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Destination Marketing: What Is Best for Abu Dhabi? Research Paper

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Updated: May 18th, 2020

Executive Summary

Destinations are regarded as commodities. Thus, the same manner of treatment accorded to goods in a shop should be extended to a destination. Destination marketing forms the backbone of the discussions on this paper. In particular, the paper examined how to market a destination by improving upon its image. The study hypothesized that branding of a destination is the surest way of marketing. Consequently, the study focuses its discussions around the branding in the United Arab Emirates. In particular, the study sought the preferred branding options for Abu Dhabi.

The study hypothesized that themed cities and international financing are the best branding strategies for the city of Abu Dhabi. Consequently, the study adopted an exploratory research design. The design incorporated both primary and secondary sources of data. In the first instance, the literature review revealed that branding requires adequate financing and responding to market trends. Some of the trends discovered include themed cities.

On its part the primary information was realized courtesy of questionnaires. The study incorporated a total of 180 participants from various sectors. Specifically, there were 65 marketing students, 65, marketing professionals and 50 business owners. Results of the study revealed that a majority of the participants were in favor of an international financing initiative. The participants also cited themed cities as a preferred branding strategy. In terms of the financing, the study found a consolidated fund as the most preferred.

The study proposed a technology city as one of the themed cities. Specifically, the technology city was recommended to be included into Abu Dhabi’s blue print for development. Also, the paper recommends the setting up of a consolidated fund as the preferred financing option for the branding initiative. The study concludes by asserting the importance of destination marketing. Further, the paper proposes more research on financing options.

Introduction

Overview

Marketing involves the improvement of a commodity’s qualities. In this paper, one specific aspect of marketing is examined. Destination marketing involves the improvement of a number of features that will ensure the place is worth visiting. The study focuses on the specifics of branding in an attempt to improve the image of Abu Dhabi. Lucarelli & Berg (2008) suggest that whenever a destination is being branded, aspects that touch on the value addition of the city at large.

The study is domiciled in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Particularly, the research delves into branding as practiced within the larger matrix of the UAE. The focus, however, is on the preferred initiatives for the city of Abu Dhabi. Lucarelli & Breg (2011) point out that administrative regions require branding to ensure their relevance is not overshadowed by other smaller towns. In this study, it becomes clear that Abu Dhabi has not maximized its potential as a destination. Thus, the research undertaking will help come up with a suitable statement.

Thesis Statement

Research undertakings require the addressing of a specific purpose. The current study is intent on coming up with a suitable banding strategy that can be adopted by the city of Abu Dhabi. Thus, the thesis statement for the study is, “Themed cities and financing initiatives are the best approach at improving the image of Abu Dhabi as a brand and destination”.

Objectives of the Study

The research undertaking is developed against the backdrop of a general objectives and a raft of specific objectives. The objectives are intended to help respond to the number of research questions which act as the problems of the study. Melodena (2008) argues that Abu Dhabi looses approximately 7% of its visitors to nearby Dubai. The author, while advancing this claim, argues that the same is brought about by Abu Dhabi’s low image status in the region.

General Objective

The underlying objective of the current paper is to determine the suitable branding options which can be applied in Dubai to boost its image as a destionation.

Specific Objective

The general objective directs destination marketing to the city of Abu Dhabi. However, the said objective is only realized upon a detailed response to the thesis statement. Therefore, in point form, the specific objectives are as follows:

  1. To determine the available trends in destination marketing globally.
  2. To find out the available methods of financing the branding initiative.
  3. To find out the preferred financing option.
  4. To find out the status of destination marketing in the united Arab Emirates
  5. To find out the progress in terms of branding within Abu Dhabi

Importance of the Study

Destination marketing is an emergent field of study that is keen on maximizing the value of a particular location. Anholt (2009) argues that increasing international trade has contributed to the subsequent rise in the competitiveness within these regions. In this study, the element of destination marketing is examined from the perspective of a resident of Abu Dhabi. The city has for a long time live under the shadow of Dubai, notwithstanding it being the capital of the UAE. The findings of the study will enable the local authority of Abu Dhabi to maximize on the attractiveness of the city.

Literature Review

Overview

Branding of a city is quite essential in improving its position as a preferable travel destination. In this section of the paper, the discussions will be centered around existing information touching on destination branding. Specifically, this section looks at branding in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and compares the same to branding in Abu Dhabi. The various literature outlined in this section of the paper are intended to provide a suitable framework for an ideal branding that can be adopted by Abu Dhabi. Pike (2011) argues that branding increases a city’s attractiveness. Thus, the literature review provides a framework which will ultimately increase the attractiveness of Abu Dhabi as a preferred destination in the UAE.

