“By working tirelessly over many meetings and months, GDS was able to advance a vision for the marketing of the region including logo, tagline, and marketing strategies accepted by the community and implemented.”

John Haig, Redevelopment Manager (Russian River) Sonoma County, California

“The GDS team refined the brand promise, crafted message points and delivered a visual design that beautifully communicates the essence of the brand. The entire process was very energizing for our organization.”

Lorene Palmer, Southeast Alaska Tourism Council

“Since 2008, Great Destination Strategies has been a valuable partner to Travel Oregon serving as program advisors and trainers for Oregon’s Rural Tourism Studio. They have proven to be insightful professionals willing to problem solve with us and present custom solutions for our destinations at every step of the way.”

Kristin Dahl, Senior Manager, Destination Development,Travel Oregon

“One of the finest attributes of GDS is the ability to balance their professional opinions with the thoughts and opinions of the residents, business owners, and City leaders. The professionals at GDS are knowledgeable, easy to work with, responsive, and delivered the product as scheduled.”

Andy Bauer, AICP, Director of Planning & Zoning, Gulf Shores, Alabama

“Principals John Kelsh and Mary Klugherz were quick studies on the community and readily grabbed the essence of our City. In short order they developed a brand that is extremely suitable to Grande Prairie.”

David Olinger, Manager of Marketing & Communications, City of Grande Prairie, Alberta



DESTINATION & COMMUNITY BRANDING – Getting on the map means being something special, different, and worth the trip. We help destinations discover and articulate the unique experiences they offer that create vibrant communities and attract visitors, investors and new residents.

Recent Projects


Sitka, Alaska – Strategic Branding, Product Development, Marketing & Wayfinding

Community Population: 9,000 plus cruise ship passenger visits

This small fishing community is situated on an enchanting oceanfront dotted with a myriad of small forested islands and dominated by a picturesque ancient volcano mountain. Labeled by Smithsonian Institution as the most charismatic town in Alaska, its residents are active in commercial and sport fishing, nature management and visual and performing arts. During the summer, cruise ships bring their passengers to Sitka’s doorstep, where they experience the nature and art that makes Sitka a special place – a world class raptor center, a bear refuge, exquisite native artifacts museums, classical and tribal live music performances, and much more. The brand is focused on “Where Art Meets Wild Alaska,” a delightful combination of the beauty of nature and its artistic interpretations by local artists and artisans.

Gulf Shores, Alabama – Strategic Branding, Marketing & Wayfinding

Community Population: 10,000
This beach community has been a popular tourism destination for many years, but had challenges recovering from hurricanes and the BP oil spill of 2010.  Extensive and in-depth research revealed that Gulf Shores competitive advantage compared to the many beach communities along the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast is its small town atmosphere and traditional beach experience prized by parents with small children and retired couples.  The real town that exists year round enhances this proposition.  The essence or heart of the brand is the laid back, natural beach community.  We are also developing a citywide wayfinding signage system.  

Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana – Strategic Branding, Marketing & Wayfinding

Parish Population:  112,000
Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana was heavily affected by the 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill, resulting in a damaged image of the region and a decrease in visitors. Research and analysis, revealed that the essence of the area lies in its extensive system of waterways and bayous, one of America’s most productive wetlands areas.  This geographic feature has shaped everything about the area, from its cultures and lifestyle to its recreational opportunities.  We defined this essence as “Louisiana’s Bayou Country,” which became the area’s tagline.  We are also developing a Parish-wide wayfinding signage system.

Russian River Resort Area - Branding, Marketing, Product Development & Wayfinding

Area Population:  5,000
This 100-year old Sonoma County resort area at the Russian River was losing many of its visitors to the developing destinations in other parts of Sonoma County, known the world over for its outstanding wine region.  The challenge was to find the elements that distinguished the Russian River area from the rest of Sonoma County, as well as nearby Napa Valley.  After conducting in-depth research in both the project area as well as with the key target markets, it was soon revealed that the one thing both the area residents and the markets valued and enjoyed the most about the area was the unique river and redwoods ambiance, and the rest and relaxation that this setting provides.  The brand concept focuses on the mood and healing characteristics of the redwood forest and river setting as a “sanctuary” for people seeking rest and relaxation.

Downtown Great Falls, Montana – NeighborWorks® Branding Plan

Area Population:  2,400 households
Sponsored by NeighborWorks® America and developed for NeighborWorks Great Falls, GDS prepared a brand and marketing plan for this downtown and residential area of Great Falls Montana. The plan outlines a neighborhood identity and marketing strategy that will provide a favorable awareness of the Great Falls Downtown Neighborhood to support NWGF’s initiatives to place existing house renters into their owned homes in the downtown area and to increase the ratio of home ownership overall in the neighborhood.

Southeast Alaska Tourism Conference

GDS has articulated for SATC a brand promise for independent visitors to Alaska's Inside Passage, and provided SATC with a variety of tools for the integration of the brand into regional products, services and marketing messages. Tools include a new visual identity (logo), verbal identity (tag line), Style Gulde, and Brand Tool Kit, including target audience messaging, an educational PowerPoint presentation, and brand adoption checklists.

Travel Oregon

GDS has worked for two years with TRAVEL OREGON's Rural Tourism Studio to develop and present community-based marketing workshops that assist local efforts in organizing, developing and marketing local visitor destinations. Communities include: Wallowa County, John Day River Territory, McKenzie, Oakridge, Southern Lincoln County.

Emirate of Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

GDS worked with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to develop a strategic approach for cultivating the  growing cruise industry activity in the Arabian Gulf. Strategies were explored for both visiting and homeported cruise ships, shore excursion development and cruise terminal development.

Contact: John Kelsh