Purpose: This study adopts the multi-step model developed by Avraham and Ketter (2008), for altering place images, based on past academic literature on destination marketing. The purpose of this study is to determine the state of Fukushima’s sake breweries before and after 2011, and its strategies for overcoming negative images and strengthening regional branding. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven sake breweries in Fukushima. Design/methodology/approach: Fukushima Prefecture, located in northern Japan, is renowned for its hot springs, lakes, historical architecture, gastronomy, and particularly its sake (or Japanese rice wine). However, pre-existing problems such as the prefecture’s changing demographics and economic development, the effects of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) and fears of radioactive contamination have made consumers reluctant to consume products from the region or to visit the prefecture. This study illustrates how various sake brewery stakeholders have sought to reverse and alter negative images associated with the prefecture. To examine these initiatives, this study uses the multi-step destination marketing and counter-branding model to identify the strategies and techniques used by the stakeholders, with the aim of altering the way the prefecture is perceived and reversing the negative image people may have of the prefecture. To acquire data for this model, this study uses semi-structured interviews conducted in 2018 and 2020 with local sake breweries, tourism associations and the local government on how they sought to retore a positive image of the prefecture and rebrand it into a new type of tourism destination that focuses on the strengths of its breweries. Findings: The results indicate that through a combination of collaboration between the breweries, local government and the local communities, the sake breweries were able to reverse many of the negative effects of the 2011 GEJE. The success of the sake industry has prompted the local government to focus more strongly on tourism marketing that places sake products and breweries at the center of its campaign to promote the region. Research limitations/implications: While this paper focuses on the recovery of breweries, it does not include the recovery of wineries in Fukushima, which have made similar progress in their recovery. In addition, the interviews focused primarily on the perspectives of the suppliers and not the consumers. Practical implications: The results of this research can help guide other destinations undergoing prolonged association with negative images on the path toward image recovery. In particular, this paper highlights the importance of a coordinated strategy by all stakeholders, the local government, businesses and communities, to create a united image and response for addressing the causes of these image problems and to create new opportunities for all stakeholders. Originality/value: This research contributes to the field of image restoration, which combines theories regarding destination marketing and crisis management. Also, the research highlights the importance of collective stakeholder mobilization when attempting to help communities that are facing economic and tourism crises.
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