Despite being one of the world’s fastest-growing tourism destinations, Sri Lanka was lacking a compelling and unifying way of articulating its distinct identity and experience. We took on the challenge of defining what Sri Lanka stands for and why more people should visit.
A destination on a journey
Over the past 10 years, Sri Lanka has blossomed as a travel destination. With tourism as one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors, the nation registered 14 percent growth in arrivals in 2016—and Sri Lanka’s journey is just beginning.
While the country’s tourism industry is valued at US$3.5 billion, nearby markets like Thailand and Malaysia are still far ahead, valued at US$49 billion and US$18 billion, respectively. Landor’s task was twofold: to increase pace of growth and attract high-spending tourists. This required us to rely less on the sector’s organic growth and focus more on targeting the right audiences.
Our analysis revealed that only 8 percent of travelers, when asked about their future travel plans, spontaneously chose Sri Lanka as a destination. The majority of the country’s tourists were Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern, and only half of them opted for hotel accommodation.
These findings served as important evidence of the country’s low brand recognition, especially in markets further afield, such as Europe. We identified the root of this as the absence of a targeted positioning, which then led us to address a specific demographic.
We identified millennials as the group with the highest motivation and economic freedom to travel across markets. Strategically, this traveling cohort would ensure an increase in both traffic to Sri Lanka and the value perceptions of the destination. With this in mind, we focused on the need to attract these high-spending experience seekers through distinct accommodation and experience offerings.
One thing was without a doubt: current perceptions of Sri Lanka as a sun-sand-sea island getaway failed to promise a unique experience that differentiated it from the country’s competitive set.
Defining the distinctly Sri Lanka experience
As with all good holiday planning, we started by looking into what Sri Lanka has to offer. We gathered stories provided by Sri Lanka’s tourism centers and spoke to those who had recently visited.
The Sri Lankan narrative began to unravel. Unlike many holiday anecdotes, attempting to describe this country can be explained only within the context of Sri Lanka itself. The experiences are not extractable—they are born of the nation’s unique combination of culture, geography and people. In other words, Sri Lanka is without comparison.
With no word to accurately capture how people felt about Sri Lanka, it became clear that to force a singular adjective on it would be impossible. Unlike “Incredible India” or “Wonderful Indonesia,” Sri Lanka speaks for itself.
Our inspiration for the positioning emerged from the way we observed how tourists regularly talked about their experiences: “You know, it was just so Sri Lanka,” and the way others, who had also been there, nodded in agreement, as if in on a secret.
“So Sri Lanka” then became a clear, intuitive indicator that could not better describe all that this special country encompasses. The reality is that you just have to be there to understand it.
An identity like no other
Our visual identity captures the rare, authentic and diverse aspects of the country. Inspired by the landscape, the enlarged, layered “O” has a triple function: It represents a world of attractions waiting to be experienced; it serves as a window to reveal the wonders of Sri Lanka at different places and moments; and it encourages people to put verbal emphasis on the “so” (reflecting a conversational tone).
Ready for the next step on the journey
Our work launched in November 2018 at the World Trade Market, London’s prestigious international travel trade show.
Madubhani Perera, director of marketing for Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said, “There has never been a better time for a rebrand. Sri Lanka has just been named the Lonely Planet’s Number One Destination for 2019. For us “So Sri Lanka” symbolizes our evolution with the digital revolution. The modern traveler goes online to seek inspiration and to find the next life-changing travel experience. “So Sri Lanka” helps us evoke the inimitable feeling of our beautiful, vibrant, authentic and generous country through the smartphones of potential travelers.”