Destination Crisis & Disaster Management on the Web: Lessons from Iceland, Greece, Thailand & the Gulf Coast.

The tourism industry is arguably one of the most important sources of income and foreign exchange for the global economy. However, national and international crises have huge negative economic consequences since tourism is especially vulnerable to crises & disasters and, being fragmented, often its response is difficult to initiate and coordinate. Tourism is also information intensive and when in crisis its information needs are increased. Destinations are extremely vulnerable to public perceptions of health and safety and need knowledge for responding successfully though effective response, recovery, and resilience strategies.

To this direction, social media have already proven their value to many destinations, not only to promote some of the world’s most popular tourism campaigns, but also as a powerful tool in their toolbox when dealing with a crisis.

Surprisingly few destinations, however, have included social media into their strategic communication frameworks – even those that have sophisticated crisis management protocols in place.

With the scale and abundance of recent crises, effective response through social media has become a highly topical issue within the tourism industry. However, while leading DMOs, industry bodies and destination marketing professionals advocate the introduction of digital media into risk/crisis management strategies as a means to better respond against adversity – the operational capacity and efficient reaction of any destination is only truly determined in conditions of pressure.

The experience of recently crisis badly affected destinations such as Thailand, Greece, Iceland and the Gulf Coast provide an opportunity to examine destinations’ social media response strategies and the common objective of destination brand recovery.

Thailand and Greece are two significant tourism destinations, which have had the misfortune of experiencing their reputations as tourism destinations suffer as a result of heavily-publicized episodes of politically-motivated violence.

In Thailand, nearly three weeks after the army crackdown on anti-government protests, many continue to use the Web as a convenient place to unload their emotions and thoughts about one of the most painful moments yet in modern Thai history. A political analyst and blogger who goes by the handle ‘Bangkok Pundit’ says that an “information deficit” had pushed people into cyberspace.

The Thai Tourism Authority (TAT) was understandably anxious to restore tourism to Thailand, and its web site has done an excellent job in addressing the protest issue. However, TAT made the error of launching a mass-marketing campaign too early while protests and the military response were at their height. While it is true that most of the Red Shirt-related violence was confined to central Bangkok, the global perception built by media coverage and heavily cautionary travel advisories was that the entire country was dangerous. TAT needed to engage a recovery alliance, which includes media, key tourism stakeholders from source markets, airlines which service Thailand, and the national carrier Thai Air.

As David Beirman (senior lecturer at the University of Technology-Sydney) successfully points out “Regrettably, TAT lost a lot of credibility from its overzealous mid-crisis destination marketing campaign so its will need to rely heavily on its stakeholders to be its messengers. TAT should certainly make a major effort to host travel-related media and opinion leaders among the tourism industry of its source markets to deliver a positive message to the tourism business and to consumers.

On the other hand, the Greek unrest was relatively short-lived and almost entirely confined to the parliamentary district of Athens. The City of Athens Official Tourist Board ( has managed to utilize its social networks immediately and provide real-time information about the incidents that were taking place at the time. On the contrary, the Greek National Tourist Board preferred to stay inactive throughout the demonstrations period without trying to inform travelers neither to promote Greece as a safe destination.

The City’s tourism authority moved even further by actively promoting a Twitter hashtag – #ATHsafety – for followers to use and share information on the ground. In addition to that the interaction with followers was also carried over to the Breathtaking Athens Facebook page, where – once again – the organization posted links to news stories about the protests and also offered advice to visitors. Moreover, a new on-line campaign will be in place within the next two weeks to further promote the City’s USPs and its brand as a safe city break destination and an ideal base for island-hopping to the Greek archipelagos.

On the same course, most of the US destinations which were affected from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill approximately seven weeks ago, are now starting to acknowledge the event after their initial hesitation. While the Florida Tourist board had a vivid reaction through the web by informing the travelers and placing pressure to both BP & the US government for helping them to recover, all the other affected states such as Louisiana, Alabama & Mississippi preferred to stay silent on the facts.

