Marlborough's identity crisis not helping attract visitors

The 'Destination Marketing Review Marlborough' report found the region's two clearest brand offerings were wine and the ...
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The 'Destination Marketing Review Marlborough' report found the region's two clearest brand offerings were wine and the Marlborough Sounds.

Too many brands ruin the message, and Marlborough needs to resist the urge to add more if it wants to attract visitors, a new report has found.

The council commissioned the 'Destination Marketing Review Marlborough' to make sure the region was getting bang for its buck when it came to promotion.

Independent consultant Richard Jeffery found plenty to like about the region and its potential to attract visitors, however he was critical about the way it was being branded.

The Marlborough District Council launched the 'Marlborough Story' marketing platform in 2014, which produced the 'Only Marlborough' slogan to replace 'Love Marlborough'.

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At the same time, the regional tourism organisation Destination Marlborough pitched in with its own tagline 'Marlborough - brilliant every day'.

The Only Marlborough campaign enticing people to use the Marlborough Sounds.
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The Only Marlborough campaign enticing people to use the Marlborough Sounds.

Jeffrey said multiple brand messages needed to be resisted in the future, and that "destination branding is currently diluted and when the timing is right, brand consolidation should be considered".​

Branding and identity issues have long plagued Marlborough, from calls to change town names, to the succession of slogans used to market the region to visitors.

Last year a group of winemakers proposed changing the name of Blenheim to 'Marlborough City', regardless of the fact the population of the town fell short of the claim.

Picton Smart and Connected member Juliet Gibbons got behind the 'Heart of the Sounds' idea last year. (File photo)
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Picton Smart and Connected member Juliet Gibbons got behind the 'Heart of the Sounds' idea last year. (File photo)

Picton, fed up with being known as the 'gateway to the South', sought to ditch the drive-through connotations with a new destination-orientated slogan 'heart of the Sounds'.

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And just last month, plans were revealed to try and change the name of the south Marlborough town of Ward to 'Flaxbourne', as a homage to the history of the area.

The review identified some of the barriers preventing growth in Marlborough, where visitor spend was growing at a slower rate than the national average.

These included flight costs and capacity, Cook Strait ferry crossings, a lack of accommodation close to major venues, the closure of State Highway 1, and the concept of Marlborough as a gateway.

There was also "low community awareness and advocacy that we are all involved in the visitor economy", and Blenheim was a service-based town, not a tourist town.

Jeffrey interviewed more than 50 stakeholders, both in and outside Marlborough, to produce the report. 

"Everyone agrees we have two clear visitor brand offerings: 'Wine Region' and 'Marlborough Sounds', which both provide a great 'playground' for commercial providers and our visitors," he said.

The report found that, generally, feedback about Destination Marlborough was positive. However, it noted day-to-day relationships with small tourism operators in Picton and the Marlborough Sounds had not alway been easy.

"If this area is to be addressed, the appointment of a 'Small Operators Trade Partner' co-ordinator could be investigated and might require additional financial resource," it said.

ROOM TO GROW

Included in the review were 12 recommendations to encourage growth in the visitor economy. One focused on packaging and marketing the ASB Theatre and Marlborough Convention Centre together to attract more multi-day conferences.

Jeffrey suggested there should be a collective key performance indicator (KPI) for the theatre, convention centre and Destination Marlborough to win 10 bids a year for multi-day conferences of more than 100 delegates.

He also recommended the Marlborough Smart and Connected Visitor Economy Growth Plan steering group meet as soon as possible to update their current plan and include a number of new initiatives.

These included working with Air New Zealand and Cook Strait ferry services to develop shoulder season promotions, working with Airbnb to encourage locals to provide accommodation, developing a plan for the re-opening of SH1, and consider whether Marlborough needed another iconic attraction or event.

Councillors voted to receive the report at a full council meeting on Thursday, and moved as a first priority to investigate venue management and alignment for the theatre and convention centre to attract more conferences.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said "we need to work through the detail of what such a 'venues review' might look like, but there is definitely a significant opportunity there".

"The report finds that we are doing reasonably well, although with room for improvement, but we do have an excellent platform on which to build our future success as a visitor destination," Leggett said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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