panama tourismThere’s apparently something in the water in Central America that inspires their tourism boards to latch onto silly and meaningless slogans like a birdwatcher reaching for binoculars. The latest one to earn guffaws and ridicule is Panama’s, which is a year old but just got pilloried by this Jaunted post: Panama Picks A Tourism Slogan Reminiscent Of Childhood Trauma, STDs.

What is this inspired tourism slogan? “Panama – It Will Never Leave You.”

Could it be any worse? Panama watchers are having a heyday with this one, wondering whether it refers to malaria, dengue fever, stalkers, or something picked up from a prostitute. That’s one way to get honest feedback I guess. Just put out your new slogan and see how many people make fun of it on blogs and twitter. (If nobody does, it probably means your slogan is just boring, since few of these things seem to actually move the needle in terms of visitors anyway. But better to be boring than a laughing stock.)

Back in 2006, Guatemala launched the focus-group-inspired slogan “Soul of the Earth” and they’ve stuck with it ever since. WTF?! I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, much less how it applies to Guatemala and not any of its neighbors. Will there be shamans and chanting involved? Or spelunking? Will I feel the ground vibrate during the summer solstice?

Honduras appears to have used three slogans in as many years. I’ve got a hat a local tourism person gave me with the Spanish version of their slogan “One small country, three big worlds.” I put this into an article I wrote for another publication after I returned from there because I thought it nicely summed up the answer to the inevitable question, “Why go there?” You go because you’ve got a great Maya ruins site, nature preserves, and the coral-fringed islands. So the slogan actually means something.

Alas, I then got a wrist slapping from a PR and advertising agency person who had worked with me setting up part of my research there. Apparently her agency had spent tons of money on focus groups and reports to come up with a brand new slogan: “The Central America you know — the country you’ll love.”

Again, are you kidding me? You could slap that same tag line onto Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Panama and nobody would know the difference. That slogan is still up on the agency-built website, but there was yet another one in between those two for a brief time: “It’s All Here In Honduras.” Apparently it wasn’t all there after all. But now Honduras really is looking like “the Central America you know,” coup d’etats and all.

El Salvador and Nicaragua both go for a one-word slogan. Nicaragua’s is simply, “Unique.” El Salvador went for “Impressive!” Well, the waves are impressively grarly in El Salvador I guess and Nicaragua is unique in being the poorest mainland country in the Americas, but neither slogan does much to sell the destination or paint a picture of why anyone should visit. How about just saying, “We’re generic”? Or “You’ll probably have a good time if you come here on vacation.” Pretty much the same thing.

Belize has “Mother Nature’s best-kept secret.” Maybe Mother Nature’s best-kept secret is that the soul of the Earth is actually in Guatemala. And Belize isn’t exactly a secret anymore. But really, at least that one at least doesn’t leave you scratching your head.

So are there any Central American destination slogans that really work? Yes one, and it’s no coincidence that it’s from the country that gets the most tourists by far.

“Costa Rica: no artificial ingredients.”

Nicely played Ticos.