The local tourist boards have now placed messages and links to further information on their homepages, while Florida went even further and began a $2.5 million emergency response campaign in 15 of Florida’s summer drive markets on May 15. The emergency response campaign directed consumers to Florida Live on to watch live webcams, read Twitter feeds and view up-to-the-minute photos posted by real people in real time from beach destinations throughout Florida. The existing ad buys in those 15 markets will now shift to the new messaging featuring Northwest Florida. In addition to that, Florida announced an aggressive 90-day marketing campaign, pumping $7 million into the first three weeks of new advertising. The campaign is in response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its mission is to encourage vacationers in other parts of the country to continue their plans to travel to Florida. Finally, Visit Florida has launched a blog site to respond to the travel industry’s request for information on the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill— the site can be found at

Last but not least, the example of the European ash crisis and the airlines social media response has been probably has probably been the most important one. As Kevin May/Tnooz nicely states:  “If the US presidential election of 2008 was the first occasion that social media played a major role in politics, then perhaps the ash drama of 2010 will be the most significant so far in travel.”

Most of the major European airlines turned to Twitter to get their message out, perhaps not due to having hundreds of thousands of followers but because it became apparent very quickly that any official status from an airline was quickly retweeted by countless Twitter users

(read the full article at:

Unfortunately for Iceland, after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted earlier this year, the number of visitors to the country dropped significantly. This dip in tourism has been the driving force for the “Inspired By Iceland” campaign which aims to boost the image of the country and its tourism industry. The campaign hopes to show the rest of the world that Iceland is still a safe place to visit and since the volcano eruption began only a small percentage of the country has been affected by the ash.

Further to this initiative, At around 1400 GMT last Thursday (June 3), the residents of Iceland, Trade Council of Iceland, Tourist Board of Iceland and various other travel companies, such as Icelandair, logged on for an hour in support of the new “Inspired By Iceland” online campaign. Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants have been using the Internet to send personal messages describing what they love most about their homeland and now they invite the rest of world to do the same. Yoko Ono, a long time fan of Iceland, also helped to urge people to back the “Inspired By Iceland” campaign via her Twitter and blog, as well as numerous other musicians and entertainers from Iceland and across the world. The campaign had a massive coverage from both web & traditional media and managed to draw back the attention to the country, but this time for a good reason.

It can be perceived from the above that Digital crisis communications is a new aspect that needs added to a Crisis Management plan. Social media, blogging, and tweeting have proven to be viable, usable communications tools with far reaching uses- some of which are still being defined or refined. Having examined the aforementioned cases, it derives that in the digital world a) everything happens in a lightning speed b) people demand hyper-transparency c) dialogue is as important as message delivery and d) silence won’t handle a crisis. DMOs will need to carefully incorporate social media into their crisis management plans and make sure that they have appropriate and sufficient resources for this purpose.


Staycations: Much more than a trend..

A staycation, (a term which was only recently added to the 2009 version of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) according to The New York Times, is “a neologism used by [those] who prefer to unravel the mysteries of the world from the comfort of their living room couches.”  Staycations have achieved high popularity in the US during the financial crisis of 2007–2010 in which unemployment levels and gas prices were quite high. However, the long-lasting global economic crisis and its impact on the tourism industry caused a lot of skepticism to the travel industry and made a lot of analysts to  believe that staycations is not just a trend but a ssocial phenomeno which is here to stay. To this direction  Sarah Sharma (M/C Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2009) points out that:

”The emergence of the Staycation occurred precisely at a time when American citizens were confronted with the reality that their mobility and localities, including their relationship to domestic space, were structurally bound to larger geopolitical forces. The Staycation was an invention deployed by various interlocutors most threatened by the political possibilities inherent in stillness. The family home was catapulted into the circuits of production, consumption, and exchange. Big TV and Big Box stores furthered individual’s unease towards having to stay at home by discursively constructing the gas prices as an impediment to a happy domestic life and an affront to the American born right to be mobile. What was reinforced was that Americans ideally should be moving, but could not. Yet, at the same time it was rather un-American not to travel. The Staycation was couched in a powerful rhetoric of one’s moral duty to the nation while playing off of middle class anxieties and senses of privilege regarding the right to be mobile and the freedom to consume. The Staycation satiates all of these tensions by insisting that the home can become a somewhere else.”

