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Italian Ministry of Tourism advertisement

Student work: An Italian destination marketing campaign critique

The School of Business and Law’s Destination Marketing module is an optional module for a number of courses, including Marketing Management BSc(Hons) and International Business Management BSc(Hons).

The module explores the ways in which destination marketing is about much more than simply the marketing of tourist destinations. It looks at how destinations differentiate themselves from competitors, develop identities and promote themselves.

Students also explore issues such as cultural representation, the branding of national/regional identities, and the role played by media and film. As part of their assessment, students were invited to apply their learning to their chosen campaign image and to form this analysis into a blog post.

This blog was selected as the winning assignment by final-year International Event Management student, Rebecca Darcy. Rebecca critiques the Italian Ministry of Tourism Board’s destination marketing campaign, ‘Italia, Open to Meraviglia’. Other candidates shortlisted as part of this assignment include Fleur Guay (International Tourism Management BSc), Nadia Keaney (International Business Management BSc), Katie Irvine (International Tourism Management BSc) and Jasun Sairsingh (International Tourism Management BSc).

“Italia, Open to Meraviglia”:  A campaign filled with wonders

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the different destination marketing concepts the Italian ministry tourism board used in their most recent campaign: “Italia, Open to Meraviglia”.

Italian Ministry of Tourism advertisement

Figure 1 –, (2023)

Figure 1 exhibits the latest official campaign for Italy presented by the “Agenzia Nationale del turismo” (ENIT), the Italian National Tourism Board. ENIT worked alongside Italy’s Ministry of Tourism “to achieve a unified and homogeneous vision of Italy that can involve and support all the actors involved” (Francescone, 2023).

This image launched in early 2023 (Francescone, 2023) and belongs to a larger campaign which includes four images featuring four cities from Italy with a running social media account for the protagonist: Venus, the virtual influencer (VenereItalia23).

In the tourism Industry, the concept of semiology is often explored when destination marketing organisations (DMO’s) seek to convey meaning to consumers using symbols and signs in order to promote a nation’s culture and identity (Deely, 1990).

The visual semiotics found in figure 1 will therefore be critically analysed, discussing how each of the elements found throughout the frame have been deliberately placed to present Italy’s diverse array of amenities and attractions (Buhalis, 2000).

Different themes and conceptual frameworks will be discussed such as: Cultural Heritage (Dallen, 2011) National Identity (Palmer, 1999), and Destination Branding (Baker, 2007) in order to fully explore the complexity of this campaign.

Cultural heritage

The first concept that will be analysed from the campaign is cultural heritage, which is increasingly being used to promote and “attract visitors to a variety of places” (Palmer, 1999).

To begin, the protagonist used in the campaign borrows the face of Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty, from Sandro Botticelli’s renowned artwork “The birth of Venus” (Lightbown, 2023). This world-known painting is estimated to have been created around 1484, which falls during the Italian Renaissance (Burke, 2014). The themes and techniques adopted by Botticelli, alongside many other famous artists of the 15th Century dominated Western Europe and would make this period “one of the great epochs of human achievement” (Plumb, 2017).  Using Venus as the protagonist for this campaign highlights the artistic achievements from this significant period in Italian history, demonstrating the rich cultural heritage of the country which may resonate with viewers who appreciate historical references.

In the upper left corner of the image, the viewer immediately understands the image is located in Lake Como, in the region of Lombardy. This lake is at the foot of the Alps and offers a variety of heritage attractions (Buhalis, 2000). It is known for its romantic and picturesque views surrounded by mountains and towns rich with historical heritage and renaissance architecture (Manzi, 2023). Historical traces left by many distinct civilisations in this region (Agnoletti and Santoro, 2022) can be dated as early as the 4th century BCE, spanning through the early civilisations, followed by the Romans and Middle Ages, up to the Modern and Contemporary Ages (Manzi, 2023).

Another element that can be related to cultural heritage is the inclusion of the grapes and lemon displayed at the edge of the table. Italy has a rich agricultural history that dates back to ancient times (Coppa et al, 2007). This is a subtle reference to the many cultivated fruits in the country which have been included to promote some of the local offerings. It is estimated that Italian wineries attract an estimate of 4 to 6 million foreign tourists per year (Collombini, 2015) with this industry representing a significant portion of Italy’s agro-food economy (Corsi et al, 2019). However, this is not the main focus of the campaign as the fruits are partially covered by the logo and slightly cut off from the image.

