Los Angeles USA

You’ve heard the expression, “it’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.” Turns out, it’s a myth. At least it has become one according to research conducted by Resonance Consultancy.

“People tell us that there are different factors they consider important in choosing a city to visit, live or do business,” Resonance Consultancy President Chris Fair said. “However, our research shows that many factors related to the vibrancy of a city, such as culture, nightlife and restaurants, show a high correlation with both the number of visitors and amount of investment each city receives.”

What other attributes cut across live, work and play?

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Resonance Consultancy partnered with global research leader Ipsos to conduct a study of both the general U.S. population and business leaders and decision-makers to identify the factors that shape perception of cities as places to do business, to live and to visit.

Mountains of objective data on big and small cities across the country were collected focusing on criteria including crime rates, air quality, housing costs, entertainment options and cultural diversity. Subjective data from user-generated channels such as Trip Advisor and Yelp related to nightlife, cultural, culinary and shopping experiences was additionally factored in.

Not surprisingly, safety, cost and a favorable climate are important to people when deciding upon all three.

As the factors shaping perception and influencing people’s choices of where to live, do business or vacation become increasingly aligned, Resonance Consultancy believes so too should the alignment between tourism and investment promotion. It, however, finds little evidence of that happening in the United States and Canada and is doing something about it.

Resonance Consultancy has become a leader in the field of “place branding.”

“Effective place branding is about more than marketing,” Fair said. “Cities that do place branding well don’t just look at the marketing, but also prioritize investments and policies that will support and enhance the positioning and the ‘brand’ over time.”

Resonance defines “place branding” as identifying the key characteristics that differentiate a country, city or community in order to define and articulate a unique and compelling competitive identity that will be used to attract particular types of talent, tourists, and/or investment to that place.

“Traditional destination marketing is often more aspirational than authentic,” Fair said, with destination marketing campaigns often featuring messaging the destination believes its target audiences want to hear, messaging often similar to that being produced by other locales. “Effective place branding requires taking a deeper dive in order to uncover characteristics that both differentiate the destination and that are also authentic to that particular place.”

Nashville, Tennessee's Broadway Strip

An example of place branding done right is Nashville’s “Music City” moniker, which has been resonating with residents, visitors and businesses alike. The branding checks Fair’s boxes for differentiation and authenticity, positioning the city and the experience it offers not only for tourism but as a selling point when it comes to attracting talent and investment as well.

Why does “Music City” resonate with prospective employees and businesses considering Nashville? It speaks to the city’s “vibrancy,” which Resonance has found so crucial.

While factors like tax rates, quality of workforce and infrastructure are exactly what you would expect to see place highly when surveying business leaders about the attractiveness of places, one particular factor stood out to Resonance which overlaps with attracting people to a city to visit—“an exciting city environment.”

Research at Resonance indicates that the more quality nightlife, arts, culture and dining experiences a city has, the more foreign visitors it obviously attracts, and foreign direct investment as well.

“We need to stop thinking about the vibrancy of a city as nice to have and realize that it is increasingly the vibrancy of the city that is determining where talent, tourism and investment flows,” Fair said.

Fair’s firm has recently worked on successful place branding campaigns with cities as varied as Vancouver, British Columbia and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Next up: L.A.

The City of Los Angeles Department of Convention and Tourism Development has tasked Resonance with creating a long-term Tourism Master Plan for the city. The goal will be developing a strategy to increase visitors and improve the experience of visitors, locals and stakeholders.

Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles at dusk

Visitors, locals and stakeholders—i.e. the business community. Again, examining the shared interests of these three groups as opposed to treating each separately.

Resonance uncovered another long-held myth when conducting its researching.

“People tell us time to commute to work is an important factor in considering a city to live or do business, but the data doesn’t back that up,” Fair said. “Jobs and population continue to grow in many cities that have the longest commutes.”

Surprised? Don’t be.

“Many of the factors people tell us are important in choosing a city to live, visit or do business are not actually very well aligned with how we actually behave,” Fair said.

With words not matching actions, values changing and demographics shifting (small cities are hot, big cities are not), cities may find their messaging missing the mark.

If that’s the case, Fair has a warning.

“It’s really difficult, if not impossible, to change the perception of a city in a short period of time,” Fair said. “Many cities think that by creating a new logo, they’ll change the fortunes of the city overnight. That simply isn’t the case.”