Throughout the 2007-2010 period, lifestyle experts, representatives from major retailers, and avid Staycationers filled morning slots on ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and CNN with Staycation tips. CNN highlighted the Staycation as a “1st Issue” in their Weekend Report on 12 June 2008 (Alban). Throughout the summer ABC News’ homepage included links to specific products and profiled hotels, such as Hiltons and Holiday Inns, where families could at least get a few miles away from home (Leamy). USA Today, in an article about retailers and the Staycation, reported that Wal-Mart would be “rolling back prices on everything from mosquito repellent to portable DVD players to baked beans and barbecue sauce”. US media continued to build over the staycation phenomenon by gradually connecting it with all major issues of our days including the global financial downturn and the global warming. As Shara Sarma succesfully points out:

“‘Playing on the American democratic ideals of freedom of mobility and activating one’s identity as a consumer left little room to re-think how life in constant motion (moving capital, moving people, moving information, and moving goods) was partially responsible for the energy crisis in the first place. Instead, staying at home became a way for the American citizen to support the floundering economy while waiting for gas prices to go back down.  And, one wouldn’t have to look that much further to see that the Staycation slips discursively into a renewed mission for a just cause – the environment. For example, ABC launched at the end of the summer a ruse of a national holiday, “National Stay at Home Week” with the tag line: “With gas prices so high, the economy taking a nosedive and global warming, it’s just better to stay in and enjoy great ABC TV.”  It comes as no shock that none of the major networks covered this as an environmental issue or an important moment for transformation. In fact, the air conditioning units in backyard tents attest to quite the opposite. Instead, the overwhelming sense was of a nation waiting at home for it all to be over. Soon real life would resume and everyone could get moving again.”

In the other side of the Atlantic and UK in specific, VisitEngland announced a couple of weeks ago its findings from the first significant research into the staycation phenomenon . Tourism statistics indicate that in 2009, England enjoyed an 18 per cent increase in the number of holiday trips taken with holiday makers spending £1bn more than in the previous year. The research discovered that the uplift in tourism last year has helped awaken a latent pride in England as a holiday destination, and as a result, in the longer term, almost half the population expect to take more domestic breaks then than they did in the past.

The research identified two groups who changed their behaviour in 2009 to generate the uplift in domestic holidays. Together, these two groups, the ‘Staycationers’, account for one in four of the population. One group ‘Switchers’ accounted for 13 per cent of respondents and included a high proportion of families. This group was primarily motivated to ‘switch’ a foreign holiday for one at home because of financial constraints.

The second group, ‘Extras’, accounted for 15 per cent of respondents and tended to be younger, and were more likely to be single. This group was less affected by the credit crunch and their economic situation and was more motivated by a desire to explore the UK and go somewhere new. In addition to more domestic breaks they also took more overseas breaks.

The quality of experience has certainly led those who took a holiday at home last year to consider including England as part of their holiday mix this year. 86 per cent of Staycationers (those groups that the research identified as responsible for the uplift) described their holiday experience as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’, and 80 per cent described their break as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ value. Over half said their holiday was better value than the overseas holiday it replaced.

Findings from this research show that 90 per cent of Staycationers expect to take at least one break in England this year. Some people will choose to travel abroad again when they can afford it, but with half the population expecting that they will take more domestic breaks even beyond 2010, the year of the staycation seems likely to have a longer term impact for English Tourism.

James Berresford Chief Executive VisitEngland said: These findings prove that England’s new found popularity as a holiday destination is not merely a flash in the pan. Of course, circumstances last year certainly encouraged more Brits to take a break at home, however this research shows that there is a more permanent shift in attitudes to holidaying at home. It’s a hugely rewarding experience to rediscover your own country and it’s clear that once you do, you want to do it again and again.’

