THIS last week, it has been announced that Salisbury is to take part in a rebranding exercise in the wake of the Skripal Poisonings earlier in the year. It is a decision that has not been universally welcomed. A quick trawl of the comments to the Journal piece online has seen a wave of criticism: ‘marketing hype’, ‘a waste of money’, ‘we don’t need rebranding’ and so forth.

As with many things in life, it is far easier to sit back and make snap judgments than to engage. Last week, I took part in one of the workshops that had been set up as part of the process. I too had my doubts before I went in, but it turned out to be a really interesting couple of hours.

The consultancy chosen, Heavenly, is well versed in place promotion. Two of the campaigns they have worked on previously involved promoting Wales following the Sea Empress oil spill in Pembrokeshire in 1996, and the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001. In both cases, tourism dropped sharply: after Foot and Mouth, there were parts of the Welsh countryside where visitor numbers fell to just 10 per cent of previous levels. But what was encouraging to hear, as the consultants discussed their campaigns, was the ability of tourism to bounce back.

Heavenly’s approach feels far subtler than the online criticisms suggest. It is about listening to local people – public consultation is part of the scheme – and learning what makes Salisbury tick. It is about working out what makes the city unique as a place to visit and live – and to suggest ways to promote that. A shiny new slogan won’t solve our problems: but experienced advice on the way to bring tourism back might.

Certainly, it is advice the city needs. Numbers across the board in terms of visitors and footfall remain down. Looking at the ticket sales for this year’s Salisbury Literary Festival, I remain hugely grateful to those Salisbury residents who have supported us, but am aware, too, that attracting those outside the city continues to be a real challenge.

There is plenty of evidence that branding campaigns work. One of the most successful was the 2004 ‘I Am Amsterdam’ campaign. Back then, tourism to the city was falling, with the city gaining a sex and drugs notoriety that was dragging its reputation down. Since then, the city’s fortunes have been transformed and is now one of the most popular destinations in Europe.

Ultimately, it is the local population which shapes a place’s direction – ‘People Make Glasgow’ is the current canny slogan for the Scottish city. People can make Salisbury too – but that comes through getting involved, rather than sniping from the sidelines.