by Hans Pul
Especially since the Place Branding Conference of last month, the concepts competition and cooperation have been the theme of some recent posts on this blog*. In this post I will follow-up on this topic and discuss some aspects of the Holland Art Cities project (2009-2010). This project was a cooperation between 10 museums in 4 Dutch cities, aimed at attracting foreign visitors. Holland Art Cities was initiated and organised by the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC).
I will finish this post arguing that cooperation can be seen as a strategy within a competitive context.
Holland Art Cities is a temporary project by NBTC. This organisation also runs Holland.com, which is the central platform for foreign tourists visiting the Netherlands. Unlike what the NBTC claims on its website, “The Netherlands” and “Holland” are referring to two different concepts. The former refers to the country as a whole, while Holland refers to two out of twelve provinces within the Netherlands. However, in English the term Holland is more frequently used to refer to the country as a whole, while The Netherlands is seen as a more formal way to refer to the same entity. The same holds true for many other languages as well. Apparently, the NBTC does want to get away with the lack of clarity about these two concepts: On the “Did you know – funny facts about the Netherlands” page of Holland.com, it is stated that “The Netherlands and Holland are one and the same place”.
Although NBTC calls it an “event”, Holland Art Cities is pretty much a straight-forward cooperative marketing campaign with a clear target group. The target group is constituted by a well-off, art-interested public from nearby countries (Belgium, France, Germany and the UK). In 2009 and 2010, the top ten museums in the four biggest cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht) worked together in an art event under the Holland Art Cities umbrella. (Interestingly, Utrecht is not located in one of the two Holland provinces). These cities are located within a range of 1 hour. Holland Art Cities had 3 themes: International influences, Dutch Masters and Young: modern and contemporary art.
According to the NBTC, the campaign was a great success:
“With 41 expositions in the main programme and 51 in the side programme, Holland Art Cities had a strong appeal on both Dutch and foreign visitors. Around 5 million people visited the expositions in the main programme of the ten museums; 2.9 million Dutch visitors and 2 million visitors from all over the world. For 25% of the foreign visitors the Holland Art Cities expositions was one of the main reasons for their visit to the Netherlands. To underline the quality of the programme: many of the visitors came specifically to the Netherlands and/or the city to see the exhibition and were delighted with their visit.”
The campaign generated a lot of media exposure in the target countries, especially on art websites. The fact that Holland Art Cities caught a lot of attention is probably due to the fact that it is a clear concept: four cities, ten high-end art museums. However, exactly this aspect of the campaign touches on my first point of critique. This point of critique is that only a very small fraction of Dutch art museums received a massive amount of international media attention, while other cities and museums did not. Other cities in the Netherlands and other museums in the four cities profited from Holland Art Cities only indirectly, if at all. A second point of critique on the Holland Art Cities event is pointed at in an article in Recreatie & Toerisme (in Dutch) by Stephen Hodes. The author is content with the focus on art in positioning the Netherlands as a destination. However, he argues that the event seems to be part of the regular programming of the involved museums. According to Hodes, the “Holland Art Cities” event seems to add less of innovative art programming (content), but rather is a “fancy packaging” around already existing products.
My main argument in this blogpost is that in place branding, cooperation can be of competitive advantage. Places cooperating in place branding efforts can be more effective, as they have a more complete product to sell and share costs. In that sense, cooperation and competition are often related, and are different aspects of the same process. For me, the Holland Art Cities campaign example shows that cooperation is a way of withstand within a competitive context.
Within the European context, the Holland Art Cities cooperation effectively positioned the museums/cities involved against competing European cities with great art museums. Within the Dutch context, however, the Holland Art Cities cooperation excluded dozens of other great art museums, in order to keep the concept clear and easy to communicate to foreign publics. From the perspective of the excluded museums, the cooperation of Holland Art Cities museums constituted strong competition.
What is your stance? Is cooperation an alternative to competition? Or is cooperation just a nice-sounding word, but effectively a strategy to achieve competitive advantage?
* Overview of some of our recent posts on the competition/cooperation topic: