City Hospitality Embassy of The Hague

14 October, 2015
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This case is about City Marketing: the profiling (Brand Design), promotion and bringing to life (Brand Activation) of a city for its inhabitants, companies and visitors. Municipalities increasingly realise that there is much to be gained by regarding themselves as a brand. A new sphere of competence in addition to City Marketing is that of City Hospitality, which aims to create optimal hospitality in the city so that its residents, companies and visitors are given the feeling that they are truly welcome and form part of the city. In this way, they will be happier to live and run businesses there, as well as to visit it and return. A unique example of City Hospitality is the ‘Embassy of The Hague’: over 300 enthusiastic City Hosts who gave a warm welcome to the 2014 Hockey World Championship in The Hague. This is an initiative of the municipality of The Hague and Hotelschool The Hague. This case was written by Jan Huizing M.A. (lecturer Strategy & City Hospitality) and Karoline Wiegerink Ph.D. RM (lector City Hospitality), both of Hotelschool The Hague.


Economic value
Why is hospitality important for a city? When visitors are extremely satisfied, this will have a positive impact: it is very likely that they will spend more money and time in the city and that they will return. To add to this, satisfied visitors also act as promoters: they share their positive experiences with others, which eventually leads to a positive association with the city and in turn generates new visitors, who themselves act as promoters. In the end, all these factors can be translated into economic value. Positive experiences will lead to increased expenditure and, consequently, to higher economic value.

Vision on city hospitality of the municipality of The Hague
‘Each encounter a welcoming encounter.’
Positioning: The Hague as a city that offers a five star quality of life, work and recreation.
‘Top’ hospitality leads directly or indirectly to higher economic value:
Highly satisfied visitors spend more money and time and return more often.
Highly satisfied visitors act as promoters for the city.

Top Hospitality
City hospitality distinguishes three target groups: residents, visitors and companies. The municipality of The Hague has developed a City Marketing vision and policy for all three target groups. In this vision, hospitality occupies an important position. On the basis of research and experience, it has become increasingly clear that it is essential for the city to offer top hospitality. It is emphasised that ‘just good’ is simply not good enough. A score of 7 therefore does not suffice; only with a score of 9 upwards will there be a truly positive effect on the perception of the visitor. Therefore, top hospitality means: not settling for ‘OK’, but guaranteeing a ‘WOW experience’.

The Challenge of Top Hospitality
It is relatively simple to realise hospitality in a single hotel or shop, but it is a lot more difficult to achieve it in a whole city. Why? A visitor to the city does not only deal with one hotel or shop, but with all kinds of different parties that they encounter, who in turn can be hospitable or otherwise in their contacts with the visitor. We call all these different parties the ‘hosts’. For a visitor to the city, the hosts are, for example, the shop assistant, the taxi driver, the tram driver, the pub, the waiter, the car park, the hotel, but also the person in the street who he or she asks for directions. You can see the entire visit to the city through the eyes of the visitor; this means that from the point of view of that visitor, you look at all the contacts with the various hosts he or she encounters and experiences throughout the visit. We call these contacts ‘touch points’. All of them together make up what we call the Customer Journey, Guest Journey or Visitor Journey. Consistently looking at things through the eyes of the visitor is an important basis for creating top hospitality. At the same time, it is a complex and tricky matter: the point is not that one of the hosts (the taxi or the restaurant) optimises their hospitality; it is much more important that the journey as a whole – i.e. all the contact moments together – is experienced as ‘a top hospitality experience’ in the eyes of the visitor. And to complicate matters even further, visitors differ in terms of age, origin, group composition, purpose and duration of visit. In order to gain more insights into these factors, you can create personas that characterise and describe clusters of visitors.

The Hague
Top hospitality for visitors is at the heart of the policy of the city of The Hague. This is of course related to the global image promoted by The Hague: ‘The Hague, international city of Peace and Justice’. Hospitality is crucial for a city with such a large number of national and international visitors. Added to this should be major events such as the Nuclear Security Summit (the international security conference attended by President Obama among others) and the 2014 Hockey World Cup, the hockey world championships for men’s and women’s teams, held from 31 May to 15 June 2014. The hockey event in particular was a cause for the city of The Hague to make a special effort with regard to hospitality towards its visitors.

