A world of misguided tourism campaigns
comment 3 Written by on June 3, 2010 – 3:20 pm

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Blamed for “casting Australia as a nation of tone-deaf people and drawing on dowdy 50-year-old stereotypes”, the latest Tourism Australia campaign hasn’t gone down well on home shores since launching earlier this week. You can watch ‘There’s Nothing like Australia’ here, but be warned: jabbing yourself in the ears with hot barbecue tongs would bring more aural pleasure.

Part of a £2.3m campaign, the 90-second television advert features Aussies singing off-key about drinking in the pub and “those furry things that bounce around in herds”. Directed by Michael Gracey, who was responsible for YouTube’s most-watched commercial of all time (the Evian Roller Babies), the ad has been condemned by many Aussies as an ‘embarrassment’.

This is not the first time the Australian tourist board has launched a controversial television advert. In 2006 they came a cropper with their ‘where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign, which was banned in the UK. Baz Luhrmann’s awardwinning Walkabout advert from 2008 also got mixed reviews. And back in 1984 their most famous advert of all was criticised for Americanisation when Paul Hogan slipped a ‘shrimp’ on the barbie, not a ‘prawn’.

Nonetheless, the Australians still have some way to go before beating the Danish Tourist Board, which currently holds the unofficial title for the world’s most misguided tourism campaign. Last autumn they decided the best way to boost their industry was to release a short film portraying a single mother on the hunt for the father of her baby, who was born after a drunken one-night stand with a tourist. The video, featuring a pretty blonde actress, went viral across the world.

Tourism campaigns are often baffling. International oddities include ‘Kansas, as big as you think’, ‘Come to Bangladesh before the tourists’ and the sinister-sounding ‘Panama: It Will Never Leave You’. This month the US state of Baltimore announced a $500,000 ‘Find Your Happy Place‘ campaign, hoping it will be better received than a previous slogan ‘The city that reads’, which was quickly found its way on to T-shirts as ‘The city that bleeds’.

Tourism campaigns rarely ever go beyond the obvious, because they need to be instantly recognisable to foreign audiences. For that reason stereotypes often sell. Those that turn stereotypes on their heads are few and far between; the best example is Colombia’s The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.

Or how about this mysterious campaign from the Canadian tourist board that plays on local knowledge? Locals know, they have called it. I think that surfing scene may have been shot on the St Laurence River in Montreal – which is by no means an obvious choice. Where are all the bears and the moose? Shouldn’t there be a mountie in here saying, “Welcome to Canada, eh?”

NYC has also run a tourism campaign based on local knowledge, which tried to overturn the stereotype of New Yorkers being unfriendly and too busy to help. I went over to NY to cover the launch. I really liked the idea behind it, but wished they’d used regular folk with tips that’d actually be useful rather than untouchable celebs like Robert DeNiro. One big billboard featured artist Chuck Close advising tourists to “Take spare film”. Great tip – aside from the fact that most tourists went digital long ago, those that didn’t are probably savvy enough to pack a spare one, and even if they didn’t, they probably won’t be too hard pushed to find some in the most commercial city on Earth.

The idea of local travel is growing all the time, but is it still too niche for the big campaigns?

Do you have memories of any tourism campaigns – good, bad or cringeworthy – that you can share? Or any parodies? My favourite mock slogans include the posters featured in Flight of the Conchords (‘New Zealand, like Scotland but further’) and the runaway You Tube hit ‘Cleveland: we’re not Detroit!’

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3 Responses to “A world of misguided tourism campaigns”

  1. What about this one: Amsterdam’s campaign for Queens day, with Obama and Putin wearing “Kiss me I’m drunk” t-shirts, and Berlusconi and Sarkozy partying together like best friends:
    http://www.amsterdamadblog.com/2009/04/21/world-leaders-get-wasted-on-queensday/
    http://www.beyenmeyer.be/assets/Image/NWS/A/abri.jpg

  2. Haha, in a way I kind of like that one. It’s something you’d expect from a student nightclub though, rather than a national event being promoted by an official tourist board.

  3. Hi Guys

    Love your blog, found it on the TravelWord blog.

    We run a resort on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and thought you’d like to know what a couple of organisations up (over?) this way do that your readers might be interested in.

    We are on a quiet beach called Marcoola Beach and all along the Coast up to Peregian are nesting grounds for turtles and quite a few other marine life. Our local volunteer organisations such as Coolum Coast Care, Marcoola Coast Care and Coolum Area Parks Association spend time weeding the dunes and replanting natives, checking and monitoring turtles and clearing the river systems on kayaks!

    They are always trying to encourage holiday makers to come down and lend a hand. It’s a really great way to meet locals and put back to the environment that we holiday in. We are keen travellers too, and try and look after the areas that we play, so they are there for future generations.

    Let us know if you want more information on these groups.

    Happy Traveling and get in and meet some locals!

    Sue and the Team
    Atlantis Marcoola
    Marcoola Holiday Apartments

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