The concept of branding, particularly in the context of destination branding, is intriguing. Ljubljana has emerged as a prominent tourist destination in the EU and globally over the past few years, largely attributed to effective brand management.
Yet, what exactly does it entail to become a premier tourist destination? The answer lies in increased tourist influx. In the month of July alone, Ljubljana welcomed over 150,000 tourists in a city inhabited by 300,000 residents. Given that approximately 20% of the residents are usually on vacation and the majority of tourists prefer staying in the historic center of Ljubljana – an area inhabited by only around 15% of the city’s population – this scenario translates to an average of five tourists per resident.
When contemplating these figures from the standpoint of a living brand, a pertinent question arises: What happens to the brand when outsiders embrace it? Tourists function as consumers of the Ljubljana brand. By the principles governing branding, these visitors essentially become stakeholders much like the city’s residents. While it holds true that architectural marvels like Plečnik’s designs are distinctively associated with Ljubljana alone, the brand encompasses more than just physical elements. It encompasses a unique blend of architectural heritage and the vibrant life that characterizes Ljubljana. With a sizable student populace of 40,000, an additional 20,000 graduates, and a substantial number of primary education students among the 300,000 residents, the city’s youthful energy is omnipresent.
This paradox is evident: an increase in tourists signifies more users of the destination brand, yet paradoxically, less ownership of the brand by the locals. However, given that the local population significantly contributes to the brand’s distinctive qualities, it’s imperative for these brands to remain relevant to the locals. Neglecting this can lead to them becoming estranged not only from the local community but also from the tourists. Venice is not the sole victim of this phenomenon.
Brands, like any other organic entity, are bound by the laws of equilibrium. Similar to how small fish can’t consume larger ones, the physical aspects that uphold destination brands should not be overwhelmed by an excessive number of tourists. While stretching virtual brands or concepts might be easier than their physical counterparts, the ultimate outcome is analogous. Overindulgence, in the form of an excessive influx of tourists, is detrimental both to the entity (the destination brand) that’s absorbing too much and the nourishment (the tourists) that must inevitably be discarded, sooner or later.