He goes on to say: ‘England is a wonderful destination. We have some of the world’s best countryside, coast line, cities, festivals and people – literally on our doorstep! With so much on offer to see and do I’m not surprised England is becoming more and more popular with Brits as a top class holiday destination.’

The research was carried out over two stages. In an initial quantitative stage ,1000 adults aged 18+ were interviewed about their attitudes to the credit crunch, their holiday behaviour in 2009 and their plans for 2010. A qualitative stage followed with 8 group discussions in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds among respondents with a variety of opinions towards domestic breaks. (click here for the full report)

To conclude, the staycation phenomenon is just one example of a behavioral shift caused by a rapidly changing travel cost structure. Certain destinations are experiencing stronger staycation interest than others, but with a an international increase in major tourism markets and no foreseeable reprieve from high gas prices & other effects of the financial crisis it looks like the staycation isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

UNWTO World Tourism Barometer – Interim Update

International Tourist Arrivals 2010

• After an exceptionally challenging 2009, international tourism demand is steadily regaining momentum. Preliminary figures compiled by UNWTO for the first months of 2010 indicate an intensifying of the upward trend experienced since the last quarter of 2009, when international tourist arrivals increased by 2% after 14 months of negative results.

• Of the 77 countries that have so far reported international arrivals data for one or more months of the first quarter of 2010, 17 are still negative, while 60 show positive figures, of which 24 double-digit. Based on this crosscut of destinations, arrivals growth worldwide in the months of January-February is estimated at 7%. Some 29 countries already reported March data, all of them positive, clearly pointing to a continuation of the current pace of growth.

• January and February are important months for leisure tourism in the summer of the Southern hemisphere and in the Northern Hemisphere for winter sports tourism destinations. On average the two months represent around 13% of the yearly total. In 2010, international tourist arrivals in January and February totalled over 119 million. Of course this year’s results compare to very poor first months of 2009 –the worst part of the crisis– when international arrivals declined at a rate of -9% and with only 112 million arrivals the number fell below the level of 2007. Compared to the record year 2008, with 123 million arrivals in January and February, the current volume is still 2% short.

• Growth has been positive in all world regions, led by Asia and the Pacific (+10%). The three countries of the Middle East that have reported results so far also point to strong growth, though, compared to very subdued first months of 2009. By subregion, South Asia (+15%), South-East Asia (+10%), North-East Asia (+10%) and North Africa (+8%) did better than the world average, while growth is still weaker in Europe and Americas (both at +3%).

• Quite a few countries posted double-digit growth in the first months of 2010, i.e. Estonia (+14%), Israel (+37%), Hong Kong (China) (+14%), Macao (China) (+16%), Japan (+29%), Taiwan (pr. of China) (+28%), Indonesia (+14%), Singapore (+21%), Vietnam (+36%), Guam (+10%), India (+13%), Nepal (+30%), Sri Lanka (+50%), US Virgin Islands (+15%), Nicaragua (+16%), Ecuador (+14%), Kenya  (+18%), Seychelles (+16%), Morocco (+14%), Egypt (+29%) and Saudi Arabia (+45%).

Excerpt (first 8 pages)
Full 20 pages document available through UNWTO e-library
News release: International Tourism: First Results of 2010 confirm Upward Trend
Comunicado de prensa: Turismo internacional: los primeros resultados de 2010 confirman la tendencia al alza
Communiqué de presse: Tourisme international: Les premiers résultats de 2010 confirment une tendance à la hausse


Tourism has been a very dynamic activity worldwide over the last fifteen years (until the 2008-2009 economic crisis). Some developing countries have been very active in promoting this activity and have beensuccessful.  Among these countries are several from the Central American region, where tourism accounted for more than 8% of Costa Rican and Panamanian GDP in 2006. Tourism is a very broad activity, which includes leisure, business and family visits, but statistics for this region do not allow a distinction between these categories. Some countries are more specialized in leisure tourism (Belize and Costa Rica) while others have a more diversified visitor composition (El Salvador and Panama). Nevertheless, all countries have plans to considerably expand its leisure tourism, which depends to a great extent on their natural attractions, mostly on the coasts or near its coasts. The study mostly concentrates on this kind of tourism.

