Panama’s New Tourism Campaign Treats Remoteness as an Asset

The effort targets adventure-seeking travelers

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Panama is not for those seeking an all-inclusive, off-the-rack travel experience. The tiny country is remote, often hard to get to, and usually eclipsed in popularity as a travel destination by neighboring Costa Rica. In its first advertising campaign aimed at American and Canadian visitors, the Panama Tourism Authority turned these factors into an asset.

The new campaign, “Not for Tourists,” created with agency VML, is aimed at adventure travelers, showcasing the country’s lush rainforests, rugged mountains and untamed jungle.

“It’s always best when you’re honest about what you have and make the most of it,” said Sean Burns, executive creative director at VML. “Panama is for those who don’t want the generic experience. All of the waterfalls and beauty of Costa Rica and Mexico are there, but it’s not handed to you.”

Videos, like “Swim Up,” have voiceover that states, “OK, Cancun, we see your swim-up bar and raise you a swim-up village.” The “Face Paint” video has a native tribesman pondering how his face paint will “blow up his Instagram feed.”

“We’re surprising audiences with experiences unique to Panama,” said Panamanian tourist minister Gustavo Him. “This opens our door for international audiences to see who we are, what we have and what you can do here. It shares our story honestly and leaves the traveler curious.”

Showing that Panama is a place for trailblazers will help the destination stand out, according to Burns.

“It’s a tiny country, with a tiny budget, so we had to be louder,” he said. “We have to put a stake in the ground to compete against Costa Rica, which is the darling of the internet. We’re trying to appeal to people’s passions and strike a chord with people’s unique interests. It’s a campaign that tells the truth.”

@ChristineBirkne Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.