Can you sell a country like you sell a Coca-Cola?

Conflict-torn countries rebrand themselves as top-shelf travel destinations by courting airlines, influencers, and filmmakers -- and, of course, spending big on marketing.

November 26, 2019

Colombia, Rwanda, and Croatia have seen major tragedy in the past couple decades. 

They’ve since rebounded to become bucket-list travel destinations. As The New York Times reports, their success can provide a rebranding playbook for other countries overcoming upheaval. 

Marketers took some interesting approaches

Colombia highlighted its geographical diversity, which includes beaches, rainforests, and mountains. Marketers didn’t shy away from what they knew people were saying. A 2008 advertising tagline informed potential visitors: “el riesgo es que te quieras quedar” — “the risk is that you’ll want to stay.”

Rwanda also capitalized on its natural wonders, particularly its gorillas. Last year Portia de Rossi took Ellen DeGeneres on a birthday tour of Africa that included a visit to a facility named for DeGeneres that is being built at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. 

Naturally, the trip was well-documented by the power couple, who command a combined 80m Instagram followers. Influencer marketing at its finest. 

Croatia, meanwhile, improved its accessibility — perhaps too much. Visitors once had to go to Italy, Austria, or Hungary before hopping a train or ferry into the country. Later, connecting flights from European hubs made travel easier, and this year American Airlines introduced a direct flight from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik. That the country boasts miles of beach along the Adriatic Sea doesn’t hurt. Neither does the fact that “Game of Thrones” shot many of its iconic scenes there.

So, where are they now?

In 2017, Colombia welcomed 3m+ visitors, and Rwanda saw tourism total 1.5m travelers. In 2018, 19.7m people visited Croatia.

Other countries are taking note. Sierra Leone, which suffered an Ebola outbreak in 2014, hopes tourists will come to celebrate its chimpanzee population

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