Palau is the world’s 13th smallest nation. But in a country where tourists outnumber the population by eight to one, there is a danger of Palau’s famously pristine environment succumbing to ecological disaster. So a group of volunteers teamed up with Palau’s First Lady, Debbie Remengesau, to create the Palau Legacy Project [PLP].
Together with Host Havas, they would create a convention-busting campaign to commit every visitor to look after the local environment and culture: The Palau Pledge.
In 2015 new tourist routes created a huge upsurge in tourist numbers to Palau. As this happened, the PLP saw first-hand that the infrastructure wasn’t set up to handle that many visitors: drinking water was limited and sanitation ill-equipped for such numbers.
Tourism made up to 85% of the country’s GDP, so it was important to maintain the industry, but it needed to be more sustainable. So the PLP approached Host Havas to help them change the behaviour of the 160,000 annual tourists to the island nation.
Host Havas ECD Seamus Higgins was the lead on the project. He claims the success of the Palau Pledge comes back to the unusual nature of the brief. “It’s something that doesn’t really fit within the normal realms of advertising, but that’s because it wasn’t a normal brief at all – it was a genuine problem that needed solving with creative thinking.”
With this unusual brief in hand, Havas set to work researching their target market of tourists, primarily from China, South Korea and Japan.
It became clear that there were vastly different cultural approaches to travelling between these nations. But the team realised that the common ground was to appeal to tourists’ humanity: “Our starting point was that we need to change people’s behaviour. To do that we had to make a genuine human connection with them,” explains Higgins, “We had to make sure that whatever we did, every single tourist would be forced to make that connection.”
They came up with the concept of ‘for those who follow’; by asking visitors to do something for Palau’s children, they ensured the emotional, human cut-through they wanted. Higgins explains, “Suddenly it became very human. Nobody could deny wanting to leave a better world for our children. That’s shared in every single culture.”
They set about looking at elements of institutional architecture that could be used. They considered using the nation’s currency, as was leveraging the name of the country itself, but eventually the act of passing through customs won out. It would ensure that no tourist could enter Palau without encountering the campaign.