The newly formed “Vanilla Islands” is a bold approach to tourism marketing taken on by several island nations in the Indian Ocean. The group is banding together to market a new brand, giving themselves a name many would associate with a nation, but is in reality an international tourism destination. The group will work together to revitalize tourism in the region in a manner that is beneficial to all nations.

The President of the La Réunion Region of France Didier Robert (left)  and Alain St. Ange (right), Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Culture

The President of the La Réunion Region of France Didier Robert (left) and Alain St. Ange (right), Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Culture

Open a dictionary; spin a globe; or unfold a map and you are not likely going to find the Vanilla Islands listed anywhere within the pages or on the surface of these informational tools. But the Vanilla Islands are a very real place, albeit new, and the residents of this region of the world are working hard to shout from the rooftops so the rest of the globe takes notice.

The Vanilla Islands is not a singular nation, new to this planet, looking for recognition. Rather, the Vanilla Islands is perhaps the world’s grandest brand image marketing campaign concocted by and focused on a few island nations in the Indian Ocean. The heads of tourism for the Indian Ocean island nations of Seychelles, Mauritius, La Réunion, and Madagascar (as well as other smaller nations) gathered in 2010 to craft one of the most unique brand image marketing schemes.

Forming the Vanilla Islands

Comprised of several island nations, the Vanilla Islands is a title used by tourism leaders from Seychelles, Mauritius, La Réunion, and Madagascar to brand their islands as a tourism destination in the minds of global travelers. The goal of the project was not only to save money by pooling resources to market the region, but also to give the area an identity in the minds of tourists.

Madagascar

Madagascar

On 4 August 2010 Alain St. Ange (Seychelles), Joel Randriamandranto (Madagascar), Pascal Viroleau (La Réunion), and Dr. Karl Mootoosamy gathered in Saint Denis on Réunion Island to discuss the creation of a mutually beneficial brand concept aimed at revitalizing tourism in the Indian Ocean. For decades the individual nations had attempted to market their respective islands separately to tourists from South Africa, Europe, and Asia. Under the Vanilla Islands concept, the nations will join forces to market the unique offerings of each nation as a group, rather than competing against one another.

The concept is truly unique because the nations will work together to promote tourism that is beneficial to the individual nations and the new region at the same time. Marketing plans were developed to promote the unique features, offerings, and culture of each island, but also the beauty and accessibility of the region as a whole.

Taking the “Vanilla Islands” Brand Global

In early November 2013, the ministers for tourism in the Vanilla Islands gathered with the press in London during the World Travel Market to announce the launch of the Vanilla Islands brand, at this global event for the tourism industry. Alain St. Ange, Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism and Culture and current President of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands, addressed the press with Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), to introduce the new tourist destination.

Dr. Rifai opened the conference by stating that the Vanilla Islands had the full support of the UNWTO in its efforts to increase the visibility of the region on the international stage. The Secretary General also announced that the UNWTO would do whatever necessary to help the Vanilla Islands gain the recognition it needed to succeed as a new tourism region.

La Réunion

La Réunion

When Mr. St. Ange spoke, he began by informing the press that after years of work the seven nations (Seychelles, Mauritius, La Réunion, Madagascar, the Maldives, Comoros, and Mayotte) were united by a common goal of promoting the diversity, beauty, and culture of each nation and the region as a whole.

Mr. St. Ange went on to announce some of the Vanilla Islands’ newest appointments to oversee the management and marketing of the tourism region. La Réunion’s Pascal Viroleau was appointed CEO of the Vanilla Islands Organization and Derek Savy the Director of Marketing. In wrapping up his comments to the press Mr. St. Ange reiterated the uniqueness of the new tourism region in the following words:

“We are united for a purpose. We have diversity that takes in Africa, India, Asia, and the mid-ocean island block. We are today offering to the world a new tourism destination, a destination with real diversity for the discerning traveller and one where culture and natural beauty would be displayed side by side as key USPs. We have so many rarely seen and relatively unknown natural assets such as the Whale Route, the Aldabra Atoll, the Robinson Crusoe Island of African Banks, where Man Friday would today be, but with a dedicated butler…….”

The ministers responsible for tourism from these individual nations have taken a bold step in marketing their unique cultures and offerings as one destination to the world. While each island nation has something different to offer the world, from snorkelling in the Seychelles to luxury beach front accommodation in Mauritius to the wildlife and forests of Madagascar; there is something for everyone in the Vanilla Islands.

In the long run, the success of this bold endeavour will depend not only upon the ability of the group to attract tourists, but to maintain a system that is mutually beneficial to all seven nations. While there is power in numbers (financially in this case), there is also vulnerability. In pooling their resources, the group is determined to increase its visibility, but does so at the risk of leaving some members behind if only the better known amongst the group gains greater visibility.