besides registering the presence of corporations such as Google, Facebook, Dropbox and Siemens Renewable Energies, and growth in the numbers of new residents.

Neves in 2007 was cited by Sousa (2014), pointed to the Internet as being the tool that most influences consumer decision-making. In this context, also the European Travel Commission (2013) stated that "The internet has revolutionized the way consumers make their travel decisions." And the World Tourism Organization (2003) discussed the importance of the Internet in the context of tourist destinations, taking into account that with the help of this tool, tourists can have a wide range of information about the place during their decision-making process, even before they go to the place.

Therefore, the Internet has been taking the place of intermediary, which was occupied by travel agencies. This is explained by the fact that the Internet provides tourists with the possibility of finding out and buying products or services without the help of companies specialized in this activity, according Buhalis and Law, in 2008, cited by Manobanda (2017).

Castro (2015) in a study about the usefulness of the Internet (Digital Marketing) in the promotion of the destination Porto (Portugal), concluded that SEO techniques (directly related to organic research), paid search and advertising were the most relevant in Digital Marketing.

The author also concluded that the most relevant preferential means for the strategy of the city of Porto (Portugal) in terms of display advertising (paid) were the websites related to tourism, from online booking pages for hotels and flights to pages of social networks about tourism and the official site, being the sites (city) and portal (region) essential in the strategy of the city.

The importance of using social networks to work the experience of tourists in the destination, cause “real stories are highly influential", was mentioned by the author. He also talk about customization, saying that the tourist wants to design their experience to their measure, being important the tourist portals provide an intuitive and easy site, where they can quickly find what fits best with their profile or interest, adding complementary tools such as newsletter and blog to boost the information space, creating a relationship that inspires to visit the destination.

Yejas (2016) in his study designed Digital Marketing Strategies aimed at promoting the city brand, which he divided and ranked in: 1. Digital Marketing Strategies; 2. Creation and use of Digital Applications; 3. Inventory of Contents.

Among the Digital Marketing Strategies the author cited are: 1. The construction of digital identity; 2. Work on the "ley de enfoque", arguing that one of the most powerful principles of marketing is putting a word in the minds of customers; 3. Positioning in the search engines, being easily found by the target audience, be it by Inbound marketing strategies, which involves SEO, Content Marketing and Social Networks, or by strategies of Outbound Marketing, which are strategies paid for a return on conversion that includes tools like Google Adwords and Ads on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

Content Marketing, a concept mentioned by the author above, refers to any way of marketing that involves creating and sharing content to attract and win the target audience of the brand. The content can be delivered in the form of text, news, video, photo, e-books or guides, through platforms that can be social networks, landing page, blog or email marketing, for example. The main purpose of this type of Marketing is to create a relationship with the target.



Digital Marketing planning begins with an analysis of the internal and external environment of the brand, followed by the definition of the target audience and communication objectives. Next, the message and digital identity of the brand is created, that is, how it will communicate on all platforms. Once this is done, a plan of action is constructed, including the channels that will be used, what will be done, who will be responsible, the budget and the date when it will be done. In addition, the indicators that will be used to measure the results are defined.

After all the planned actions are carried out, the results are analyzed based on the indicators established in the plan, as we have shown in the Figure 1.

Figure 1: Structure of a Digital Marketing plan

Source: Authors


In this context, the main contribution of this proposal is to present some of the Digital Marketing tools that can be used in the action plan to develop a branding of cities, after the creation of a Digital Marketing plan with a defined message as well as identity. We split the tools into: Inbound Marketing Tools (Figure 2) and Outbound Marketing Tools (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Inbound Marketing tools framework used in a Digital Marketing action plan

Source: Authors


Figure 3: Outbound Marketing tools framework used in a Digital Marketing action plan

Source: Authors


Among the strategies of Inbound Marketing, we mention the presence of a website of the brand city, with functional and intuitive design, which communicates to tourists, residents and investors. Added to this, a sub-page only directed to tourists, being this the first step to attract them to the differentiated experience that they will have in the city. We also quote SEO strategies, aiming a relevant positioning in search engines.

Still about this part, we suggest sharing e-books with personalized content, requesting the email to upload the file and can later receive more information about the city through programmed emails by the automated tool of Email Marketing. Added to this, a blog with frequently updated content and newsletter to keep a relationship and make the city brand remembered by people who have interest in the city.

The presence of a redirection from the website for all other platforms in which the brand is present is important. As a reference, we mention the site of Peru country brand[1].

Regarding social network management, it is important to be present in as many networks as possible (e.g Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and social networks about tourism), generating relevant content that is in accordance with the message defined in the planning, creating a relationship with the stakeholders of the city.

Another tool we mentioned in the Inbound Marketing strategy is storytelling, namely what we call a manifesto, used successfully by major brands of products as Coca-Cola and Nike, and can also be directed to the context of place branding, since it is a video immersive, with direct interactions in which the camera seems to be "the eyes of the beholder", working first the experience of the place and in the background the monuments. Reference is made to a video also made by Peru brand[2].

With regard to strategies of Outbound Marketing we cite the paid strategies like Google Adwords and Ads in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube, that aim a greater reach of people. It is noteworthy that these strategies involve a thorough audience segmentation work, important in achieving satisfactory results.



At the end of this study, we conclude that the brand of a city, as well as the brand of a product, follows the idea that the one that will be chosen by the customer is the one that is considered relevant, that is, that people have in mind positively. Therefore, it is necessary that the construction of a brand around the city be made through well-planned and integrated strategies that communicate with each other. This is the work of place branding, and not just the isolated actions of propaganda. A successful brand can turn a city into a place where people want to live, would like to work or pretend to visit, generating a positive movement in the economy.

Another relevant aspect of the study revolves around the change of tourist behavior in recent times, which has sought out more than just monuments: the tourist seeks to get experiences and emotions.

This new tourist wants to see, feel, touch, value the local culture and interact with the local community. Along with this new era also came the advancement of the Internet, making travelers who once used only travel agencies as intermediaries, now can plan to travel alone and according to their personal needs. Therefore, the Internet is a great opportunity to create relationships, attracting, enchanting and making the city brand interact with these people, before even visiting the destination, and can be a strong influencing element in the decision making process. positive results for the city.

According to the study, it was observed that there are cities that already work the brand strategically and are developing an integrated planning. However, it should be noted that there are few destinations that have underlined the importance of developing a branding strategy using the Internet as an opportunity and accessing all the tools available in this context.

Therefore, defining the appropriate tools for the development of a digital strategy for the city's brand is essential for the achievement of positive results.




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