Using elements that relate to cultural heritage in this campaign will appeal to visitors whose primary motivation to travel is to “learn, discover, experience and consume the tangible and intangible cultural attractions” (WTO, 2017). This relates to the 40 percent of consumers whose main driving factor to travel is to discover the culture and heritage of destinations (Dallen and Boyd, 2003). Heritage tourism also plays a significant role in shaping and preserving the national identity of a destination because “it relies upon the historic symbols of the nation as a means of attracting tourists” (Palmer, 1999). Heritage sites are significant elements in forming a national identity (Pretes, 2003) therefore the next logical concept that will be discussed is national identity.

National identity

A recurrent theme in destination marketing is national identity which is emphasised through the use of symbols and signs that help consumers form an image of a nation (Palmer, 1999). In figure 1, Venus is seen eating one of Italy’s most famous dishes – a pizza, specifically the Pizza Margherita.

There are many myths surrounding the creation of the ‘Pizza Margherita’ with many claiming it was named after Queen Margherita during her visit to Naples with King Umberto I in 1889 (Nowak, 2014). Others believe it was created in honour of the unification of Italy by using the three colours of the flag as toppings: tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil (Ricca, 2021). Myths contribute in shaping the concept of national identity which is precisely why the tourism industry relies on them to effectively market destinations (Palmer, 1999). Using this well-known national symbol in figure 1 also enables viewers to immediately identify which nation is being depicted (Palmer, 1999).

The Italian tricolore can be spotted at different levels of the campaign. The protagonist is seen wearing a bracelet representing the flag as well as the ribbon wrapped around her hair. We can also find it in the bottom right corner as part of the logo of the Ministry of Tourism. And finally, as already mentioned, the toppings on the pizza also represent the colours of the flag. Using this powerful symbol of national identity across the image helps evoke a sense of unity and nationhood to tourists (Palmer, 1999).

Language is another form of national identity (Palmer, 1999) which can be seen in the top right corner of figure 1. The slogan “Italia open to Meraviglia” incorporates a mix of Italian and English words, which demonstrates the campaign’s goal is to connect to tourists at an international level as well as targeting domestic tourism. This leads us onto our next destination marketing concept of destination branding.

Destination branding

Before tourists travel to a destination, they begin to build an image of their chosen destination through different channels such as advertisement, word of mouth, press reports and common beliefs (Buhalis, 2000). Therefore, destination branding can assist in establishing a set of expectations to the viewer when coming across a destination campaign.

Destination branding can include a logo, symbol or a slogan to set a destination apart from its competitors (Pike, 2004). This boosts a destination’s “favourability, strength and uniqueness of the destination” (Cooper and Hall, 2016). The slogan in figure 1 “Italia, Open to Meraviglia” translates to “Italy, Open to Wonders” which conveys a sense of curiosity and openness in exploring the beauty and surprises Italy has to offer. It’s a short statement of four words which focuses on targeting tourists who are open to embracing new and unique experiences. It also features a rhyme in it which helps capture people’s attention, setting it apart from its competitors ensuring memorability (Pike, 2004). However, many viewers as well as the ministry of culture’s undersecretary Vittorio Sgarbi shared their perspective that the slogan lacks coherence (Lawson-Tranced, 2023).

The Ministry of Tourism logo can be seen in the bottom right corner of the image, which features the Italian flag in the shape of a wide open window. This reinforces the idea of openness and inclusivity (Franscecone, 2023). Next to the logo the viewer can find an interactive element to the campaign as it instructs them to give them a follow under The use of the first person suggests Venus, the protagonist is engaging with the audience. It indicates she will take on the leading role in sharing the beauty and enchantments of Italy (Mediability, 2023). This also gives the viewer the opportunity to find out more about the country as it redirects them to the official tourism website. Overall, the destination branding of the campaign develops a positive image of the destination.

In conclusion, through the use of semiotics this blog effectively analysed the different symbols and signs used within the destination campaign (Zakia and Nadin, 1987). The objective of the campaign was to boost international tourism in Italy which the Ministry of tourism and ENIT attempted to achieve by integrating elements of cultural heritage, national identity and destination branding to attract a wide range of tourists.

DMO’s have the responsibility to promote destinations that cater the demands of consumers while balancing this with the interests of the local stakeholders, as well as the environmental interests (Buhalis, 2000).

However, this campaign does not address the notion of sustainability nor regenerative tourism which are crucial aspects in improving and transforming social-ecological systems (Hes and Coenen, 2018). To ensure that all stakeholders can benefit in the long term, it is recommended that these key concepts are implemented in future campaigns to assist in raising awareness among both residents and tourists (Buhalis, 2000).  This is perhaps one of the many reasons why this campaign has received a considerable amount of backlash since its release as it refers to the many stereotypes and clichés of Italy (Povoledo, 2023) staying at a superficial level and not highlighting the importance in achieving sustainable cultural tourism and regenerative tourism (Duxbury et al. 2020).



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Zoe Cassell • January 25, 2024

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