Destination Marketing

Destination branding is brought about by several components. Melodena, Ramzi & Clifford (2008) mention functional, symbolic and tangible attributes as examples of the components which make up for destination marketing. Separately, Wood (2007) argues that emotions and personality also count as far destination marketing attributes are concerned. Melodena et al. (2008), in their study, found that a brand’s worth is realized by measuring variables like heritage, values and legal identities. Therefore it is safe to suggest that, destination marketing is best realized by ensuring the various attributes contribute to its worth.

A brand is considered as a commodity which can be sold. Under such circumstances a consumer will be driven by a number of attributes to convince them into purchasing the said commodity. Melodena et al. (2008) mentions practical and functional components of a brand. The researchers argue that the practical aspects include perceptions of the benefits of the brand. Also, the said attribute incorporates the value systems associated with money (Anholt, 2009). As for the functional components of a brand, consumers are more interested in the benefits of the product.

The two attributes discussed, above, are important, especially when it comes to the branding of a destination. While examining components of branding a destination, Melodena et al. (2008) argue that the two attributes are responsible for influencing interest and attraction in a destination. Separately, Pike (2011) makes reference to cities like Dubai which have influenced interest and attraction from diverse quarters. One of the reasons that attract investors and tourists to the city include the return value of money realized from the various activities in the city.

Destination marketing, from the attributes described above, is an avenue through which a city communicates its attractiveness both to a visitor and an investor. The study carried out by Woods (2007) found that traveling to a given destination is realized by a combination of various product choices. The study further finds that a suitable marketing strategy is realized by a combination of values, vision and competitive aspects of a destination. Cities like Las Vegas ad Los Angeles continue to be remarkable destinations owing to their marketing strategy (Wood, 2007). Pike (2011) argues that the actual marketing strategy is driven by the desire to realize the attributes of a destination.

The importance of developing a marketing strategy for a destination cannot be overemphasized. Pike (2011) makes reference to a study carried out in 2000 keen on establishing a techno-polis in Egypt. Among the plans for its realization was a 5 point marketing strategy. Pike (2011) argues that such a strategy is an avenue through which a consumer can realize the worth of a destination. An example of the same was seen in the manner Qatar was able to lobby for the hosting of the 2018 Fifa World Cup (Pike, 2011). Thus, destination marketing requires a resolute strategy.

A common question often asked by scholar in the field of destination marketing involves the actual aspects of a suitable marketing strategy. Woods (2007) mentions preferences of the target group while Melodena et al. (2008) mention the appropriateness. The Fifa example cited by Pike (2011) makes reference to the appropriateness, at the time, of having a prestigious tournament, like the World Cup, to be hosted in the Middle East. The appropriateness is expounded upon by the assertion that Qatar had the adequate infrastructure in the region. However, Melodena et al. (2008) insist that the preference should be focused on the consumer. A suitable strategy needs to respond to the question, “Will people be willing to visit the destination”?

In the past decade, the Middle East has emerged as an important destination. One reason that can be attributed to the same is the growing economies fueled by the booming oil industry. Pike (2011) supports this claim by making reference to a study which sought to determine emerging global markets. The study found that the UAE ranks higher among European and American companies keen on setting up their companies in the region. The strategic position makes cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi as potential destination areas.

Abu Dhabi, being the UAE’s capital, has an onerous task of consolidating its position in the region as a preferred destination. Pike (2011) points out that Dubai has often out done Abu Dhabi as a preferred destination. The author argues that Abu Dhabi requires a point by point marketing strategy to consolidate its position in the region as a preferred destination. While supporting a similar view, Melodena et al. (2008) argues that the area of destination planning requires further research on matters touching on specific components.

UAE Branding

As mentioned earlier, branding of a destination is all about increasing its attractiveness to tourists and investors. The United Arab Emirates is no stranger to branding. Melodena (2008) contends that the region would still be in the shadows had there been no keen attempt of branding the region. Pike (2011) is an example of a scholar who notes the value of branding to the entire Middle East region. Pike (2011) makes a joke that when one shuts their eyes and imagines of Dubai, they cannot resist the glamorous buildings in the city.

