Dr Justin Westgate – Masters research

My masters research, ‘Brand value: the work of ecolabelling and place-branding in New Zealand’, based in cultural geography and funded by a scholarship from the Ministry of Tourism, investigated intersections of place, sustainability, and branding, critically interrogating the application of corporate branding at the scale of the nation-state, focusing on the NZ situation.


New Zealand relies on a place-branding framed by ‘clean-green’ images. Tourism, now a key economic sector for the country, both relies on similar green credentials, as well acting to promote the country in a particular light. This research works to interrogate the intersection of tourism with both place and environmental branding. While previous research has investigated eco-tourism and the implications of eco-certification, this study considers implications for mainstream tourism. Given a perceived green framing of general tourism marketing, it works to understand the manifest support via industry engagement and brand objects. It investigates the deployment of ecolabels and their relation to wider New Zealand destination branding, as well as the particular geographical imaginaries mobilised. As well, it considers how subjectivities are framed via the particular tourism-related groups, and how the proposition of sustainability is enacted via projects within the tourism sector.

This research employs a critical post-structural analysis. It focuses attention on ‘geographical entanglement’ and understandings of how cultural ideas and objects ‘make’ place and are performed through active relational processes such as branding. Key strategic tourism projects are investigated in order to understand the deployment of key brand objects via place, tourism and environment, and the practices at work in their mobilisation and circulation, as well the enactment of production and consumption subjectivities. This investigation is grounded in an empirical case-study within the New Zealand tourism industry. Tourist operators and visitors are surveyed in two key tourism regions: Rotorua and Queenstown.

Findings show both a symbolic and structural entanglement between tourism and place projects, attesting to reflexive and evolving brand objects. These market-oriented objects also contentiously work to enact place as well as make particular subjectivities. Tourist visitors and operators support ideas of sustainability, however deployment at sites of tourism consumption could be further supported. Further, voluntary market deployment of sustainability initiatives may not be capable of pricing the full social and environmental costs, suggesting the need for greater market intervention. While the New Zealand tourism industry has enacted strategies to enhance sustainable operation, consistent government support is required more broadly via policies and implementation to attend to an increasingly challenged clean-and-green image of the country.

Download documents:

Research summary report (213KB PDF)

Full MA thesis (2.7MB PDF)