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Successful Brands Evoke Mental Images And Perceived Experiences

Consumers choosing tourist destinations buy not only an image but also an emotional relationship


June 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Any analysis of successful brands will reveal one common trait—they all have a clearly defined core personality or purpose.

This concept of branding also applies to tourist destinations. The most successful of these have so indelibly impressed their brand that the mere mention of their name evokes specific mental images and perceived experiences.

Anguilla, for example, promotes a tranquil Caribbean getaway. Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Nevis, and the Turks & Caicos Islands clearly emphasize nature.

To be a famous destination brand, experts say, a Caribbean island needs to be more than the sum of its products. It needs to find that unique trait which distinguishes it from all other destinations in the world.

The brand mission is simple: Capture the essence of the destination’s experience and its effect on the visitor/consumer.

However, destination branding is difficult because tourism (and its related industries) is a composite product, with many components, including accommodation, transportation, catering establishments, attractions, arts, entertainment, and the natural environment.

"We changed our slogan a couple of times, and when we looked back to see where we were going, we noticed that Aruba had changed," said Marcial Ibarras, Aruba’s marketing director for North America. "We marketed Aruba 15 years ago as a laid-back, sleepy island because we had only 2,300 rooms at that time. When more rooms were added, we noticed the effort didn’t have the lift we wanted."

Aruba’s slogan, Where Happiness Lives, has been running for five years. It used to be One Happy Island and An Island of Your Own.

"We made a couple of mistakes with our slogans, but we fixed it after research," Ibarras said. "We’ve gone from 2,400 rooms to 7,000 rooms, and we had to adapt the message we were portraying."

When asked about the role of politics in deciding tourism campaigns, Ibarras responded, "It’s not as bad [in Aruba] as on other islands."

"The hotel association is very vocal and puts a lot of money into the campaigns; as a result, the government listens," Ibarras said. "We all have one common goal—what’s best for the island."

Over the years, the Bahamas have been consistent in branding their multiple personalities, destinations, and experiences.

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, director general for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, says the island’s slogan, It Just Keeps Getting Better, is based on the Bahamas’ infrastructure and experience.

"Before, the Bahamas’ slogan was It’s Better in the Bahamas, but It Just Keeps Getting Better is more proactive," Vanderpool-Wallace said. "It’s an evolutionary statement that could grow."

The Bahamas conducted research and implemented various marketing tools to sum up the essence of their brand.

"In the last eight years, more rooms were added and the quantity & quality of the experience grew," Vanderpool-Wallace said. "People are comfortable with what is familiar to them; that’s why there should be continuity, because there is a lot of value in a brand."

Steven Weinstein, account supervisor for the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) at Ogilvy & Maither, pointed out that the Department of Tourism hired the agency after the slogan had been changed several times.

"The America’s Caribbean slogan, which has been running for the past three years, is timely and appropriate," explained Weinstein. "We did research and found out that people didn’t know where the USVI were; they only knew they were past Florida, and they didn’t even know if they were in the Caribbean. The slogan relays the message that the USVI are part of the Caribbean as well as part of the U.S."

Most destinations have a unique selling opportunity that can be translated into a unique selling proposition. The USVI, for example, are a sun, surf and sand destination that is physically identical to the British Virgin Islands which are 40 nautical miles away. Yet, because the USVI’s biggest market is the U.S. mainland, the destination has something on which to build a unique proposition, experts say.

Marketers can advertise the concept that U.S. visitors can have the exotic experience of a natural paradise, yet with the comfort and security of visiting somewhere where everyone speaks their language and uses their currency.

Weinstein noted, however, that the USVI are freshening their look and creative tone. "There has been a shift in the American value, and we need to change the tone and look of the advertising campaign to address that," he said. "What it stands for has not changed. The USVI are beyond sun, sand, and surf. We are leveraging what the islands have to offer and creating an identity for each as a complete destination."

In the end, when consumers choose a brand of products, including tourism services and tourist destinations, they are making lifestyle statements. They are trying to buy not only an image but an emotional relationship as well.

Destination Tourist arrivals Expenditures Number of rooms Tourism budget
Anguilla 43,800 $56.8 million 1,067 $819,000
Aruba 721,200 $837.2 million 7,500 $17.8 million
Bahamas 1.6 million $1.8 billion 13,824 $54 million
British V.I. 281,100 $315.1 million 1,637 $4.1 million
D.R. 3 million $2.9 billion 51,916 N/A
Jamaica 1.3 million $1.3 billion 23,640 $27 million
Puerto Rico 4.5 million $2.4 billion 11,928 $78 million
USVI 607,200 $1.1 billion 4,997 $11.9 million

Sources: Caribbean Tourism Organization and National Tourism Organizations.

All statistics are for FY 2000, and total tourism budgets do not include promotional expenditures by the private sector. Some of these destinations include cruise ship arrivals in the total number of tourist arrivals.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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