There is contention that the UAE owes its attractiveness to a skillful marketing strategy employed by a number of professionals spanning decades. Woods (2007) makes a personal admission that the amount of manpower invested in branding the Middle East is quite expansive. Such an admission brings to the fore the importance of investments made towards the cause. Melodena et al. (2008), as aforementioned, make reference to the importance of value return of money. The same explains why Pike (2011) insists of the importance of financing the branding of a destination.

Whenever one is interested in branding a commodity, they need to be alive to the themes that are tending at the time. Pike (2011) is alive to this fact and even makes reference to the need for internationalization of multinational companies. Essentially, a destination like the Middle East should seek to position itself with emergent global trading habits. Melodena (2008) supports this view by pointing out how the Middle East has capitalized on such aspects as conference tourism, sports and leisure. Such trends are an attempt at edging other emergent competitors.

Trends

In the larger spectrum of marketing, the best way to brand a commodity is to ensure that it responds to the emergent trends. Pike (2011) argues that consumers prefer trendy commodities. Woods (2007) carried out a small survey to determine consumer preferences in terms of various food related commodities. Their findings of their study confirmed that, indeed, consumers prefer to sample the latest in technology. The same applies to destination marketing. Melodena (2008) argues that individuals are driven to a destination only if it supports current market trends.

The increasing globalization and growth of the international trade parameters suggest that the global economy will only grow with a subsequent growth in trade. Exchange of goods and services translates to a growth in the logistics sector. Pike (2011), points out that logistics is an important aspect of international trade. The same explains the immense investment made towards such infrastructure as airports and sea ports. Melodena (2008) argues that the UAE as intentions to establish the largest sea port in the world to be situated in Dubai.

Leisure resorts are also emergent trends in the tourism sector. Pike (2011) cites the increase in the upper and middle class classes in many economies. One of the preferred commodities of such groups of people is the entertainment aspect. Medolena (2008) points out that Dubai has capitalized on this important niche by developing a wide array of magnificent holiday resorts. Currently, the world’s tallest building is the situated in Dubai. The spectacle attracts many people who end up spending their vacation in resorts within the city.

While still on tourism, it is important to appreciate that conference tourism is emerging as lucrative niche. In this sector, both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have claimed a stake. According to Melodena (2008), Abu Dhabi has strategically positioned itself as a business hub in the region. Characteristic of conference tourism is the number of high profile international meetings that a city can host. Up until the year 2007 Abu Dhabi was boasting of more than 10 international meetings in the city annually (Melodena, 2008). Similarly, Dubai boasts of a number of conference facilities which is an indicator of their potential to host international meetings and conventions.

Financing

The process of branding a city requires resources in terms of capital and man power. The same calls for a consolidated fund which can be used to fund the project. Pike (2011) refers to the branding as a project owing to the multiple activities associated with ensuring the destination is a marvel. Under the auspices of the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation, the UAE has been able to realize some of the major branding aspects. Pike (2011) argues that such consolidated funds ensure that the branding process does not suffer hiccups in terms of implementation. Cities like Doha and Rio de Janeiro are also developing their own funds in a bid to brand themselves. Financing is therefore an important aspect of branding.

Branding of Abu Dhabi

The introductory section f this paper, clarifies that Abu Dhabi is, indeed, the capital city of the UAE. Unfortunately, the city has had to live under the shadows of Dubai. According to the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011), Abu Dhabi has the potential to attract visitors from all over the world. However, the scarce numbers of visitors who go to the city lack phenomenal aspects that can ensure they return and even invest in the city. In the past half a decade, the city has resolved to consolidate its position as the capital of the UAE. The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011) is intended to ensure such elements as branding are in order to allow for speedy deportation

There are a number of studies which indicate the state of affairs in Abu Dhabi as a city. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011) insists that the city is an ideal administrative location. Studies by the local authority suggests that it is time the local authority improved its image if it intends to improve economically and gain international acclaim. Thus, in 2011 the city’s authority came up with a blue print referred to as the Vision 2030. The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011) insists that the said plan is essential in ensuring that the city evolves in terms of urbanization.

Branding of a destination begins the moment one discovers that their location is not globally competitive. Alamira (2012) attests to this opinion by mentioning the city authority’s intention to advance in terms of infrastructure. The author notes that whereas Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, the zeal to emerge as the best destination in the region has been lacking. Therefore, by admitting to the fact that the city is not where it ought to be the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011) create the necessary ground for branding.

