Breaking Travel News

Top 5 Botched Destination Tourism Promotion Campaigns

When a botched tourism promotion campaign goes viral, it’s not a pretty sight. Listed below are the top 5 roadkills, in terms of destination tourism promotion campaigns, where the media message quickly spiralled out of control once the campaign was launched.

Kalona, Iowa - Arrest a Traveler

Kalona, Iowa – Arrest a Traveler campaign – The Kalona Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the Washington County Sherriff’s office to cook up a tourism campaign (see video) where the police would wave down and ‘arrest’ an out-of-state traveler passing through on Highway 218.

The arrested traveler would then be offered a free overnight stay in Kalona, along with free gas, t-shirts and a bucketload of other freebies contributed by local merchants. Once news about the campaign broke in the media, it quickly turned into a civil rights controversy, with allegations of abuse of power and fourth amendment violations.


End result: Instead of positive media buzz about the surprise free stay in Kalona, the image the town has acquired now is one of police excess. Safe to say that Kalona won’t be arresting any more travelers.

VisitDenmark – One Night Stand Video - Denmark’s tourism agency put up a video on youtube, along with a website, featuring a woman with a baby begging for help, in which she says that the baby was a result of a drunken one night stand, and she doesn’t know who the father is.

The woman, called Karen in the video, is actually an actress named Ditte Arnth Jorgensen and the baby wasn’t hers.  According to VisitDenmark manager Dorte Kiilerich, the intent had been to tell “a nice and sweet story about a grown-up woman who lives in a free society and accepts the consequences of her actions.”

End result: A storm of criticism – with the media accusing VisitDenmark of portraying Danish women as having loose morals. The video has since been removed from youtube and the website no longer exists. You can still see the video here.

New Mexico – Alien Tourism Ads - New Mexico aired state sponsored 30 second ads featuring reptilian aliens talking about visiting New Mexico, apparently in a bid to position New Mexico as the ‘Best Place in the Universe.’

The creators of the ad – M&C Saatchi (Santa Monica office), forgot to mention one thing in the ad - the Roswell UFO landing - New Mexico’s one and only connection to aliens from outer space, and the most famous UFO themed site in the US.

End result:  It appeared as if New Mexico was portraying visitors as ugly aliens. It didn’t do one bit of good for N.M. tourism, and instead ended up confusing a lot of people who saw the ads, and didn’t know about Roswell.

Australia – So Where the Bloody Hell are You? Ad Campaign – This ad, also created by M&C Saatchi (Sydney office), starts with a barkeeper saying “we’ve poured you a beer” and ends with model Lara Bingle in a bikini on the beach at Fingal Spit asking “So where the bloody hell are you?”

The U.K. banned the ad for the use of the word ‘bloody.’ The ban was revoked after a personal intervention by Australia’s tourism minister, but it was then banned from being displayed on billboards. Canada banned the ad for the unbranded alcohol in the beginning, and also for the use of the word ‘hell.’ In some countries, it was run without the words ‘bloody hell’  – Simple ‘So where are you?’

End result: An international disaster – The Bingle ad branded Australia as a land of profanity, and in countries where the profanity was removed from the ad, it just didn’t make much sense. Either way, the campaign was declared a massive failure, and pulled.

Israel – Women of the Israeli Defense Forces Maxim photo spread - In an effort to divert attention away from all the negative imagery of war and fighting, the Israeli consulate in New York and the tourism ministry combined to cook up a plan to sponsor a Maxim photog’s visit to Israel.

The photographer was put together with beautiful women who at one time or other had served in Israel’s military, and were willing to be photographed for Maxim.

End result: Outrage in Israel’s Knesset at the objectification of Israeli servicewomen, a loss of image as the Holy Land for religious tourists, and more fuel for resentment between Israel and its neighbours.