August 08, 2013

Destination Branding: A Spotlight on Cities Around The World (Part Two)


On Tuesday, we started a series on destination branding by looking at Charlotte, Munich and New York. Let’s recap – Last year, more than one billion tourists travelled the world and five to six billion more were expected to have travelled within their own countries. With stats like that, a successful tourism brand could mean millions (or even billions) of dollars for a destination.


Now, let’s finish up our look at city branding…


Part Two: San Francisco, Seattle and Tokyo


San Francisco, California

First up: San Francisco, the City by the Bay. The San Francisco Travel Association promotes and maintains its tourism brand. In 2012, San Fran hosted more than 16.5 million visitors who spent more than $8.93 billion during their stay – that’s more than $24.46 million a day. Needless to say, tourism is one of the city’s most important industries.


So, what about the brand?



I’ve never been to San Francisco, but it’s definitely on my bucket list. Having said that, I expected a lot from this tourism brand and I think there is definitely room for some tweaking. This destination seems incredibly diverse with such a unique personality and its tourism brand feels a little…vanilla.



Seattle, Washington

Last year, Seattle welcomed more than 10 million visitors who spent $5.9 billion in the area. Visit Seattle has served as Seattle and King County’s official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for more than 50 years.


Seattle’s tourism brand (and its tagline) have certainly evolved over the years. Three decades ago, Seattle was dubbed the Emerald City via a public contest to come up with a new city nickname. Then, in the late ‘90s, the brand became a rebus that included the @ symbol, a nod to Microsoft’s headquarters in the area.



In 2006, Seattle became the “Metronatural” city. The firm who developed the slogan defined it as “…the fusion of city and nature. It is what makes Seattle unique.” The city went so far as to paint the logo on the roof of the Space Needle.




Earlier this year, Seattle’s DMO evolved from the Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau to simply, Visit Seattle. The upward slope of the logo evokes both the Space Needle and a mountain slope.

After each brand evolution, simple might be the smartest way to go for Seattle. The new tourism brand feels clean and modern and still manages to include some of Seattle’s personality. And, the website feels the same way.



Tokyo, Japan

Last but certainly not least is Tokyo, Japan. The Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau oversees its tourism brand. Tokyo has faced significant challenges over the past few years that greatly affected its tourism industry. In 2011, the area suffered a major earthquake and tsunami, followed by a nuclear disaster 160 miles outside of the city.


Despite an unthinkable series of events, Japan’s overall tourism numbers rebounded in 2012 and the hope is the trend continues into this year (specific statistics for Tokyo could not be found).


From looking at just its tourism website, Tokyo’s logo is pretty literal.



But, when browsing for this logo, I stumbled across two treatments for Olympic bids that offer a little more insight and flair into Tokyo’s culture.




Tokyo’s tourism site is pretty standard and does a decent job of highlight aspects of Tokyo people might not immediately think of.



Obviously, I looked at both Tokyo and Munich’s (featured Tuesday) tourism brands from a very western, U.S.-centric perspective. I’d be curious to speak with a native from each city to see what they think of each tourism brand.


That completes our spotlight on city branding. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at state and country branding and national tourism branding. Stay tuned!


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Disclaimer: This post is purely subjective. My background is in brand strategy (positioning, messaging and portfolio organization), not design. Good visual branding can be challenging to achieve, and I whole-heartedly respect designers at Addison Whitney and beyond.



“UNWTO: Annual Report, 2012.”,

“About the San Francisco Travel Association.” SanFrancisco.Travel,

“We’re Metronatural no more – but will “Visit Seattle” trip off your tongue?” Seattle Times, Brian J. Cantwell,

“Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau changes name to ‘Visit Seattle.’” Puget Sound Business Journal, Steven Goldsmith,

“Metronatural.” Wikipedia,

“Japan Tourism Rebounds in 2012: Hopefully 2013 will Witness a Further Increase.” Modern Tokyo Times, Tomoko Hara and Joachim de Villiers,



  1. What is Brand Strategy   August 8, 2013 5:06 pm / Reply

    Great article! I’ve been to San Francisco and it would definitely be on my bucket list. I can’t believe how much revenue tourism makes for the cities you listed.

    • Meara Lyons   August 9, 2013 8:40 am / Reply

      Thanks for reading! We were surprised by some of the stats as well. Have a great weekend!

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