The city might not be the paragon of attractiveness but one thing is certain, there is a spirit of internationalization. The spirit is evident in the increasing number of international financial institutions that have set up shop. Alamira (2012) attributes the same to policies that have been laid out by the city in a bid to attract foreign investment. However, the spirit of a international brand is not enough. Time has come for the city to embrace their destination as an asset.

Developing the image of a destination requires that economic stability and some cultural element be fostered. The same is evident in the city’s vision 2030. According to Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011), the city intends to grow economically while respecting the Emirate culture. Alamira (2012) supports the idea that branding of a city, especially in the Middle East, should preserve some culture. While advancing this claim, the scholar was alive to the opinions generated by international community towards the Middle East. The nature of extremism has characterized the region for a long time. However, while incorporating the rich cultural heritage of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi is keen on breaking stereotypes that have existed for a long time.

One of the reasons that Dubai is an attractive destination is glamorous infrastructure. Alamira (2012) argues that Abu Dhabi is modest in terms of infrastructural splendor. The scholar insists that current trends in constriction involve the erection of buildings that can act as towns. Currently, the city of Abu Dhabi lacks such kind of buildings. Alamira (2012) argues that such structural marvels are in themselves an attractive feature. The ‘normal’ construction exhibited by Abu Dhabi is to blame for the ‘average’ image of the city.

Abu Dhabi’s position as an administrative centre has created the sense of a ‘business district’. Lucarelli (2008) argues that most financial centers like the Wall Street and the London Business district rely on international financial corporation’s good will. Abu Dhabi appears to have a similar goodwill going by the number of financial companies that have set up shop. Improving the city’s brand would require a concerted effort towards making Abu Dhabi a financial hub in the region.

As mentioned earlier, Abu Dhabi has all the features of a cosmopolitan city. Consequently, the city has the potential of having an internationally acclaimed research facility. Alamira (2012) points out the growing interest in technology. The author cites an example of the Silicon Valley in San Francisco. The growing demand of technology is best realized through research efforts. One way of capitalizing on the same is the creation of a technology city within Abu Dhabi. Alamira (2012) argues that he existing institutions of learning within the city can come up with a suitable framework for establishing such a city.

Abu Dhabi has every right to seek branding. Most of the capital cities of many leading world economies are attractions in themselves. The UAE, through Dubai, has demonstrated that it is possible to elevate the brand of a city through infrastructure and culture (Alamira, 2012). Abu Dhabi, in its quest to realize similar brand recognition requires integrating its resources and ideas to come up with a destination that will improve the general worth of the UAE.

Methodology

Research Design

There exist a wide variety of research designs. However, depending on the scope of study, a study is required to maximize on a research design that will yield the maximum results from the research questions. In the current study, both quantitative and qualitative approaches are employed in the design. According to Christensen, Burke & Turner (2010) such a research design is quite vital when the intention is to test a hypothesis or affirm a given thesis statement. The benefit of such a design is in the objectivity.

When the two research approaches are employed, the design adopted is normally referred to as exploratory. Gravetter & Forzano (2011) argue that such designs take a systematic approach of data collection. The data will also adopt a descriptive approach. The descriptive aspect involves secondary data which have been outlined in the literature review section of the paper.

Sampling

Quantitative research undertakings require participants to be drawn from a certain pool. Under such circumstances Gravetter & Forzano suggest randomization as the best method of pulling in a diverse array of participants. Thus, the current study randomly selects participants who will be used as the primary source of information. The participants were drawn from three different sectors. One group consisted of marketing professionals, the other batch of participants were drawn from marketing students in 2 institutions of higher learning. The final group of participants comprised of businessmen from various fields. In total, the study incorporated a total of 185 participants.

Sampling requires that the participants agree to participate in the study courtesy. Christensen et al. (2010) proposes that a consent form b prepared in which each participant confirms participation. The study had a similar consent form presented to all the participants (See appendix 1). Out of the 185 consent forms submitted 180 were returned completely filled. The same translates to a response rate of 97%. With such a turnout, the sample provided a sufficient primary source of data.

Participants

As already mentioned, the study has a total of 180 participants. Christensen et al. (2010) argue that exploratory research designs require diversity among the participants. Thus, the current study respected diversity by having 60% of the participants being male while 40% were female. Also, the participants were selected on the basis of elementary knowledge of marketing. Thus, the students selected for the study were mostly students with at least 2 years knowledge of marketing skills.

