Destination City: just what is it?

I’ll be fascinated to hear what members of the City’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee make of the item about Destination City, which is on their agenda tomorrow.

See my earlier posts here, and follow the live stream here tomorrow May 22 from 11 am.

See below for update: discussion at committee reflected a lot of the issues I’ve raised here.

The focus of the report is on brand identity and website. It explains that a creative agency, Anatomy, has been appointed to develop these, and a mobile-friendly site will soft launch within a few weeks.

But just what is the substance of Destination City that will be launched? Here’s what the report says:

“The distilled findings from the research phase informed a set of strategic brand pillars to guide the creative development of the destination brand identity and articulate why the City of London is unique. It is the birthplace of London; a distinctive mix of past, present and future; a place of renewal and reinvention; full of unique cultural experiences; now more connected than ever with new transport links”.

I think we all know that … but what does it mean in practice? What is a brand pillar?

The report says:

“The research phase also led to the recommendation of target audiences, in addition to the City’s workers and residents who are core to its success. In line with Visit Britain research, audiences have been defined by mindset and motivation. ‘Experience Seekers’ have been identified as high value segments due to their propensity to visit and likelihood to spend. This includes London and domestic audiences as well as international visitors from the US, France and Germany who are visiting London. These audiences are motivated by unique experiences and what’s new. Culture is a core part of social life, and eating out is key – often paired with an activity or experience”.

Aha – Destination City is selling “Experience”. But what will that be?

Will it be Canary Wharf or Marylebone, as I mused earlier. There are some links at the end of the report, to earlier reports, but they didn’t work for me, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be much help anyway since they are from last year.

I guess that part of the Experience offer will be the spectacular Bartholomew Fair promised throughout September, which I wrote about here.

The Evening Standard has picked up on the plans saying “The city is increasingly trying to throw off its “nine to five” image and become a leisure destination for Londoners and others.”

More on the Fair below … but back to the committee.

If I were a member, I would be asking when was it that Culture, Heritage and Libraries discussed Bartholomew Fair in detail ? I don’t think that they have, and there’s no mention of it in tomorrow’s report.

In fact it was approved by Policy and Resources committee on April 20 without much discussion. (See update below)

Hang on … isn’t CHL committee “responsible for the City of London Corporation’s activities and services in the field of culture, heritage and visitors; including the development of relevant strategies and policies …” as its terms of reference state.

It rather looks as if CHL committee is being sidelined, and asked to approved the marketing tools (brand identify and website) without first discussing the Destination City product in any depth.

From what I can gather the Spectacular Fair will cost up to half of Destination City’s £2.8 million budget. It will be nothing like the original Fair, which was started in Smithfield in 1133 to support what became Barts Hospital, and ran until 1855. Councillor Matthew Bell and I floated the idea of re-staging it in the EC1 Echo last year. No attribution in current plans, but never mind, maybe we can make the best of what’s coming.

For example, I’ve suggested that it would be possible to build on the proposals to “Improve wayfinding by increasing awareness that the City is not individual buildings, but a collective of fascinating places to see, spend in and work at”. I emailed those ideas to the Destination City team, but didn’t get a response.

As Matthew and I suggested in the original proposal to restaged Bartholomew Fair, it would be possible to combine on-the-ground activity with digital experiences, and draw on the expertise of historians and City guides.

Whatever the methods, there should be more explanation of how the Spectacular Fair will actually lead to more people patronising the bars, restaurants and venues suffering from the drop in workers spending Monday to Friday in the City.

It may be that I have missed something … but if committee members are just as baffled I hope that they will be embolden to ask:

  • Just what is Destination City – and why haven’t we discussed the essence rather than the mechanics?
  • Why did P&R committee approve Bartholomew Fair without earlier reference to this committee?
  • What steps are Destination City taking to ensure the development of plans are transparent and understandable by residents and businesses – which the report says “are core to its success.”

Well, that’s a bit of a rant. I really want to be positive about Destination City, but this sort of report makes it difficult because we can’t see what’s proposed, or have confidence elected members know what they are deciding.

Update 1

Looking again at the agenda, the later item 14 has an explanation of why Bartholomew Fair went to Policy and Resources for decision on April 20, before going to CHL, and also has the presentation that went to P&R.

“The deadline for submitting the necessary event planning permission was 16 May 2023, meaning that the CHL meeting of 22 May would have been too late for CHL approval ahead of planning permission submission, noting that P&R approval was received on 20 April 2023.”

Confusing. Why no mention in the branding and website report at item 10, and explanation of how Bartholomew Fair relates to the wider programme? Was there really no opportunity to discuss Bartholomew Fair before P&R committee on April 20? Aren’t there ways of dealing with matters of urgency, and perhaps forming a working group to consider this flagship project?

Update 2

Lengthy discussion on item 10 at committee reflected the confusion that members felt about Destination City. Video starts here. This covered:

  • Why is the report such a thin paper, lacking in substance about the nature of the programme?
  • There’s lots of talk about frameworks, strategy, key performance indicators, and branding … but what is the vision?
  • Will Destination City just be a series of expensive events – or will it build on the assets of churches, Livery companies, guides and cultural attractions?
  • What will the website actually offer?
  • How will the activities of Business Improvement Districts be co-ordinated with Destination City?
  • How will the interests of small business and residents be taken into account?

It was agreed that there would be presentation to the next committee. By that time the website would be live. A launch event is also promised in June.

It sounds as if the committee will get more information – but no chance to shape the substance of Destination City.

There was further discussion about Bartholomew Fair, on agenda item 14. Video starts here:

  • Disappointment no opportunity to discuss Barts Fair before it was approved at P&R committee.
  • There seems to be a democratic deficit in the way that decisions are taken
  • The original idea of Bartholomew Fair in Farringdon has become a City-wide jamboree. Could there also be an event around the original site with more of a village fair feeling?
  • How about a small working group that could work with Matthew Bell, and Brendan Barns – who is a residents’ envoy to Destination City?

Mark Bostock returned to an issue he has raised before: the lack of an overall City cultural strategy, and the importance of the committee in developing that. Members were clearly concerned that the CHL committee should have terms of reference that confirmed it should take a lead. There will be further discussion about how to achieve that.

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1 thought on “Destination City: just what is it?

  1. Excellent questions, David – and worth some serious discussion and answers. So much at stake!

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