The Central American countries’ rich biodiversity, forests, coral reefs, attractive beaches, amongothers, are under serious threat because of climate change effects, some of which are already being experienced. The vulnerability to these events is a result not only of the region’s geographical location but also of the degree to which the countries’ natural resources have been degraded, especially the accelerated deforestation in most of them.

Hurricanes are becoming more frequent and intense, and so are flooding, droughts, while rising sea levels and higher temperatures are to become more evident in the near future, according to scientificprojections. Tourist sites are particularly sensitive to these changes, but little is being done to adapt theseactivities accordingly. Leisure tourism traveling to the region in mid year will be the one mostly affectedby climate change (temperatures could increase by 4°C in some tourist locations in July 2050 and greaterextreme weather events could also occur around that time of the year, according to not particularly pessimistic scenarios).

This paper looks at the different Central American countries’ tourism characteristics and vulnerability to climate change phenomena; compares the different situations of tourist sites among the countries of the region; looks into the legal and institutional framework that has been developed regarding environment protection and climate change in each country under study, analyzing its progress and limitations; explores the determinants of tourism demand in the past, including the role of hurricanes and other external shocks on the flow of tourists and, finally, suggest some adaptation policies mostly for leisure tourism.

click here for the full report

Study Snapshot: Traveling through the recovery

Even after the general economy recovers, the environment will likely still contain challenges for travel companies, writes Deloitte in their latest whitepaper titled “Traveling through the recovery – Ways THL companies should consider navigating the upturn”. While certain regions will show improvement in occupancy rates, the industry will need time to heal.

Over the last several years, tourism, hospitality, and leisure (THL) companies have experienced a downturn of historical proportions. Companies were glad to see 2009 come to an end. The protracted US recession that began in late 2007, and the global meltdown of financial markets that occurred a year later, led to a sharp cutback in spending from businesses and consumers. As both leisure and business travel contracted, many sectors suffered multi-year declines that were the worst ever recorded by industry-watchers.The US Travel Association estimates that total travel expenditures in 2009 were $704.5 billion, representing a 9% decline from 2008. Spending declines have been across the board and include international visitors and domestic travelers.

Business travel, a large source of revenue for many hotel chains, has also been sharply curtailed. The declines came as companies looked for cost savings amid falling profits. Businesses cancelled many conferences and events or turned to video-conferencing. Increased scrutiny from the public on corporate travel spending was also partly responsible for these cutbacks.

The lodging industry experienced particularly steep declines during the recession. Smith Travel Research (STR) reported that occupancy fell for three consecutive years; in 2009 it was down to 55% — far below the 63% average of the last 20 years. Revenue per available room (revPAR) in 2009 dropped by a record-setting 16.7% and was the second consecutive annual decline. The luxury hotel segment has suffered the worst decline of any segment, with revPAR down 24.4% in 20092. A sobering January 2010 comment from STR in was that “Every day in 2009, the industry sold 159,000 fewer rooms, and revenue was down more than $41 million. That amounts to 58 million fewer rooms, and $15.2 billion less in revenue. Those are huge numbers3.” Other hotel-related results were equally grim. In 2009, the hotel industry’s estimated pre-tax income, at $12.8 billion, was half of its 2008 figure, according to Standard & Poor’s. The industry’s financial troubles have led to increased defaults on mortgages, and hotel construction has been sharply curtailed as a result of the weakened demand.

By late 2009, however, signs were emerging that the worst was over for travel-related companies, both in the US and abroad. As shown in the chart, the hotel industry’s year-over-year comparisons, while still negative, are inching their way toward positive territory.

Bottom line, it may be a slow and difficult turnaround in the days to come. As a result, travel, hospitality and leisure companies (THL) may need to prepare themselves for the long haul. Many will need to do more with less money and less resources – and be clever about it.