The importance of diversity is also extended to experience. Thus, the professionals were drawn from a pool of individuals who had at least 3 years in destination marketing. The businessmen, on the other hand were drawn from a pull of individuals whose companies have an international presence either in the Middle East Region or beyond. Gravetter & Forzano (2011) insist thus exploratory studies must have a balanced out number of participants. Thus, the current study incorporated a total of 65 students, 65 marketing professionals and 50 businessmen.

Variables

The backbone of any research undertaking requires that an individual establishes certain variables. Gravetter & Forzano (2011) argue that such variables support the objective if the study. Ford and Peeper (2008) argue that branding trends, financing and marketing strategy are the best methods of destination marketing. Abu Dhabi as a brand would certainly benefit from the same. Thus, to each variable, the participants were asked questions that determined the respective severity and frequency.

Materials

The study made use of questionnaires. Appendix 2 is an illustration of the questions posed. The questionnaire is structured in such a way that for each of the variables raised the participants were asked 2 questions. In terms of branding trends the participants were asked whether themed cities or tourism was the preferred option. In terms of financing the participants were asked to choose between an initial public offer and a consolidated fund. Finally, for the marketing strategy, the participants were asked to choose between an internet based marketing strategy and exhibitions.

It is important to mention that the frequency of the responses was based on the 4 parameters listed below:

  1. Always
  2. Often
  3. Sometimes
  4. Rarely

In the same respect, the severity of preference is considered based on 4 parameters as listed below.

  1. Extreme
  2. Great
  3. Moderate
  4. Little

Procedure

As already mentioned, the research design requires primary sources of data. Consequently, a questionnaire has been prepared (Gravetter & Forzano, 2011). The contents of the questionnaire are structured in such a way that the responses have to be written down. Therefore, the data collection will employ three approaches. The first approach is mailing the questionnaire to participants who prefer to respond to the questions at their own time. The second approach involves administering the questions through a telephone. Gravetter & Forzanno (2011) argue that such an approach is necessary in the event that some participants are engaged elsewhere. Thirdly, there is a group of participants who will be orally be asked question either as a group or individually.

Mail

There are certain circumstances when participants to a study agree to participating in the said study. However, unfortunate circumstances prior to the study inhibit a direct interaction. Such situations require that the participants to commit to satellite participation. Thus, Gravetter & Forzanno (2011) support the initiative of mailing. In this study 43 participants requested for the questionnaires via mail. They were filled and returned in 3 days.

Telephone

As mentioned above, unavoidable circumstances cause the absence of participants during the date suggested for the study. Also, some participants might be geographically apart and the logistics of reaching them might be tedious. Under such circumstances, the best option is to use a telephone for the administration of the questionnaire (Gravetter & Forzanno, 2011). In this study, a total of 53 participants opted to use telephones.

Face to face

The final approach to administering the questionnaire was through a face-to-face approach. Gravetter & Forzanno (2011) argues that such an approach is the best at getting honest responses from the participants. There are two approaches in which such a method becomes effective. The first approach is to cluster the participants in groups. Thereafter, each group will respond to the questions. The response will vary depending on the number of individuals in a group. The other alternative is to allow each participant to respond to the question at an individual level. In this category, 8 participants tool pert in a face to face approach. 55 took individual questionnaires while 54 were in 9 groups of 5 each.

Results

Overview

At the introductory stage of this study, it was established that the main objective is to determine a suitable branding for the city of Abu Dhabi. The same was drawn from a comparison between the branding in the larger UAE and that in Abu Dhabi. From the literature review, it was apparent that Abu Dhabi was not taking advantage of its administrative position in the UAE to position itself as a suitable destination. In such circumstances Melodena (2008) advices for the adoption of a suitable branding strategy. The same strategy was mentioned in the variables part of the methodology.

Branding Trends

As mentioned, in the literature review section, a destination is similar to a tangible commodity to be presented before a consumer. Thus, it is important that the said destination be made as attractive as possible (Pike, 2011). The same is best realized by tapping into the best trends of marketing a destination. For the purpose of the study, themed cities and conference tourism are seen as the best trends to be exploited. Thus, the participants were meant to respond on their preferred branding strategy. Table 1 illustrates the responses based on ‘always’ and ‘extreme’ as the frequency and severity of their preferences.

