Story of freedom city's brand

NELSON Mandela Bay should be marketed as an iconic destination city – telling the story of freedom and democracy. This is the view of tourism expert Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, who addressed stakeholders in the tourism and related industries during a Downright Dialogues session in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

Du Toit-Helmbold said as a city, Nelson Mandela Bay was competing with all the other destination cities in the world and therefore needed a coordinated marketing strategy to make the city "stand out".

She said the metro's unique selling point was the story of freedom, "a commodity people across the world are craving at the moment". This theme was particularly relevant with the 20-year celebration of democracy next year, the city's connection with former president Nelson Mandela and the groundwork that had already been done with the R17-million Mandela Bay Development Agency project, Route 67.

The route, funded by the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund, consists of public art symbolising Mandela's 67 years of work dedicated to the freedom of South Africa. "Creating such an emotional connection with the city as a brand will eventually lead to the transformation of the business, which is where the private tourism industry and NMB Tourism agency will play a vital role in delivering the tourism needs of the urban traveller.

"Your story or brand should have layers and not just one iconic attraction," Du Toit-Helmbold said.

The new breed of traveller wanted to give back to the environment they travelled in – reflecting a transition from "mindless" to "mindful" consumption.

"Beach holidays grew by only 1% last year, while city holidays grew by 15%. It is the age of the urban tourist and cities act as the hooks that draw people into the regions. Cities can be seen as the prisms which countries are viewed through," she said.

Du Toit-Helmbold said tourists had also become digital nomads who were now the citizen publishers, writers and marketers of the digital age through the various social media platforms. This should be embraced by tourism agencies as a new form of "word of mouse instead of word of mouth".

Because of the mobile revolution tourists no longer went to visitors' centres and preferred to get the information about the city they were visiting on their cellphones and other electronic devices.

Du Toit-Helmbold was the chief executive of Cape Town Tourism for more than 10 years and used blogs and social media in the organisation's hugely successful #ilovecapetown campaign last year. "This gave us free marketing we could never afford," she said.

She now owns her own tourism company, Destinate, and said she would love to head an organisation connecting African cities in collaborative marketing.

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism (NMBT) chief executive Mandlakazi Skefile said collaborations would be welcomed and that the idea of Nelson Mandela Bay using freedom as a brand strategy was already embedded in the current tourism strategy.

"We do invite our travellers to experience the spirit of freedom in the city. What I found particularly useful was Du Toit-Helmbold's ideas on how to tell the story better. We also like her suggestion to get all stakeholders involved in building the brand," Skefile said.

The second Downright Dialogues session was held by enterprise development specialist Jupilog in association with the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) and NMBT.