Place branding in strategic spatial planning in Portugal, 2014-2020


Photo by Ares Kalandides
Photo by Ares Kalandides

by Eduardo Oliveira*

Portugal has often been promoted and communicated as a tourist destination without a clear and consistent strategy. It is only recently that other purposes, such as investment and talent attraction, have emerged from the multiple place promotion campaigns, although these mostly remain unclear in their objectives. We can identify many different place promotions initiatives. They are often very colourful and shining, they solely focus on tourism, but none of them qualify as place branding. In this brief post I will take the readers in a journey from 1906 to 2016. I will tell the story of how Portuguese authorities have been promoting the country and its regions and how they have been using (or not) place branding for that purpose. The evolution of events might surprise you.

[You can download the full academic paper from the Journal of Place Management and Development.]

The first place promotion event can be traced back to 1906 and the foundation of the Portuguese Society of Propaganda. It extensively advertised the country as “The Shortest Way between America and Europe”– the first place promotion tagline documented.

13224116_10209627645710858_368025757_oIn line with the efforts of Portuguese authorities to communicate the country to the outside world, in 1911, the Portuguese Government decided to create its first national tourism organization, the Tourism Bureau. This entity can be considered the genesis of tourism planning and management in the country. As a comparison the roots of tourism-oriented promotion in Spain dates back to the travellers of the enlightenment period during the nineteenth century, marginally earlier than the Portuguese case. In Italy the first attempts to promote the country for tourism purposes has its precedents in the classic Roman era, when Romans travelled to enjoy mud baths and thermal waters. But, the tourism phenomenon in Italy gained momentum after the seventeenth century, when Italy became a destination for the British aristocracy.

In 1916, while World War I was taking place in central Europe, the first issue of the Portuguese Tourism Magazine was released. Between 1930 and 1974, several tourism campaigns were launched, aimed at promoting Portuguese cities. In 1986, the Portuguese Tourism Bureau launched a place promotional campaign to advertise that Portugal had much more to offer to potential visitors than just a “sea, sun and sand” holiday. The 1986 campaign advertised the typical image of Portugal as a tourist destination of golden, bright and sunny beaches under the headline: “One view of Portugal”, together with “Another view of Portugal”, which highlighted the diverse landscapes found across the country, the nightlife and a variety of arts and thermal attractions. In 1989, Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, had been a pioneer in image-building and city-positioning processes. The image of Lisbon as an Atlantic Capital of Europe has been successful as an urban marketing tool aimed at attracting more inhabitants, more business and jobs, in stimulating urban rehabilitation and improving public spaces.

Photo by Ares Kalandides
Photo by Ares Kalandides

Between 1989 and 2016 there have been other attempts at enhancing the position of the country as an investment destination – “Choose Portugal” and the continuation of the initiatives aimed at attract visitors such as – “Destination Portugal – The Beauty of Simplicity”. These place promotion initiatives have been developed by a partnership of private entities, governmental agencies and ministries. Regional entities have also promoted their areas of jurisdiction. For instance, northern Portugal has been communicated as “Porto and the North – The essence of Portugal” also mainly for tourism purposes. Recently, another regional promotional initiative -“Be Smart. Go Norte”, I risk to say exclusively in line with the European Union strategy 2020, bring more confusion about a development strategy for Northern Portugal.

Despite the fact that Portugal has been promoting its national and local assets since 1906 and one would expect more evolution towards place branding at the national, region and city levels. However, what we see is a cacophony of taglines (sometimes mutually exclusive) and place promotion approaches without coherent integration and alignment between the different tiers of government.

The overall conclusion of the application of branding techniques to position and give visibility to the potential of Portugal and its regions is that all the place promotion events I have identified adopted a marketing- and corporate branding-oriented. Tourism-oriented promotion initiatives, investment oriented marketing campaigns and communication strategies – uniquely supported by visual elements such as logos and slogans dominates the place promotion efforts of Portuguese authorities. Place branding is an absent term.

Photo by Ares Kalandides
Photo by Ares Kalandides

This and other conclusion can be found on the article that has recently been awarded by the Emerald Literati Awards 2016 as outstanding paper. In 2015 the Journal of Place Management and Development (JPMD), the journal of the Institute of Place Management (IPM), published a manuscript of mine entitled “Place branding in strategic spatial planning: A content analysis of development plans, strategic initiatives and policy documents for Portugal 2014-2020” (Volume 8, Issue 1, pp. 23-50). The article was part of my PhD project I successfully defended on March 31 at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

The article advocates that by taking place branding as one possible instrument of the strategic spatial planning approach it could be more effective in supporting economic and social development efforts. The articles builds empirical evidence regarding how place branding has been approached in spatial development plans, strategic initiatives and policy documents by stating the territorial, spatial-economic and sectoral development trajectories for Portugal.

*Eduardo holds a Ph.D. in spatial sciences from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands (2012-2016). In his Ph.D. thesis, he brings together place branding and strategic spatial planning, particular at the regional scale. His work appears in journals such as Journal of Place Management and Development, Regional Studies Regional Science. Eduardo, at the present, is a Postdoc researcher at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL in Zürich, Switzerland. He integrates the CONCUR project team and devotes special attention to the effectiveness of territorial governance in strategic spatial plan-making and plan-implementation and how spatial planning impacts land change.


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