Gold Coast Tourism rebrands by unearthing its Place DNA®

Andrea Moreton

11 August 2016

In an extremely competitive and ever-changing travel industry, destination marketers know the importance of developing their brand in a way that resonates with its target audience.

Gold Coast Tourism is no exception and recognized the need to update their brand after seeing a fundamental shift in their audience. Since the launch of its “Gold Coast, Famous for fun” campaign in 2010, the destination has significantly evolved. Their consumer insights have revealed that the traditional beach holiday is losing its appeal for emerging target markets who want a richer experience of local life beyond the typical tourist-focused products.

How are they addressing this need to rebrand?

Jan Hutton, Chief Marketing Officer of Gold Coast Tourism, describes how her team and her industry stakeholders uncovered and articulated their Place DNA®, and why understanding the Gold Coast’s true character is important in helping travellers experience the best it has to offer.

Destination Think: You recently went through a process to uncover your Place DNA® that included a workshop with your stakeholders. Can you describe that? Who from your team and/or your industry participated in the workshop?

Jan Hutton: We spent some time selecting the right people to participate with us, those who would most accurately represent the breadth of our destination. We wanted contributions from all areas – from our important stakeholders like EDMP (Economic Development and Major Projects, City of Gold Coast) to the theme parks and conservationists, from hotels to aviation, from the public sector to the private, multinationals to smaller entrepreneurs and from restaurants to product owners!

The workshop curated input from all participants, prompting unusual and thoughtful feedback about our destination that helped us get to the heart of who we really are (and aren’t). We wrestled through some topics amid great debate, while on others, we had immediate consensus. Both were invaluable for a robust, honest depiction of our destination’s DNA.

Did anything surprise you about the process? Was this different to branding processes you’ve been through in the past?

Destination DNA workshop

Image credit: Jan Hutton

The Place DNA® process that Destination Think led was fundamentally different to every other brand-defining methodology I’ve been a part of in workshops around the world. It was clear that the approach is based on years of understanding the unique space of destinations, and truly excavates the DNA of a region in a fresh, relevant and revealing manner. In reality, all DMOs have a very defined set of practical tourism objectives. This process was different in that it managed to take a snapshot of where we are today, while also holding our hand into the aspirations of our evolving destination.

Some of the exercises used in the workshops have been adapted to destination marketing from design thinking principles. Which exercises were most valuable to you, and why?

I thought that the exercise where teams got to create, define and narrate their various fictitious themes across the “theme park” equivalent of the Gold Coast, as a means of capturing the distinctiveness of our precincts across the destination was the most valuable. Our teams plotted out the regions of the Gold Coast and listed the attributes associated with each one. We asked ourselves what attractions each region would have, why we would go there and what we would call the park. I found this extremely insightful as a way of capturing the overall experiences and even the attitude of the destination.

Overall, design thinking speaks to the very core proposition of how something works. It peels back brand as a superficial veneer and exposes a more practical reality of how the destination works, how its communities work, how the travel industry works, etc. The approach also leverages the experience economy as a tangible currency to elevate and trade off of.

How will this experience impact your destination’s strategic direction for the future?

Our world is precarious, many legacy industries are crumbling and amid this mayhem, tourism is flourishing. Tourism is a top priority for every country around the world now, as a means to grow revenue, grow job creation, grow industry, grow investment, grow trade – it is the sharp edge that can lead to so much more for a destination. This means that we now need to be agile, relevant and smarter than ever in an incredibly competitive landscape. All 180 DMOs around the world are focusing their resources to attract the global 1 billion travellers. The work we’ve done within this process gives me the confidence to know we’re well-positioned!

For DMOs, do you think that uncovering Place DNA® is an important step before beginning the design process? If so, why?

Design is nothing more than the symbolic façade of the living DNA beneath it. Without knowing what your destination is, how can it be dialled up into a visual identity that’s distinctive? The brand presents itself to the world through its emotive invitation carried in words and images, not a logo. The context around the logo (the destination brand) can cause a destination to be visible or invisible. Our brand is an important reflection of our destination’s character, so we can only craft it once we understand that character.


Are you developing your brand strategy? Destination Think has helped many destinations as a unique partner through our Place DNA® process, workshops and consultation. To learn how to identify your destination’s DNA and refine your destination’s brand, contact us today.


Featured image credit: Jan Hutton

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