Even after the general economy recovers, the environment will likely still contain challenges for THL companies. While certain regions will show improvement in occupancy rates, the industry will need time to heal.

US travel-related spending in 2010 expected to be helped by the anticipated passage of the Travel Promotion Act, which will likely increase advertising in foreign markets to encourage international travelers to visit the US. Additionally, the improving economy should ease budget constraints for both individuals and businesses. In early 2010, analysts were already noting that corporate meetings and conventions appeared to be picking up, following the steep declines of the last two years.

Despite recent signs that a recovery has arrived, most economists do not expect it to be robust. The economy is still far from healthy. Unemployment is likely to remain high in 2010 and growth in consumer spending should continue to be subpar over the next year or so as Americans work at paying down the high debt they accumulated during the house-as-ATM boom period of the mid-2000s. They also are expected to be saving more for retirement, particularly as the oldest Baby Boomers start turning 65 in 2011. We expect tourism, hospitality and leisure to be one of the last sectors to experience a turnaround, given that most spending in this area is highly discretionary.

Bottom line, it may be a slow and difficult turnaround in the days to come. As a result, THL companies may need to prepare themselves for the long haul. Many will need to do more with less money and less resources – and be clever about it.

The report suggests several areas that THL companies might want to consider to help them “own the upturn” as the market slowly begins to heal. The following five insights may offer some of the best opportunities for hotel companies to improve cost expenditures, streamline operations, and connect with customers:

  • Information-Driven Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Initiatives
  • Virtualization and Information Technology (IT) Cost Reduction
  • Retaining and Managing Talent
  • Strategic Marketing
  • Strategic Cost Reduction

Click here for the full report


VisitEngland launches 10-year brand strategy

The Strategic Framework for Tourism 2010-2020, announced at Best of Britain and Ireland (Bobi) exhibition, details VisitEngland’s plan to bring public and private sector organisations together under a single national marketing strategy.England’s visitor economy can grow from £97b in 2010 to £147b and create 225,000 more jobs over the next decade, according to VisitEngland.

The new strategy has set out four objectives, which are:

  • To increase England’s share of global visitor markets
  • To offer visitors compelling destinations of distinction
  • To champion a successful, thriving tourism industry
  • To facilitate greater engagement between the visitor and the experience

VisitEngland chairman Penelope, Viscountess Cobham, said that the body – which was formed last year after a six-year period where England had no dedicated tourist board – would “be relentless at pursuing our causes at the highest level”. But VisitEngland chief executive James Berresford stressed to an audience of tourism officials and industry figures from across the country that the strategy would require greater collaboration between industry bodies, local authorities and regional development agencies in order to work.“The real success of this framework will be to get the often disparate parts of our sector to work together,” he said.

He highlighted the opportunities for tourism by a series of major events taking place in England over the next few years including the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup, the Cricket World Cup and the Ryder Cup.

But he warned that “in certain areas such as quality of welcome, we have more to do.” And he stressed the importance of maintaining the country’s transport network, pointing out that 70% of all long-distance journeys in England are undertaken by tourists.

He called on all sections of the English tourism industry to help make the strategy work. “We won’t make any difference at all unless this is embraced by all in tourism,” he said.

However the tourist board did face concerns from some members of the audience that it would struggle to realise the ambitions of its strategy, given that it faced potential budget cuts after the next general election,

“We have no indication that our budget will be cut,” Berresford said. But he argued that VisitEngland’s budget was modest in any case, and that success would come from a more co-ordinated effort from the tourism industry at large.

To download England: A Strategic Framework for Tourism 2010-2020 click here

To download the Action Plan click here


Destination Brandwatch: Southeast Asia’s “Feel the Warmth” Campaign

Forget diplomatic rows over temple ownership, migrant workers, politics and all those other trivial matters. The whole dysfunctional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) family has teamed up for a new consumer destination marketing campaign dubbed “Southeast Asia: Feel the Warmth.”

