At the heart of creating a successful destination is offering positive and memorable experiences. It is about careful planning of what sense a place evokes in people’s minds. Today’s consumers crave a deeper level of immersion and interaction with the people and places they visit. 

Be evocative

The best destinations occupy a place in people’s hearts and minds, not just terra firma. From a local attraction off the beaten track to a vast waterfront development, every destination is experienced on the same scale – by individual people making individual choices. Apart from unique experiences, winning destinations also offer value for money and value for time.

Iceland: A case study

We were invited to prepare a foreign direct investment strategy for the economic development of the Iceland in 2010, following the financial crisis. The mandate was to turn Iceland into a sustainable destination, driven by multiple pillars of growth focusing around tourism and the industrial sector. A key challenge was ensuring that the strategies are diversified enough to stand the test of time, and of course, weather the changing business cycles. 

Today, Iceland is a booming economy, with tourism its main growth engine. According to a Bloomberg report last year, the number of tourist arrivals to Iceland rose by nearly 400% from 2010 to over 2 million visitors in 2017. Apart from tourism, other pillars which supported the country’s economic recovery was the aluminium smelting industry and the data centre sector. Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, also has a vibrant tech start-up scene.  

There are, of course, natural elements – such the famous Northern Lights, the low ambient temperature which is ideal for data centres – which played their role to support Iceland’s transformation. But all do note that all these existed way before the country started to remake its economy – the question is: what did Iceland do to better harness these elements in the wake of the banking crisis? A lot of it had to do with infrastructure development including enhancing air and sea lift, as well as offering a more business-friendly environment.

Three key steps in creating a destination?

When we think about creating a destination – both new build and revamp of an existing attraction – it is important to go back to the beginning: creative product development. This crucial first step involves evaluating existing strengths and weaknesses, analyzing the competition and thoroughly study and understand what the market lacks or needs in the short and medium term. It is about longevity - building a destination that will remain relevant 10 years or more from now.

Technology and its role in reshaping how people perceive, use, and experience a destination should be discussed extensively. Operators need to future-proof the destination by investing in suitable technology, which not only helps to boost productivity but also enhance the users experience.

The second element has to do with vibrant placemaking. This will help to create and curate a seamless eco-system that enables footfall, promote round-the-clock visitation. A key point to highlight is this, the more captive audience you have, the more time they spend on site, the more likely they will spend and in turn, generate more revenue for the operator.  Placemaking strategies are wide and varied, including anything from hosting weekend markets, music festivals, light shows or installing interactive public art and street furniture etc. It entails activating public spaces as well as offering interesting programmes that will engage the community. 

Finally, management and branding. Any successful venture is only as good as its management team. This is no different for a destination which will have multiple offerings that will need to be brought together seamlessly. Effectively branding helps to add value and retain mindshare. Some examples of destinations that have done well in this area include: Universal, Disney, Marina Bay Sands, Louvre, Dubai Mall and their placemaking strategies, especially in driving on-site spend and raising the profile of those destinations.

Some key global trends underpin the creation of special experiences and they need to be closely examined as well. These include technology, value and experiential retail development, brands and intellectual property, as well as activities and learning. Together, these factors help to elevate a destination, offering immersive and memorable experiences to visitors across age groups and cultures.

Of course, the above is a broad – and simplified - overview of what can be done to turn an attraction to a destination. There are the nuts and bolts of bringing the plans and strategies together, including putting in place all the relevant infrastructure. Speak to Colliers’ consultancy team to find out how you can activate your attraction and turn it into a popular destination that people remember fondly long after they leave the place.