The Cuba brand, what it means for destinations

Destination brands should beware, Cuba is coming

It has been years since the bottom fell out of the destination and tourism industry, (Read some thoughts on the destination/tourism market here.) But many are hopeful that prospects are looking up, especially with renewed interest in the Cuba brand. However, the brand of Cuba introduces a fear for the other tourism brands, constantly fighting to attract tourists without any long-term solution as a new and more enticing destination enters into the category.

Destination Brands. CubaThe seemingly never-ending struggle is overcome by building individual brands that are more about the tourist than about the destination. Historically, that’s not been the case.

Instead, the tourism brands marketing themselves about the type of destination, exploring the benefits of visiting a tropical destination or one in the Far East, etc.

Destinations typically market category.

In tropical destinations, for example, marketing dollars are lavishly spent enticing the potential visitor with visions of romance, white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

So, if you bought into that as a tourist, you bought into the idea of traveling to a tropical destination. But you haven’t really made a decision. You’ve only picked your considered set of destinations. How can you differentiate one destination from another? It’s not as if no other island or resort has sky, water, white (or pink or black) sandy beaches and friendly natives. Destinations are not creating brands to inspire true preference among the considered set. They’re just motivating preference between considered sets. They are creating preference for tropical destinations over, let’s say, adventure and wildlife destinations, such as Alaska.

The Cuba brand

Cuba brandProof of this lack of brand identity is found in the numbers. With a few exceptions, market share mirrors share of voice. The one that spends the most money gets the largest market share. But from a stealing share perspective, you don’t outspend the competition to increase market share. You develop a brand positioned against your competition. And aligned with customer values so that customers naturally covet your destination brand.

CastroNow there’s a new problem for destination brands: Cuba. The lifting of the U.S. travel embargo to Cuba means the Cuba brand will quickly jump to number one in tourism traffic. It will come at the expense of the rest of the category. So few destinations have a brand. The Cuba brand has great meaning. It represents “forbidden fruit.” Cuban tourists will feel special. They will set a trend by being among the first to visit the exotic locale.

Cuba has brand advantages.

A destination brand built to steal market share is not found in the beaches, coral reefs, or local culture. Stealing share capabilities reside in the hearts of the customers of the competition. Take the Cuba brand, for example. The ”forbidden fruit” and “the first to visit” attractions have nothing to do with the amenities of the country itself. Visitors to Cuba will expect the same marketing promises: exotic food, white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and interesting culture. But they will travel to Cuba because being a Cuban visitor says more about them as a traveler than going to any other tropical destination.

stock-footage-flag-of-bahamasTourism branding is always about your customer and not about you (the destination). On too many occasions, destinations claim all sorts of amenities they believe are important. Puerto Rico claims to be close. The Virgin Islands claim to be “ours” (as in, part of the United States). But our research indicates the consumer does not care for those claims. Puerto Rico may be close. But it’s not that much closer to us through the air than Jamaica or Cuba.


Destination Brands. CubaConsider this: Hawaii is first in top-of-mind awareness among U.S. travelers. But it’s not at the top in the number of U.S. visitors. Hawaii would not have to increase their marketing budget to steal share,if it had a brand that said something meaningful about who the tourist is when they visit there.

Tropical destinations can rest easy knowing that their advertising does not have to say, “Come here to swim. We have beaches, sun and alcohol.” Understand you are not telling your target audiences anything new. Few other industries have category benefits that are so well known. With tourists beginning to travel more and with the threat of Cuba brand, it’s time for destinations to build brands around the tourists and stealing share.

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