Inside Fiji's award-winning place marketing campaign, ‘Where Happiness Comes Naturally’

Fiji’s stunning landscape has never been in question – but you need more than beautiful beaches to stand out from the crowd in an era of overwhelming competition for attention. Recognising that tourists were looking for more authentic travel experiences and that the Fijian need for storytelling was deeply rooted in their culture, Tourism Fiji set out to overhaul their strategy – and in the process, were named winners at the City Nation Place Awards for their efforts.

We reached out to Srishti Narayan, Chief Marketing Officer for Tourism Fiji, to understand how the team transformed their positioning for the island, what it took to bring their stakeholders along, and what their best advice is for other places looking to showcase their own cultural heritage in their marketing strategies.

Firstly, well done to the whole team on winning one of the 2023 City Nation Place Awards! How does it feel to have won Best Communication Strategy – Tourism?

We are overjoyed with the news of winning the 2023 City Nation Place Award for Best Communication Strategy – Tourism. This recognition is a reassurance of our strategy and creativity. Being acknowledged for our efforts in showcasing Fiji as a premier tourist destination by leading with our culture fills us with immense pride, as this is what we work towards every day. It's a shared success made possible by the passion and commitment of everyone involved.

Can you talk us through the development of your new positioning, ‘Where Happiness Comes Naturally?’

Over the past decade, Fiji has been marketed as a convenient family getaway, epitomized by the slogan 'Where Happiness Finds You.' However, after the impact of the pandemic, and recognizing the evolving preferences of travellers towards more authentic and meaningful experiences, we knew it was time for a strategic shift. Mere portrayal of Fiji as an idyllic island destination was no longer sufficient.

Our challenge was to persuade authenticity-seeking travellers that Fiji is more than a superficial "flop and drop" destination. We aimed to showcase the multifaceted nature of Fiji, debunking stereotypes, and emphasising the genuine, authentic experiences available beyond the typical resort setting.

Our journey involved redefining happiness – which we have in abundance, as shown by our rankings in global happiness surveys - within the Fijian context and amplifying the cultural richness that our nation offers. 'Where Happiness Comes Naturally' encapsulates this evolution by showing that in Fiji happiness doesn’t find you, but exists already as the result of a deep local culture that values family, sharing, respect for nature and connection. Our new brand platform invites travellers to discover the authentic, diverse, and naturally joyful experiences Fiji has to offer, and the culture that brings those experiences to life.

Given your experience, what advice would you give to other places that were looking to showcase their cultural depth in their marketing?

For us at Tourism Fiji, it's all about simplicity, authenticity, and that raw charm that sets us apart. We identified what was unique about our culture by truly understanding the identity of our destination and embracing everyday traditions that make Fiji special. Engaging directly with locals ensures an authentic portrayal, reflecting their pride and way of life.

Our storytelling focuses on compelling narratives that emotionally resonate, whether it's about local craftsmanship, the daily experiences of our community, or interacting with our visitors. We believe in diversifying experiences beyond the usual, offering adventures and hands-on workshops to showcase the rich tapestry of Fiji's culture.

Promoting responsible tourism via environmental and cultural sustainability is integral to our strategy. We emphasize respect for customs and strive to make positive contributions to our communities. Keeping our marketing both simple and impactful, we leverage traditional and digital channels to reach a wider audience.

We also encourage immersive experiences like homestays and local tours, allowing visitors to truly engage with our culture. Seeking feedback is crucial to refining our approach, ensuring it remains warm, genuine, and resonant with travellers.

What was the key to bringing your new positioning to life in your design?

Cultural respect, leaning on our expert partners, and stakeholder involvement.

Our journey began with a global request for proposals, resulting in the selection of Host/Havas through a thorough, multi-stage process. Understanding Fiji and its people was paramount, leading to a core team's immersive experience in Fiji — visiting villages, schools, cities, and engaging with Fijians from diverse backgrounds. While primarily targeting core global markets, extensive stakeholder involvement ensured an authentic representation of Fijian culture. This included consultations with the Tourism Fiji Board, Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, internal teams, and consumers for initial research.

The key insight emerging during these engagements was that happiness is not something Fijians turn on for tourists, but an outcome of Fijian culture developed over generations. This realisation gave birth to our new positioning: Fiji, Where Happiness Comes Naturally.

In order to represent this new positioning in the most impactful way visually we leant on local artisans (for example in the design of our new logo), created a new set of brand guidelines utilising traditional Fijian motifs and a tone of voice inspired by Fiji, developed a new imagery and film assets utilising a more natural, dynamic photography/filming style, and ensured our people and culture were always heroed.

What has been the response from your local citizens to the campaign? Do you have any advice for others who are looking to bring their community with them on the development of a new place brand positioning?

The response to the new campaign has been absolutely heartwarming! Whether it's across the seas or right here at home, our brand has been welcomed with open arms and vibrant excitement. Our community didn't just embrace it; they're actively sharing the new pictures that beautifully capture Fiji's local faces, our culture, the untouched beauty of our natural surroundings, and those moments of genuine joy. This brand isn't just a symbol; it's a true reflection of us, growing right from the heart of Fiji.

You can feel the pride in the air, and it's not just among us—it goes all the way up to our leaders. Even our Minister couldn't help but share the brand images on his socials. It's a real, genuine excitement that shows how deeply our local leaders connect with this brand.

Brand development also included a comprehensive local strategy, which involved running regular webinars with industry partners to keep them updated on progress, and sharing a brand toolkit, including the new logo, key messages, and social assets, at the launch of the strategy. This facilitated consistent messaging alignment and broader dissemination of Fiji’s new image.

For those diving into the journey of crafting a new place brand, here's our advice: make your community a part of it from the very start. Listen to their stories, let them shape the identity, and ensure the brand is a collective expression of who you are. A brand that speaks to the heart of the community won't just be a hit at home; it'll carry that warmth and authenticity to the corners of the globe. It’s also imperative to enable your creative partners to execute effectively. When there are lots of stakeholders involved it can be easy to dilute the creative direction, so it’s important to be singular in your vision, get your stakeholders on board, and then let the experts do their job.

What does success look like for this new strategy, and how are you measuring that?

Success looks like increased engagement with our digital channels, improved perceptions of and interest in brand Fiji, and on the ground visitor arrivals and tourism revenue. We measure this via digital and campaign metrics, brand tracking and arrivals data.

We’re really thrilled with the performance of the new brand positioning so far. After 11 months in market our launch campaign has delivered almost 730,000 clicks to our website, and an average global reach of almost 4 million people each quarter. We have also seen an increase in average time spent on our site, and associated leads through to operators and partners. We have also seen an increase in brand awareness and positive impressions from 2021 to 2023.

Since the campaign launched at the start of 2023, our visitor arrival numbers have tracked higher than pre-COVID for seven out nine months (that we have data for so far this year). Although visitor arrivals are the result of incredibly hard work across the entire industry, the numbers indicate that the brand campaign has made a significant and positive contribution.

Looking ahead, our focus will be on growing share of voice via high impact media, PR, partnerships, and events, maximizing our digital engagement, evolving strategies based on the needs of different markets and continuing to lead with our culture.

Thank you for sharing that, Srishti. We look forward to seeing what you do next!

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.