Inspiration from London
During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, everyone witnessed how well the city managed its hospitality. Volunteers (‘Ambassadors’) could be found everywhere, and, dressed in purple jackets they were recognisable as hospitable City Hosts: to say hello to visitors, to give them directions, and to offer them a warm welcome at any time and any place. A total of 70,000 proud Londoners were active as volunteers, with the aim of turning the Olympic Games into an unprecedented success. The effect on visitors was fantastic which was one of the reasons why, after the Games, the programme was continued in an adapted form, and has by now become part of the city hospitality of London 2014 

Hockey World Championship
The challenge was: how can we ensure top hospitality during the Hockey World Championships, and how can we manage that in such a way that it does not end when the championships end, but will be ongoing, through a sustainable approach that will make the difference for the city, also in the long run? An additional ambition was to involve proud residents of The Hague in this: hospitality for visitors, with and by proud residents. After all, proud and hospitable residents are the best representatives of the city. Or even better. They are indeed the very embodiment of the hospitable city. This resulted in the initiative for the project, which started on paper under the name of The Hague Hosts, with a reference to City Hosts. At the implementation of the project, a conscious decision was taken to choose a different name: ‘Embassy of The Hague’.

Brand Strategy Brand Name
Why the brand name ‘Embassy of The Hague’? A number of factors influenced this choice:

Although the work of a City Host can be regarded as a volunteer activity, this should not necessarily be the primary association. It is a very specific job, with a focus on civic pride and a passion for hospitality. You represent your city, share your civic pride with visitors and residents; it is a prestigious and visible role. As a City Host, you work within an ambitious and professionally organised programme, which includes training courses (hospitality, touristic knowledge, etc.) and all kinds of activities that focus on hospitality and cooperation. The brand name, the branding and the positioning should form a solid basis for a sustainable programme that can be upheld and developed over a period of time. Finally, the positioning and recognisability of The Hague also play a role: international city, wide range of visitors, city of embassies and ambassadors. Based on these considerations, the brand name ‘Embassy of The Hague’ was chosen. The City Host is no longer the volunteer, but the ambassador; the ambassador of and for the city.

Target Groups 
The brand ‘Embassy of The Hague’ addresses two key target groups: volunteers and visitors. These are closely interrelated and cannot be seen as separate entities. Recruiting the right volunteers is crucial when creating top hospitality for visitors. The point in this respect is not if the City Hosts are hockey fans, because they will see little or no hockey. Their mission and scope lie outside the hockey stadium and in the city. They are the hosts, the point of contact, to be found at tram, bus and train junctions, giving visitors directions and telling them what The Hague has to offer in addition to hockey. Moreover, they will have to speak foreign languages, and know what to do to create a sense of top hospitality.

Volunteer Personas 
In order to create a better understanding in respect of both target groups, personas were developed, characteristics of ‘kinds of’ volunteers. For the City Hosts, these personas are: - ‘Rinus – The skilled one’ - ‘Harry – The city fan’ - ‘Frederieke – The eager participant’ - ‘Willemijn – The contributor’. Each persona represents (and visualises!) a group of volunteers/ambassadors with a specific set of motivation, vision, background, needs and traits. The persona was determined for each type of volunteer; how they score in terms of certain competences and what their project vision is. By means of these four volunteer personas, it was possible to compose the teams in such a way that the ambassadors would optimally reinforce each other. This was also taken into account during the training sessions at Hotelschool The Hague, by offering the volunteers the best possible training programme based on the characteristics of their personas.

Visitor personas
It is of great importance that the ambassadors have a clear picture of the visitors. Therefore, three typical visitor profiles were established during the preparation. These personas were used when training (hospitality and role play) the ambassadors. What are the expectations and the experiences of these specific visitors during their visit to The Hague and the tournament, in other words during the entire Customer Journey? The Customer Journey consists of orientation-outward journey-welcome-stay-departure-memory. How can you as ambassador create a top experience with a ‘wow feeling’ in this connection?

Three visitor personas were created:

1. ‘The Hamering family: Els, Tom, Thomas and Jort’ (a family from the province of Noord-Brabant)

2.  ‘The Harrisons and fans’ (a group of friends from the United States)

3.  ‘Etienne, Frederique, Bart’ (three friends from Belgium)

The (volunteer) persona ‘Rinus – the skilled one’ was clearly defined. (Source: research into the motivation of volunteers J. v.d. Wielen, Hotelschool The Hague 2014.) (This persona is a fictitious example, photo used by permission of the person portrayed.)

