The travel industry has a problem with clichés in its marketing materials. Some of that is a necessary evil—communicating aspects of your geography and accommodations to potential visitors is a key part of getting them to visit in the first place. It’s just one aspect of a frustratingly complex issue; there’s a reliance on landscape imagery to communicate visitor experience, a tendency to play into preconceived notions that visitors have about have about a region, and a limited perspective when it comes to what visitors should do during their stay. The problems leads destinations to spend a fortune focusing on features that make them indistinguishable from their competitors.
Belize was suffering from the sea of sameness that dominated marketing materials for Caribbean destinations, featuring beaches, palm trees and cookie-cutter resort imagery. That wasn’t false advertising—Belize certainly has those things—but when competing with destinations in Jamaica and Mexico, it was clear who the big players were. It led to visitors being dissatisfied with their travel experience, feeling as though they didn’t receive what was promised by the glossy brochures.
It started by taking a human-centric approach. We talked with visitors, ate at roadside barbecue stands and went fishing with locals. During our travels and conversations, we uncovered the truth of the country: Belize wasn’t a place for tourists, but for travelers. It was more for people who wanted a one-of-a- kind experience, less for those who wanted to be pampered at a manicured resort.
We completely redesigned Belize’s visual identity, making it more authentic and true to the country. For the logo, we pulled the colors, shapes and hand-painted letters from the countryside itself. We got rid of the tropical drinks, the couples on the beach, the poolside massages. We replaced them with schools of tropical fish and ancient, overgrown temples. It was a refreshing about-face from where the brand was headed, but we realized we could take our people-first approach even further.
The country of Belize, reimagined.
Belize needed a refresh, bad. After twenty-six years, the country's logo had finally run its course, appearing stale and outdated. We worked with Studio MPLS for a complete rebranding. The final result of this collaboration was nothing short of exhilarating.
“In all, the identity brings a contemporary, yet classic vibe to represent tourism in Belize.” — AdAge
Discover How To Be
Making Belize a regional standout began with a change in how the nation portrayed itself. We spoke directly to adventurous travelers that wanted a perspective shift with a new tagline: “Discover How to Be.” We shifted the visual approach, authentically portraying the natural sights and sounds of the country.
A Curious Place
As it grew, “Discover How to Be” became so effective that it was copied by other destinations in the region, prompting us to pivot slightly with a new slogan: “A Curious Place.” Where old marketing materials had relegated the native peoples of Belize to servant roles, we zoomed in and told the stories that make the nation what it is, leaning into a portrayal that other Caribbean destinations couldn’t match. Supported by four video spots and a host of digital banners and print ads,
“A Curious Place” makes the comparison between Belize and other Caribbean destinations as striking and distinct as the Belizeans it features.
The truth of Belize was at odds with all their marketing materials because the country doesn’t cater to high-end resort expectations the way that other Caribbean destinations do.
The economy is less service-based and more agrarian, there’s no veil between the attractions and the local culture, and there’s a “go at your own pace” relaxedness that can rankle visitors who want timetables and strict schedules. The budgets aren’t big and the buildings aren’t richly appointed.
It’s a multicultural, jungle-covered jewel of the Caribbean. There are Mayan temples to marvel at, a reef to explore, and boisterous roadhouses playing punta music through the night and into the morning. It's not uncommon to see a Macaw or monkey perching outside your window. It's a far cry from a place like Cancun, where you can hop off a jet-ski and waltz directly into a Louis Vuitton store. Going to an all inclusive resort is a vacation; going to Belize is an adventure.
It’s not uncommon to see a macaw or a monkey perching outside of your window. It’s a far cry from a place like Cancun, where you can hop off of a jet-ski and waltz directly into a Louis Vuitton store. Going to a Sandals resort is a vacation; going to Belize is an adventure.
“A Curious Place” taps into the adventurous nature of the Belize visitor, someone that’s looking for an experience removed from the artifice of an upscale resort. For this evolution of the campaign, we used a series of pre-roll videos to zoom in on the unforgettable characters of Belize. We took a micro view of Belize and its people, from the cacao farmer that’s upholding a centuries-old tradition to the dancers eager to show off their frantic footwork.
