Branding experts identify a ‘worrying’ problem for York

Visitors admire the ruins in Museum Gardens. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

York needs to protect its history – but make sure it remains “relevant” to the modern world, according to a team of branding experts.

And this could include creating public squares, encouraging startup businesses and promoting new projects.

City of York Council has hired “place based branding expert” Martin Boisen from company For the Love of Place, as well as company Hemingway Design and consultant Alex Saint from Creative Tourist, to help market the city.

The city is spending £660K on a rebranding exercise.

The panel took part in a masterclass event and a question and answer session with residents.

Mr Boisen emphasised the importance of “selectivity” and attracting the right people to the city.

And he warned against measuring the value of a place in terms of how many new chain businesses or hotel brands it attracts.

Don’t do the same thing

The panel. From left: Martin Boisen, Neil Ferris, Alex Saint and Jack Hemingway
Mr Boisen said:

  • I’m working with quite a number of cities that are suffering from over tourism right now, not because they haven’t tried to deal with these things in the past but because they’ve failed to to tap into selectivity.

    We measure our success as a city in, for example, added value in the real estate of our land or increased tax contributions, or something like that – which is fine.

    But if we only measure our success in that kind of stuff then we’re only catering to those global markets.

    If you don’t want to be any place then don’t do the same thing as anywhere else.

He also said the city’s focus on its history, without making it relevant to the present, is a worry that leaves York at risk of being stereotyped.

“One of the best ways of protecting something like that is to give it relevance today and I haven’t really seen a lot of that and that’s something that worries me,” he said.

Alex Saint added: “I have [York] boxed in as a heritage city with a burgeoning cultural scene trying to get out – that was my preconception about York.”

Mr Boisen added that the city should focus on nurturing and keeping its own startup businesses and small companies, rather than persuading firms from elsewhere to move here.