Persona 1: The Hamering family, a family from the province of Noord-Brabant, are combining the Hockey World Championship with a beach holiday. Mother wants to go shopping; father and sons want to watch two matches, not knowing whether they can park their car at the stadium.

Persona 2: The Harrisons and fans: the Harrisons and friends, who have travelled from the US to the Netherlands, are fans of one of the hockey players, a niece of the Harrisons. They are staying in Delft, in a typical canal-side house, and they hope to see lots of ‘typically Dutch’ things.

Persona 3: Etienne, Frederique and Bart, three friends from Belgium, hockey connoisseurs, arrive by train, go back the same day, go into town for something to eat and a drink as long as it can be done quickly and efficiently; they have no time for extended sightseeing and wonder what is the easiest way to get to the stadium from the train station.

Visual identity and brand manifestations
The logo for the Embassy of The Hague was not to be linked directly to the 2014 Hockey World Championship, because the use of the brand was to be continued after the tournament. Therefore, a logo was chosen that was related to the logo of the municipality of The Hague, with hospitality features, the two lions and the characteristic stork.

A very important aspect of the visual identity of the Embassy of The Hague is the recognisability of the City Hosts. As a visitor you should be ‘drawn to them’, as it were. Just like in London, the outfit is one of the most striking aspects in this regard. A choice was made for the green colour of the logo on a black background. Additions to the outfit are conspicuous items like flags, parasols and stands.

The City Hosts are the most important and most significant ‘manifestations’ of the brand ‘Embassy of The Hague’.

Communication: the recruitment of volunteers
The aim of the recruitment campaign was that a minimum of 500 interested residents of The Hague would enrol as prospective ambassadors. An important aspect in this regard was the message and tone of voice: addressing ‘civil pride’, a passion for hospitality, and the intrinsic motivation to do something for the city and to make the difference for visitors. In addition, the communication should raise the right expectations: the ambassadors are certainly not to be found inside the sports stadium, but outside it, around the city, in public areas. People who would rather watch the hockey matches should not register. The website included a clear online questionnaire (‘Do the hospitality test’) in order to assess whether you could qualify as an ambassador (see Bus stop posters and local radio and TV commercials generated traffic to the website.

Training of the prospective ambassadors
It’s the people who make the brand, so proper training of the City Hosts was more than useful. From the 540 applications (the aim was 500), 350 ambassadors were eventually selected (the aim was 300). The campaign apparently managed to effectively address the latent need of residents to ‘give the city something in return’. All the candidates completed a training programme at Hotelschool The Hague, covering subjects such as hospitality, the Customer Journey, and their own role. Apart from the training programme itself, the location was also important: the hospitable and professional environment of Hotelschool The Hague stimulated participants to exchange hospitality stories and experiences. The training sessions also proved a useful opportunity to get to know each other, and consequently formed a solid basis for future mutual cooperation.

The website proved to be an important brand manifestation for the recruitment of interested volunteers.

Brand Activation
An emotional beginning: the swearing in. After the successful completion of the selection rounds and the training sessions, the candidate participants really became ambassadors. To mark this occasion, a major event was organised: the official ‘swearing in’ of the more than 300 ambassadors at a beautiful location, the Louwman car museum. The swearing in of the ambassadors was performed by the Mayor, Jozias van Aartsen. All the ambassadors received proof of this as well as a training certificate from Hotelschool The Hague. The outfit was also presented on this occasion. Many ambassadors had themselves proudly photographed with the mayor, with the training certificate and the special rosette. These kinds of encounters and events, where the ambassadors are placed in the spotlight, are important for the success of the project. They reinforce the sense of recognition, of belonging, of making a useful contribution and of being in a position to help. The brand ‘Embassy of The Hague’ comes to life from within.

‘I declare that I, as a volunteer for the Embassy of The Hague, will contribute to a hospitable The Hague and will as such commit myself to The Hague events.’ (Photo: copyright Henriette Guest.)