The videos were supported by banners, print ads and media installations created to spark curiosity in potential travelers.
As the Belize tourism industry has grown,its website needed to be limber enough to accommodate the shifting needs of visitors
as well as the BTB staff and partners. The content management system (CMS) for Belize’s revamped digital experience had three main requirements: It had to be simple for authorto use with minimal or no training, it had to be cost-effective, and it had to be able to grow to accommodate future functionality.
This made Drupal a perfect fit for the BTB’s digital needs. The approachable cost frees up budget for innovation and additional features.
Also, Drupal’s simple interface provides a faster time to market and exhibits a large support base via community-contributed modules. Because it’s not tied to a proprietary CMS, the platform also offers maximum flexibility.
With the ultimate goal of the site being an engaging, emotional connection between the traveler and Belize as a destination, it was paramount to provide refreshed content and design—a task that can prove challenging with so many contributors outside of the organization having no formal training in using a CMS. Drupal eased this process with a workflow for approving partner-added content. BTB’s team receives an email whenever new content is added, requiring approval for the additions before they’re published to the live site. With this, BTB can offer travelers specialized, relevant information to plan the finer details of their adventure.
The result made the purchase and planning process easier for visitors while allowing for a visual and content overhaul. And, by allowing Belizeans, the BTB and other stakeholders to add relevant content with few barriers (including cost), it fostered the same sense of empowerment and community pride that came to life in our campaign.
Earned Media and Right-Time Engagement:
Following the murder of an American ex-pat, a construction debacle over a Maya pyramid and use of “sending them on a trip to Belize” as a euphemism for gangland executions on hit show Breaking Bad, Belize was having a run of exceedingly bad press in 2013. The image conjured up in the media made Belize out to be foreign, remote and dangerous. It didn’t look like the kind of place that we knew, full of breathtaking tropical sights and generous, loving locals.
We reached out to the cast of Breaking Bad after the episode that (disparagingly) mentioned Belize, inviting the Emmy-award winning ensemble to visit. Taking a playful approach, we lightly slapped their hand for the nature of the mention, but also took the time to explain why Belize was the kind of place where they could unwind after a busy production schedule. None of the cast members took us up on the offer, but our gutsy move earned us a write-up in a variety of high-profile publications, including The New York Times, AdWeek, Slate, Complex, Business Insider, Yahoo!, and Vanity Fair. It was a validation of our Right-Time Engagement strategy, where we turn pop culture and social references into opportunities for an extra share of voice—and it uses very few dollars to do it.
In 2016, we would use the same strategy to invite the most decorated female athlete of the 2016 Rio Olympics back to Belize for a relaxing post-competition vacation. When gold-medal- winning American gymnast Simone Biles took to social media to talk about her love for Belize and the deep cultural roots she has there, it was a zeitgeist-capturing moment for the Belize Tourism Board.
We reached out to Biles and offered a trip to Belize for her and the entire U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Unlike the team from Breaking Bad, the Olympians took us up on the offer and saturated their social media feeds with the Belize that we found in our research— beautiful, welcoming and unspoiled. With coverage from The New York Times, CNN, Time and NBC, Belize experienced a lift in public sentiment for little more than the cost of a few plane tickets.
Airline Partners and Activations
Speaking of plane tickets, when we began working with Belize in 2010, there were only a handful of airlines that made their way to the single Belizean airport. We knew that the work we had put into the country’s rebrand would be wasted if travelers found it too difficult to get there.
We used connections in Aviation to help support the Belize Tourism Board with major airlines that didn’t yet travel to Belize.
By showing them that interest in Belize was based on the country’s unique aspects, we were able to make the argument that years of airline data wasn’t showing the big picture—it was the region’s potential that signaled the opportunity for growth in partner airlines.
Our plan worked: Southwest Airlines, WestJet, Copa Air and Air Canada all opened new routes to Belize. Though we had won a significant victory by expanding the number of visitors that could reach Belize, we needed to raise public awareness.
As any long project goes, there are so many people that worked on this beautiful holistic account, ill try and give credit where credit is due. If I missed anyone, my sincere apologies.
GCD: David Fiedler
Photographer: John Haynes
Photo Producer: Christopher Grimes