The campaign is anchored by, which includes a map-based organizer that allows travelers to plan trips, estimate costs and book hotels, cars and flights. Though it is obviously geared towards tourists, Bangkok locals might also find the site useful as the Thailand section features hundreds of ideas for eating, day trips, tours, historic sites and events.

The ASEAN campaign has also clued into the marketing potential of allowing reader submissions, announcing on Friday that it’s offering travel writers, bloggers and photographers who submit content to a chance to win US$15,000 in prizes.

Southeast Asia Awards for writing and photography will be awarded in two categories: Editor’s Choice Awards, which will be decided by a panel of judges, and People’s Choice Awards, voted on by visitors to Southeast

There will be a total of 12 awards, four per month, until 15 June. Each winner will receive US$750. In addition, four Grand Prizes will be announced on 15 June. Visitors to the website can now submit their own text or photographs, or nominate articles and images of other people.


South Africa, CMO Council Team On Branding

As the first project in its new GeoBranding Center, the Chief Marketing Officer Council (CMOC) is partnering with South Africa to measure the impacts of the country’s branding efforts and co-sponsor a crowd-sourcing advertising contest leading up to the FIFA World Cup tournament this summer.

The council is forming the GeoBranding Center as a global knowledge resource center dedicated to the marketing of countries, destinations, places of origin, attractions, venues and locations. Geobranding experts and marketers will be invited to contribute insights, opinions, case studies and best practices, and a series of research initiatives will explore the impact of campaigns using B-to-C and B-to-B digital and traditional advertising and marketing campaigns. The center’s microsite will launch March 15.

South Africa’s investment of billions to host this year’s World Cup football tournament (June 11-July 11) and the country’s story of rapidly growing tourism, trade and economic development success represented a prime inaugural opportunity to deploy the new GeoBranding Center’s resources, says CMOC executive director Donovan Neale-May.

Working with the International Marketing Council of South Africa (IMCSA), which is responsible for defining and shaping the country’s image throughout the world, the GeoBranding Center will use PR Newswire’s worldwide monitoring to track and conduct monthly analyses on the tone, sentiment and prevalence of social media conversations, commentary and news about South Africa throughout the world leading up to the tournament.

The basic goal, says Neale-May, is to evaluate how the interaction and content/tone of billions of social media interactions influence country perception. Key determinants of the nation-branding value created by the event and the marketing surrounding it will include effective message management and clarity of brand positioning relative to the visitor/player experience, global media attention and viral online community conversations/content sharing, he points out.

“With the world’s eyes upon it as host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa is seeking to establish itself as a competitive and relevant nation brand,” said IMCSA CEO Paul Bannister. “We’re excited about the potential for social media channels to generate greater discourse and narrative about our brand from people who have experienced or researched our special place in the world.”

At the same time, the two councils are launching an open, global advertising contest, called “Get Wildly Creative About South Africa.” People ranging from current and aspiring creative professionals to digital media buffs to South African citizens, expatriates and visitors/tourists are being encouraged to come up with fresh, evocative and inspiring messages conveying the spirit of “a country that has gone from tragedy to triumph in less than two decades,” in Neale-May’s words.

The contest is being hosted on the “people-inspired” advertising platform, and interest and participation will be driven through viral communications, online conversations, blog postings and cyber chatter. The Zooppa contest center provides entry information, a creative brief on the assignment, and links to South African resources.

Cash and prizes donated by SA Tourism, in-country partners and creative technology solution providers will be awarded to the top submissions within each category, including best print campaign, best online banner campaign and best video segment or commercial.

Winners will have their work showcased globally to the CMO Council’s 5,000 members (who control more than $150 billion in annual marketing spend) and recognized at an IMC-hosted reception in New York City in early June. They will also win trip packages courtesy of SA Tourism and other travel, hospitality, lodging and merchandise partners in South Africa.

Overall, says Neale-May, the contest should benefit IMCSA by putting at its disposal a wealth of “democratically” generated ideas and creative to inform its “Brand South Africa” marketing plans and efforts going forward.