Table 1: Preferred branding trends

Trends Participants Themed Cities Conference Tourism
Students 48 17
Businessmen 39 11
Marketing Professionals 51 14

Table 1 is an illustration of the preference of the branding trends that are currently used in destination marketing. Themed cities appeared to be the most trending branding technique for cities. From the table 1, above, the marketing professionals polled 51 in favor of themed cities followed by students who polled at 48. There were 39 businessmen who preferred themed cities to conference tourism. From the respective figures it is apparent that themed cities are a preferred trend to use in the branding of a destination.

Financing

The questionnaire required the participants to respond their preferred method of financing the branding process. In the literature review, it was found that financing is an important aspect of branding. However, there isn’t much information touching on the same from several studies that are existent to that effect. The participants were required to respond to the questionnaire with their preferred financing options. Figure 1 is an illustration of the results.

Preference for an IPO.
Figure 1: Preference for an IPO.

From figure 1, above, it is evident that a number of participants prefer a consolidated fund to an initial public offer in terms of financing. The exact number of respondents in favor for the consolidated fund is 34 students, 42 marketing professionals and 29 businessmen. Despite a significant number of participants indicating support for the consolidated fund, it is important to appreciate that the difference is not as much. However, among the marketing professionals there was noted a huge gap. Whereas 42 participants were in favor for a consolidated fund, 23 were in support of an IPO. When compared to the other two categories of participants the disparity was not as large.

Strategy

The questionnaire required the participants to respond to the question of their preferred branding strategy. The two responses given were an internet based approach and the use of exhibitions. During a literature review of the branding strategy in the city of Abu Dhabi, it was found that exhibitions are a preferred method owing to their success in places like Dubai and Doha (Melodena, 2008). When a similar question was posed to the participants, there were mixed responses. Figures 2, 3 and 4 are a clear illustration.

Students preferred strategy.
Figure 2: Students preferred strategy.
Marketing professionals preferred strategy.
Figure 3:Marketing professionals preferred strategy.
Businessmen preferred strategy.
Figure 4: Businessmen preferred strategy.

From the figures illustrated above, it is apparent that a significant percentage of the participants have a preference to exhibitions in comparison to internet based strategy. Specifically, 76% of the students have a preference for the exhibitions as depicted in figure 2. Their numbers are followed closely by 64% (figure 3) of the marketing professionals while 54% (figure 4) of the businessmen have support for the exhibitions. The results illustrate a situation where percentages as high as 18%, from the students, do not have a preference to any of the strategies proposed (figure 2). Also, 23% of the businessmen had no preferences to the proposed strategy (figure 3).

In earlier sections of this paper, it was established that the study’s main intention is to come up with the best option for the city of Abu Dhabi in terms of destination marketing. From the results, it becomes clear that each of the participants have a strong opinion of their preferred solution. The results illustrated in this study have been consistent in terms of unanimity. Depending on the question posed in the questionnaire, the responses have illustrated common grounds in all the variables suggested. The said findings will prove important in advancing further research. The results will help in providing recommendations which can be used to improve the general brand that is Abu Dhabi.

Discussion

Overview

Destination marketing is an emerging subject whose value is evident in the larger spectrum of marketing. The discussions outlined, so far, suggest that branding and the entire destination marketing package help to improve the attractiveness of an area. According to Vel & Suhail (2012), the increasing global trading patterns require an element of dynamism to ensure that respective economies have a competitive edge. The findings from the literature review and the questionnaire administered in this study will help cities like Abu Dhabi, to better position them in terms of branding. Also, the findings will provide insights on how best to improve a city’s image.

Branding Trends

Trends have the potential of attracting consumers to ones product. While advancing this claim, Teemu & Seppo (2008) argue that most consumers prefer a commodity which is current and responds to the present dynamics of a market. As already mentioned, a destination qualifies for consideration as a commodity. Vel & Suhail (2012) are alive to this fact by making reference to popular cities like San Francisco which owe their relevance to the trends of the modern times. A city like Abu Dhabi is not any different. The only way to establish itself as a brand, the city has to respond to the trends in the destination marketing niche.

From the study, themed cities and conference tourism were mentioned as emergent trends. Studies like Melodena et al. (2008) suggest that cities should ensure they give potential consumers their money’s worth. Thus, creating themed cities like the Silicon Valley in San Francisco is a sure way of curving out a niche for one’s space in the destination market. Clients interested in investing in conference tourism can also make profits owing to the increased interest in such forms of tourism. However, when it comes to trends Vel & Suhail (2012) advocate for sustainability. The trend settled upon must be one that can sustain itself and ensure the city remains relevant.

