The top destinations in Europe for travellers from the Arabian Gulf have long been established - a process that was helped by strong, continuous marketing campaigns and direct daily flight connections to different Gulf countries. Cities like London, Paris and Munich have this way become the favourite destinations in Europe for Arab travellers, constantly recording high number of incoming tourism from the Gulf region.
Flanders, the Flemish-speaking region of northern Belgium is well-known in Europe for many of its amenities, such as its shopping facilities, fine food and the production of luxury chocolate as well as its green nature. All these qualities make Flanders a European region predestined to belong to the favourite destinations of Arab travellers from the Gulf.
However, the level of awareness about Flanders and its qualities as a tourist destination was very low within the Gulf region. With no quality information available online or in general press coverage in Arabic language, Arab tourists had very little exposure to what Flanders has to offer to them. Hence, the target audience of Flanders Tourist Office - widely travelled young Arab travellers and families- did so far not have the chance to consider Flanders when choosing a European destination for their holidays.
Based on the challenges outlined above, bridge:media developed an ad-hoc public relations campaign for the Flanders Tourist Office in the run-up to ATM (Arabian Travel Market), the Middle East's leading travel and tourism event taking place in Dubai.
The consulting strategy consisted of a comprehensive press coverage campaign targeted at selected media outlets, including the leading dailies of the United Arab Emirates. The business consultancy service aimed at increasing the reach and exposure of Flanders as a tourist destination for Arab travellers and was built up over several weeks in advance of ATM. This time-frame allowed developing long-term PR actions through consistent liaison activities with representatives of relevant media outlets, taking into account the increased competition for tourism publications in the immediate forerun of ATM.
Moreover, to further increase the reach of the business consultancy strategy and in order to show that Flanders is easily accessible for Arab Gulf travellers, the direct flight connection from Abu Dhabi to the Belgian capital of Brussels was highlighted in the articles published in leading media outlets of the UAE.
Incorporating the aspects of Flanders' tourism strategy that best match the Gulf Arabs audiences' expectations, bridge:media advised Flanders to stress above all that the Belgian region is a highly family-friendly destination that has a great potential to attract more visitors from the Gulf region as it boasts a safe environment, green landscapes, historical cities and sights and high-class hotel accommodation.
A news release was conceptualised and disseminated, allowing for the use of an effective media channel in addition to several tourism features that were placed in leading regional magazines. A key element of the strategy, which saw the publication of a series of articles about Flanders, was the establishment of the Flemish city of Bruges as a romantic honeymoon destination for Arab travellers through features published in local women magazines.
In addition, articles were published online to target on the one hand a younger audience and to achieve a longer term effect of the information campaign about Flanders on the Arabic language internet.
Starting from a nearly non-existent coverage about Flanders as a tourist destination in Arabic media outlets, the ad-hoc campaign managed to communicate the image of the Belgian region to a local audience that was entirely unaware of the amenities Flanders has to offer before.
Regional and local media outlets positively received ideas for news and feature articles about Flanders, the Flemish culture, Bruges as a romantic honeymoon destination and shopping the Belgian capital of Brussels. Through a publication of news items and feature articles on these topics, information about Flanders was for the first time made accessible in Arabic language to a wider audience in the Gulf. The media outlets that published articles about Flanders due to this campaign are among the most influential in the UAE, including leading dailies of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
In addition, Arabian Travel Market (ATM) proved to be a major success for Flanders Tourist Office through the intense PR campaign run in advance of the event.
On the internet, the image of Flanders was improved significantly through the campaign, exercising a strong impact on online communication about the region in the long-term: whereas no quality information about Flanders was available before the campaign, now numerous articles about the region can be accessed online in Arabic.
Overall, it can be concluded that bridge:media's diversified ad-hoc communication campaign in the run-up to ATM allowed to significantly extend the reach of Flanders' image as a traditional, varied and family-friendly tourist destination to the Middle East region.