Vancouver is the world's most reputable city
, according to the Copenhagen-based Reputation Institute. The city edged out Sydney and Vienna by accruing a higher score in an index of infrastructure, administration, and communications called the City RepTrak.
An executive partner with the institute, Nicolas Georges Trad, explains the Canadian city's victory: "Vancouver's City RepTrak results demonstrate how a well-run city, coupled with targeted media conversations and communicating the right messages, positively impacts people's perceptions."
And just what are those messages?
According to Paul Vallee, executive vice president at Tourism Vancouver, the visitors' bureau that handles much of the city's outward messaging and promotion, it's a fully open and honest approach.
"Visitors, tourists, and residents in many ways, too, are looking for the real, the authentic," he says. "Their desire is to find something that's true to that place."
So Tourism Vancouver doesn't shy away from telling the city's complete story, without fear, even those parts that other cities might sweep under the rug.
Warts and all
In the age of social media, Vallee and his team have come to terms with the idea that it's difficult to keep complete control over messages or hide anything from prying eyes.
"People will uncover any given thing about your city," he says. "You can't hide anymore. If somebody hasn't tweeted about it yet, they will soon."
If you can't control the message, try to be a part of it, he says. That's an approach Tourism Vancouver and the city took during the 2010 Winter Olympics, when members of the news media were in the city looking for the good, the bad, and the ugly parts.
Instead of directing the media away from Vancouver's poorest neighborhood, the downtown East Side—which Vallee says may be the poorest postal code in all of Canada (he notes Vancouver also has Canada's wealthiest postal code)—the bureau led them there. The neighborhood has some crime, such as drug use, but "there's a lot of history there, heritage buildings and the like," Vallee says.
"It tells another story of Vancouver, besides the beautiful place."
The bureau gave media representatives information about the neighborhood, directed them to people who could serve as sources, and told them where to go. There was no reason to hide it, Vallee says, because while some might see the area as a blemish, it's also a place with much of the city's character.
When people do come face to face with some of the darker parts of Vancouver, the reaction is often "a bit of a shrug of the shoulders," Vallee says. "Usually, the next comment is, 'It's far worse in my city.'"
"We're in all channels of communication," Vallee says.
In particular, the bureau runs a blog, Inside Vancouver, that aims well beyond the standard event calendars and marketing copy common to many tourism blogs. Tourism Vancouver built the framework for the blog, but it's run mostly by local bloggers.
Lots of employees in Tourism Vancouver's offices were already part of the local blogging community, Vallee notes, and as they reached out to their blogger friends, the network grew and grew.
"It's constantly changing," he says. "We're constantly taking their advice for how we should design it and what we should [publish]."
Ideas for articles including profiles of local residents have come from some of the local bloggers who contribute to Inside Vancouver, Vallee says. Having such a wide array of voices lends a lot of specific expertise to the blog, he says.
"When you're representing destinations, there are so many different components to it," Vallee says. "So you try to find those people who have areas of specialty or those who can speak to something we feel is going to be relevant to our customers."
A good bit of the content on the Inside Vancouver Facebook page comprises links to blog posts, but quite a few of the posts are historical photos from the city's archives. Vancouver is a relatively young city that tends not to dwell on its history, Vallee notes.
"It wasn't that long ago that our sidewalks were dirt sidewalks," he says. "I'm talking 50 years ago."
Vallee says he and the bureau make a concerted effort to connect people with the city's past, working with a local historian, Chuck Davis, to understand and document the city's background.
"When [our employees] are out there talking about Vancouver to the world marketplace, they can have more context in which they can frame their discussion," he says.
It's all part of giving people a true experience of the city.
"Really, what it is we're selling is memories," Vallee says.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.