Benefits Programme
It would be some months before the start of the Hockey World Championship, so we had to maintain the interest of these enthusiastic ambassadors until they could finally get to work. Another issue was how to ensure suitable appreciation and reward. For this purpose, a special Benefits Programme was developed to provide the ambassadors with all kinds of benefits, for example the opportunity to attend specific activities such as a guided tour of a museum, an instructive city tour, and free tickets for a football match or a concert. All these activities ensured the reinforcement of mutual cooperation and a better preparation.

At the same time there was a strong need for practical information such as: at which locations in the city will we be stationed during the Hockey World Championship? And what can we expect there? To deal with this need, several actions were taken, such as the publication of digital newsletters. An important step was the introduction of the ‘pop-up embassy’: a physical location of the ‘Embassy of The Hague’; a central and open meeting place where the project team was also frequently present. A number of ambassadors considered the opening hours too limited; they thought they should be able to drop by at any time.

Social media
During the hockey tournament, the ambassadors took a lot of photographs at all kinds of locations in the city. Photos, brief descriptions of experiences and tips were distributed via the social media Twitter and Facebook. This generated a great deal of inspiration and reinforced the mutual enthusiasm. This continuous reinforcement of the team spirit and sharing of hospitality experiences was very important, also to make sure that hospitality remained top of mind and top of heart. Only through this constant attention and exchange can a top hospitable encounter with the visitor be created.

On Facebook experiences and photos were shared with and by the ambassadors.

A survey showed that visitors highly appreciated the contact with the ambassadors. The visitors interviewed were very happy with the hospitality provided. The rating given by two thirds of them was 8 or higher, and by about half of them it was 9 or higher. This also applied to the contacts with the ambassadors who were given a score of 9 or higher by one third of the visitors. In addition, most visitors expressed great appreciation for the initiative to employ ambassadors, giving it a score of 9 or 10.

The future
On the basis of the success – a high score from both the visitors and the ambassadors themselves – the municipality of The Hague has decided to continue the programme. The ambassadors will in future be active on the occasion of some 25 events per year, at various locations in the city. The next great success was the reopening of the Mauritshuis on 18 June 2014. Ideas have been put forward to expand the brand ‘Embassy of The Hague’ to include all the organised volunteering related to tourism and hospitality, for example city guides and volunteers in museums. This could result in an even more powerful brand.

The ‘Top hospitality’ achieved by the municipality of The Hague with the ‘Embassy of The Hague’ brand has worked extremely well. It is a fine example of Brand Activation. The more than 300 ambassadors are well trained and motivated, and were very active in providing the visitors of the 2014 Hockey World Championship with a ‘wow feeling’. The internal branding directed at the volunteers, with all the preparatory activities and the training, was clearly fruitful. The pride in their city has been confirmed in the volunteers, as has the feeling of being an ‘ambassador’ of the city. This has also motivated them with regard to future events. Mapping the volunteers’ personas has proved very useful during the training sessions and the composition of the teams, and establishing the visitors’ personas and Customer Journeys has also turned out to be very functional as an important instrument in the activation of the brand. It is not so important that many visitors know and remember the brand ‘Embassy of The Hague’, but visitors from all over the world should have multiple associations of hospitality linked to their experience of the city of The Hague, and hopefully share these with those around them on their return home. This has made the brand ‘The Hague’ even stronger.

About the author

Jan Huizing

Jan Huizing is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy Management & Marketing and a Research Fellow at Hotelschool The Hague. He received his Masters degree in Business Administration from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (NL).  He has taken an active role in the development and implementation of the new curriculum; and in Hotelschool’s strategy development process. With a team of students he initiated Hotelschool’s first SlowFood conference ever. Before joining Hotelschool The Hague Mr Huizing held senior marketing and management positions in leading service and knowledge companies. He was a Project manager at Foundation JCI Water Toolkit and a Manager Expertise Centre at ADP Nederland BV.

As a marketing coordinator at ANWB (a leading provider of services in the areas of recreation, tourism and mobility) he helped the company to move towards a stronger commercial and customer-centred business orientation. His motivation is to create a dialogue and valuable interaction with customers and other stakeholders. Mr Huizing is honorary member of Junior Chamber International, a leading global network of young professionals and active citizens. His research interest includes strategic management, change processes, marketing, service design, city hospitality and customer journey experience.

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