The 13th smallest country in the world has developed a novel way to address the challenges posed by the mass tourism on which it depends for most of its income.

With international tourism a $1 trillion business and more than 1 billion people travelling every year, Palau in the western Pacific is far from being the only country affected; Thailand, for example, had to indefinitely close Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh island, made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, after the coral was damaged by the onslaught of tourists.

But Palau, facing similar problems, generates 85% of its GDP from tourism, with many coming from Japan, China and South Korea, so such drastic action is not an option.

Speaking at the recent Mumbrella MSIX conference, Laura Aldington, CEO at Host/Havas, outlined the quandary: “How could Palau possibly hope to tackle a problem of this scale when tourists coming into the country outnumber [locals] by eight to one?”

“Anything that felt like we’re wagging our fingers at tourists, or worse, threatening them in any way, just wouldn’t have the support of the people of Palau and the many stakeholders that would be required to get on board with something that was going to make meaningful change,” she explained.

The answer was to appeal to the environmental consciousness that visitors professed in order to encourage better behaviour. (For more, read WARC’s report: How the Palau Pledge effected true behavioural change.)

The Palau Pledge used people’s passports to personally connect with them and communicate a message of conservation. Seamus Higgins, Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas, described this as “the world’s first enviro-pledge – stamped into the passports of every single visitor that goes to Palau”.

That sounds simple enough but it meant changing the immigration process. “They literally cannot enter the country without signing, personally, to promise to behave better to protect the country,” he said.

An animated film telling the story of a giant that comes to visit Palau is shown on all incoming flights to Palau. “It’s a simple little story that sets up the scene so when you go through customs, you know why you’re going to sign the pledge,” said Higgins.

Not only did this campaign generate $1.7bn worth of earned media impressions in four weeks, 65% of people questioned in exit interviews said that they had used the pledge to challenge the behaviour of other tourists.

Sourced from WARC