The element of sustainability, informed the participants on the preferred branding trend to use for a city like Abu Dhabi. As illustrated in the previous section, a majority of the participants prefer themed cities to conference tourism. Pike (2011) supports such a notion. The author argues that whereas conference tourism is a booming sector, the same is quite unreliable when it comes to advancements in communication technology. There are many companies which are taking advantage of the said improvements to cut off on massive expenditure. In such cases, the number of conferences can be slashed by a significant margin thus plunging a city, dependent on the same, into economic turmoil.

On their part, themed cities are more reliable. Vel & Suhail (2012) make reference to the city of London. Notwithstanding the city’s age, London has curved itself a niche in the financial sector. Thus, it is able to attract investments, largely drawn from the financial sector. The same would apply in the case of Abu Dhabi. For instance, the growing economies of the Middle East demand that a regional financial hub be established. Abu Dhabi would be most preferred owing to its relative political and economic stability.

Abu Dhabi is the administrative Capital of the UAE. Such a position limits the city from plunging into tourism and sports activities which are mostly leisure oriented. Vel & Suhail (2012) argue that Abu Dhabi would mirror great cities, in the world, that are known for their financial aspects. Cities like Milan and Paris, pride themselves as being fashion hubs in their regions. The same principle applies to Abu Dhabi and its proposed investment in a financial portfolio.

The difference between conference tourism and themed cities is the sustainability, as mentioned earlier. Upon close scrutiny, one realizes that the said sustainability is brought about by the number of visitors who will flock to a city. Lonnsway (2007) argues that themed cities have repeat visitors whereas focusing city on conference tourism will restrict the number of visitors. The understanding is that, themed cites like financial hubs, attract an entire industry. Thus, investment is high and the number of visitors is equally high.

Financing

The literature review section of this study, opened up the notion that previous studies have often shunned the topic of financing. Most studies focus on the actual branding part while disregarding the capital resource aspect of the procedure. In this study, financing was incorporated in the questionnaire. The same was essential in determining the preferred method of raising funds that will support the implementation of the said branding. The understanding is that branding is a capital intensive process. Thus, it is essential for the existence of a financial source that is reliable. Vel & Suhail (2012) support a similar notion, arguing that is prevents the said project from staling.

The two options settled upon in this study are an IPO and a consolidated fund. Melodena (2008) insists that both can serve the objective of supporting the expensive process that is involved in the branding of a destination. Vel & Suhail (2012) argue that branding of a city like Abu Dhabi requires a public-private partnership. Thus, the city’s local authority can opt to partner with investors to set up a consolidated fund for the branding purpose. An alternative would be to invite the public to participate in an IPO. Such a move would incorporate a wider group of investors. However, the IPO has a number of short comings.

As illustrated in figure 1 there is a higher preference of a consolidated fund in comparison to the IPO. Whereas an IPO would ensure that residents get a piece of the brand, the same is inadequate in terms of management. According to Teemu & Seppo (2008) the process of raising funds through an IPO can take a long time and requires further professionals. The same explains why most of the participants opted for a consolidated fund. A consolidated fund has fewer investors and is therefore easy to manage.

Emphasis on the importance of a solid financial plan cannot be overstated. In the event that a destination decides to settle on a theme city, huge amounts of resources would be required. Melodena (2008) makes reference to a blue print of the UAE’s development agenda which talks of multi-billion dollar cities. Such amounts of money often go to the planning and implementation of the programs. Under such circumstances quick decisions will be required. Unfortunately an IPO is unable to respond to the quick decisions that ought to be made, making it an unsuitable financing option

Recommendations

Overview

The study has examined several branding options suitable for destination marketing. The findings of the study have illustrated a clear path that can be adopted for the implementation of a branding formula which can be used to improve the overall image for the city of Abu Dhabi. Fortunately the city authority has a blue print which will see it improve its infrastructural capacity to become a leading hub in the region. The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2011) came up with a 25 year development agenda that will see advances in key sectors of the city.

The blue print was developed against the backdrop of what appeared to be Dubai’s dominance in the UAE while Abu Dhabi as the capital is in the shadows. Pike (2011) argues that the branding of a city or a region requires the backing of the local authorities. Thus, the recommendations made in this section are meant to assist the Abu Dhabi Urban Council realize some of its objectives. The recommendations are an attempt at branding Abu Dhabi as a [referred destination in the UAE.

