Place branding and forests: a win-win alliance for rural development 

Place branding is a concept, typical of public diplomacy studies, which could be also employed for the benefit of forests.

Woman and kid in a forest
Photo: Pexels

Nowadays, branding is not only about products and goods, but also about places. The concept of place branding has become truly relevant in today’s globalised world. Ad hoc brands are developed to sponsor places, from entire nations to local destinations, from cities to natural ecosystems. The goal is often to enhance tourism and connected services and goods. In this context, according to Kavaratzis and Kalandides (2015), competition between places is inevitable and branding aims to present a place as unique in its outstanding character.

But how can place branding of different destinations be distinctive if each place is presented as unique? The branding of each place corresponds to the network of associations that different people build around that location. To be more precise, according to the same authors, people internalise place branding as the result of the interactions of associations based on the physical elements, the practices, the institutions, and the symbols connected to the place in question. Therefore, the branding process takes place primarily in people’s minds, where such associations arise and evolve continuously.

Forests and place branding

Does place branding also work for forests? According to a recent publication by Rovira et al. (2022), there is a strong connection between branding, sustainable rural tourism, and non-wood forest products. Interest in place branding and territorial marketing in rural areas is growing. Therefore, place branding efforts often revolve around these wild forest products because of their connection with place identity.

Photo: Pexels.

Mushrooms, truffles, aromatic plants, medicinal herbs, cork, resins, berries, and nuts are often deeply linked to the specific place where they are harvested. It is impossible not to associate cork with Portugal, lavender with the South of France, or white truffles with Italy. Therefore, these resources can become the symbol of a specific area, playing a crucial role in its identity, or brand.

In their literature review, Rovira et al. show how mushrooms have been already used in Spain and Italy to strengthen place branding and increase tourism through the establishment of fairs, itineraries, and so on. Furthermore, many other forest-related experiences revolve around non-wood forest products. These products allow tourists and locals to enjoy gastronomic, cultural, and environmental activities within green spaces. Thus, people connect specific non-wood forest products to the image of their place of collection and these resources can be used to promote a forest because they are part of the network of associations that people build around the area. These associations are so strong that now they are integrated in territorial marketing strategies: for instance, wild bilberries, mushrooms, apples, and truffles have been employed to strengthen the link between gastronomy an tourism in Italy.

Forest bathing. Photo: Pexels.

Furthermore, other services could also play a crucial role in the identity of forests. For example, forest bathing, eco-therapy, and other green care activities have the potential to become symbols of the area in which they are practised. Sponsoring these activities, place branding could also become a tool to make the numerous ecosystem services offered by forests more widely known and recognised.

It is exciting to think that the concept of place branding has the potential to promote tourism, increase rural development and, in general, benefit forests.

Discover the best 10 tips form the INCREDIBLE project to integrate non-wood forest products in territorial marketing

Sources & additional information

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Carola Chiusi
Carola Chiusi is a Project & Communication Assistant at the European Forest Institute's Mediterranean Facility (EFIMED). Carola holds a master’s degree in Public and Cultural Diplomacy, and she is interested in the link between communication and social issues such as climate change and sustainability.