Issue #22 May 2012

Branding Places

People living in Australia's regional towns and cities do not always appreciate that those living in our capital cities and elsewhere in the world may not think their hometown is as attractive or interesting as they do, and may not even know it exists. It is generally difficult for regional towns or cities to attract national media, let alone gain worldwide coverage.

In the course of the year, hundreds of Australian towns appear, then disappear, as they attract national media for a few minutes, then fade back into obscurity. These moments of fame are often for the wrong reasons, such as extreme weather events, disasters, crime or accidents. However, sometimes it can be a positive reason stemming from a sporting event, celebrity activity or something so unusual as to be newsworthy. It is unlikely that Beaconsfield or Snowtown would be as well known today were it not for tragic events and the media these attracted.

Lack of attention on regional and rural Australia is often made worse when the media unwittingly reinforces negative stereotypes about locations by reporting inaccurate or out-of-date information, usually because accurate and up-to-date information was not easily available.

In Queensland, locations like Cairns, Airlie Beach and the Gold Coast are regularly projected onto the national and international stage through contemporary images of who they are and what they offer. They are tourist destinations and this promotion is their lifeblood. These messages are reinforced by a flow of visitors who see and understand the reality of what these locations have to offer and share this experience with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Most other locations across Queensland do not have the resources to run sustained advertising and promotions campaigns that cut through the noise and confusion of our crowded media landscape and deliver targeted, lasting, positive messages.

However, this does not mean that a regional location cannot control how it is viewed by potential visitors (or investors) and how it can build a relationship with its target audiences based on what it is and what it seeks to be. Changing the image of a location and effectively positioning it with identified target markets requires a planned, systematic and strategic approach that goes well beyond any quick fix advertising campaign or one-off boost in a TV program.

Developing  a brand strategy to guide and direct how a location is perceived by its target audiences creates a clear understanding of the core attributes of the location and the benefits it delivers, the intrinsic personality of the place, the position it should hold with its target markets and a strategic platform to direct all marketing and communications. It also communicates a set of values that underpin everything the location is and seeks to be. This approach brings long-term benefits by guiding all destination marketing activities and establishing a strong brand identity that differentiates the location from its competitors. It also ensures the delivery of clear and consistent messages that resonate with its target audiences, building a strong and lasting relationship between the visitor and the location, turning these visitors into advocates for the place and what it represents the new air you are this any.

In effect, a brand strategy is as important for a destination or location as it is for a business or product. Just as businesses use brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors, create loyalty and drive profit - so can destinations use an effective brand strategy to grow awareness, attract investment and drive economic growth.

RV Friendly Town - is it worth the effort?

For a town to become "RV Friendly" it must meet, or substantially meet, a set of criteria developed by the Campervan & Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA). Anyone who has travelled around regional and outback Queensland would have seen RV Friendly Town signs at the entrance to a town that is a member of the scheme - more than 44 across Queensland. The term "RV Friendly Town" is a trademark owned by the CMCA, along with RV Friendly Destination and RV Friendly Location.
To be accredited under the CMCA’s RV Friendly Town scheme, a town is required to meet the following criteria (in order of importance to CMCA members) and provide:

  1. access to potable water
  2. access to a dump point, within 50km of the town
  3. provision of short term (24/48/72+ hour) parking
  4. parking within close proximity to a general shopping area offering groceries and fresh produce
  5. provision of longer term parking, at a reasonable rate, within 5-20km of the town centre
  6. a Visitor Information Centre (VIC) and town map showing essential services
  7. service centre for basic vehicle repairs
  8. access to 24-hour medical and pharmacy services.

What are the benefits?

  1. A way to target the key tourism market for most towns in regional and rural Queensland, particularly those away from the coast.
  2. More visitors - research by Balfour Consulting found that 73% of CMCA members will be more likely to stay in an RV Friendly Town, while TRA research found 66% of all RV Travellers in regional Queensland stay in non-commercial accomodation, 16% exclusively.
  3. Increased visitor spend - TRA research found that the 50% of RV Travellers who use both commercial and non-commercial accommodation are also the highest spenders, while Balfour Consulting has found that RV travellers are more likely to spend in support of locations that provide non-commercial accommodation, either free or at minimal cost.

What of the negatives?

  1. Impact on local caravan parks - more likely to occur if they do not have good quality facilities and are not well-run.
  2. Costs - local community has to deal with maintenance of parking areas including effluent and rubbish removal issues.
  3. Behaviour - the usual minority who want to ignore the rules and overstay or dump illegally.

Is joining the RV Friendly Town scheme a good option?
There is evidence to suggest that RV Friendly Towns do gain benefit from being part of the scheme, with Home Hill in the Burdekin Shire being one of the best examples. Research undertaken by Balfour Consulting found that that for every two nights RV travellers spend in a rest area (free or low-cost), they spent one night in a caravan park. This suggests that the longer these travellers can be held at a particular town, the more likely they are to use the local caravan park. The RV Friendly Town scheme reaches the RV traveller market well beyond the CMCA membership and therefore influences travel patterns. While an RV Friendly Town has the potential to deliver significant benefits, this move should only be undertaken after full consultation with all stakeholders in and around the town and with consideration of all likely impacts, positive and negative, including how to mitigate negative impacts. Like any change, it will involve winners and losers, and the key consideration must be what is best for the community as a whole.

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