Thematic City

As mentioned earlier, branding of a destination is the intent of improving that destination’s outlook. The attractiveness of a destination is realized by a collection of factors which have been aptly discussed in previous sections of this paper. Keith (2009) supports the idea that a city should adopt a thematic approach to branding. Consequently, the first recommendation is the development of theme satellite cities within Abu Dhabi.

Developing a themed city within a city is no mean task. However, the benefits of such a move are far more advantageous. The case presented by Abu Dhabi is quite unique. As the capital of the UAE, the city is expected to be the prime destination. Unfortunately, Dubai is the more popular destination in the UAE. Therefore, it is in the interest of the city’s management to ensure a suitable branding framework is adopted. The realization of the city’s development blue print depends on dynamic strategies like a themed satellite city.

A suitable theme for a satellite city depends upon the incorporation of certain trending topics. According to Pike (2011) some of the trending subjects include, information and technology and sports. Considering the administrative nature of Abu Dhabi, such themes that border on extreme leisure and entertainment would not be preferable. Therefore, this paper further recommends the establishment of a digital techno-polis within the city. An example of such a city is the Silicon Valley in San Francisco. The valley is an example of how a trending subject can be used to attract visitors to any destination. Evidence is clear with the huge numbers of visitors who visit San Francisco.

The local authority of Abu Dhabi should consider engaging consultants in the information technology sector to come up with a suitable framework for making Abu Dhabi a technology hub. Alamira (2012) points out that technology is the future of international interactions. Developing a city themed on technology is a certain way of attracting more and more visitors to the city. Pike (2011) argues that satellite cities have the potential of boosting the economy of a larger city going by the increased number of visitors.

One of the best ways of ensuring the success of the technology city is the establishment an institution of higher learning. Pike (2011) argues that such an institution acts as the driving factor for research and development. Universities are centers of research. Consequently, their introduction into a technology city acts as a hub where innovators coalesce to develop their ideas. Bottom line, a technology themed city is a certain way of attracting investors, researchers and a wide array of visitors.

Financing

The process of branding a city is an expensive affair. Alamira (2012) argues that branding of a destination is akin to attracting the entire world’s attention. Thus, it is important that capital be sourced from far and wide to illustrate the destination’s international clout. The study was able to establish that a consolidated fund is the ideal financial mechanism to fund such a project like a technology city. Notwithstanding the economic capacity of the UAE, it is important for such a project be carried out by a variety of investors. Thus, this report recommends the establishment of a fund which will accept bids from various international companies.

The marketing aspect of the destination can be carried out by the local authority. However, in the spirit of inclusivity, this paper recommends that the implementation of the branding should be effected by a body that is composed of members from the local authority. Having a consolidated fund comprised of international investors is in itself a marketing strategy. Pike (2011) argues that a destination is only attractive if it brings out an element of international representation. Considering the conservative nature of the Middle East, an internationally inclusive branding strategy is sure to place Abu Dhabi on the international platform in a big way.

Conclusion

A destination is a commodity that requires marketing in order to improve its profit margins. The current research undertaking has established that a destination has several components that make it an ideal commodity for sale. Improving the image of the destination introduces the element of branding. Keith (2009) suggests that a suitable branding strategy is one that ensures a destination attracts diverse individuals who can make repeat visits in future.

The current study has illustrated the need for Abu Dhabi’s image to be improved. Vel & Suhail (2012) argues that it is easier to identify with Dubai than Abu Dhabi. It is quite an unfortunate situation for a country’s capital to be in the shadows of one of its cities. The study is therefore an essential attempt at boosting the recognition of Abu Dhabi. Notwithstanding the city’s blue print that is intent on focusing on infrastructural growth.

The proposal to set up a technology hub is an attempt at improving the image of the city. Branding requires a destination comes up with a strategy that will constantly attract visitors to the region. By adopting a technology hub, Abu Dhabi will be on the fast track to joining start up destinations like the Silicon Valley. Wood (2007) argues that a destination must ensure consumers get value for their money. Thus, the technology city ought to incorporate international standards of quality.

In conclusion, branding in the United Arab Emirates has focused more on Dubai at the expense of Abu Dhabi. The discussions in this study suggest that Abu Dhabi is in dire need of a marketing strategy that will improve its standing as a preferred destination in the Middle East. Such notions are also supported by Kotler, Haider and Rein (2002).Therefore future destinations should adopt themed cities like the kind proposed herein. Future studies should examine better methods of financing such branding strategies.

References

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