Tourism Fiji’s new Shameless campaign is a reminder for marketers around the world
What happens when an all-white management team – tourism board, advertising agency, production company and actress – come together to design the tourism marketing campaign for an indigenous archipelago?
You get Fiji’s new ‘Open for Happiness’ video – a shocking visual display of colonial tropes, in a narrative that focuses on the needs of the privileged tourist, portrays the host communities and the culture of the country as a mere web of merges, and sells the stereotype of a “native happy brown island” as “paradise”.
Tourism Fiji’s campaign, which stars Australian actress Rebel Wilson and was produced by advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, tells the story of a white woman drifting in a raft off the coast of Fiji, looking pursuit of happiness. The campaign was launched to coincide with the reopening of Fiji’s borders to the world on December 1.
In the storyline, Wilson sees a tropical island in the distance through his old telescope, a-la-Christopher-Columbus, and asks, “Is happiness something you can actually find?” »Bula! hosts a passing tour boat, with a local musician playing the guitar for a couple of white tourists enjoying the view from the top deck.
Once on the island, she is greeted on shore by uniformed Fijian resort workers, one of whom looks distraught – actress? he repeats in a tone that suggests that Islanders are too weak to know Hollywood. As you might expect, the destination storefront sticks to the sun, the sea, the sand, but as Wilson continues her dizzying blonde act, she tells the viewer, “Is it better to put yourself in a place?” where does happiness find you? as you stroll through an upscale luxury beachfront resort.
Admittedly, two years without tourism is a huge blow to the tourism-dependent Fiji economy, and travelers – especially Australians, Kiwis, Americans and Brits – desperately seek out the tropical landscapes and get pampered after having visited. suffered some of the longest lockdowns in the world.
But does tourism have to go back centuries to its colonial roots to attract spendthrift visitors?
Brent Hill, originally from Australia and named CEO of Tourism Fiji in August, told Skift that the criticism was welcomed, but that the intention was not to paint a savior-type script white. “It’s not about you coming here to save Fiji; in fact, if you look at the ads, fiji saved her, she found and found happiness in fiji, ”said Hill.
Rebel Wilson was also selected because she is representative of the tourist coming to Fiji, Hill added. “She is addressing a largely white, largely affluent, and largely exhausted audience in Australia, the United States, and you know, in a post-Covid world, where are we actually going to find happiness? What makes us really happy? “
Let’s leave aside, for now, the choices of Hollywood characters for tourism campaigns, or the meaning of a rich white woman seeking happiness on a low-income brown island. In a post-pandemic industrial context in which global tourism is grappling with ways to be more inclusive and equitable, as well as sustainable – which includes rejecting the treatment of destinations and their host communities as mere commodities – the representation of the workers of the island seaside resorts whose only existence revolves around the maintenance and the happiness of the rich white explorers is a worrying reminder of the bad habits of tourism before the pandemic.
“For too long we have run marketing campaigns with a savior mindset because tourism leaders have convinced us all that tourism, and tourism alone can save islands and entire communities, ”said Carol Cain, a seasoned communications professional and founder of public relations. Brave World Media company.
“And that savior manifests itself in the traveler in a way that ignores the real concerns of locals, from health vulnerabilities to lack of living wages, to fear of gentrification on their islands,” Cain added. .
Of course, Tourism Fiji’s campaign is likely to attract the upscale tourist from the pre-pandemic era who is willing to fork out over $ 3,000 in a single stay and do whatever he wants on the island. Isle. So far, according to Tourism Fiji media reports, there are around 1,300 passenger arrivals per day. It’s great and necessary, but what’s the long-term trade-off of portraying the locals and a treasured culture as a means of achieving a privileged pursuit of tropical happiness? Couldn’t those same numbers of visitors be the result of a focus on Fijian traditions and Fiji’s diverse landscape of 300 islands offering sustainable tourism activities?
“One factor I’m very aware of, tourism accounts for around 40 percent of our GDP here in Fiji,” Tourism Fiji’s Hill said. “So, as much as I am a great defender of diversity, of employment and of many different things, and I am aware of the fact that you know, often with tourism, there is a disparity between the tourist who comes and the worker. . “
Hill said that typically in the tourism industry, locals earn more than the minimum wage of $ 2.65, or about seven or eight dollars an hour. “Always for you and me it’s very low but at least it’s a) a stable job, b) more than average and allows them to support their families.
Pictures and words matter
But pictures and words matter. They can defend racist stereotypes or drive the narrative of a tourism industry more aware of as beneficial and not just extractive.
Indeed, throughout this second year of the pandemic, responsible travel campaigns have emerged from American destinations, European and Latin American tourist offices seeking to attract a more conscious consumer while balancing culture with euphoria. holidays abroad, choosing messages that put visitors and locals on an equal footing and culture above all else.
“We had a huge amount of local production, we had musicians and surfers and stand up paddleboarders and amazing local kids and we shot it at the Vomo complex,” Hill said. “So we used a lot of the staff there, and that’s what they do every day, they come down to the beach when you arrive, they sing, they greet you.”
While the quality of service from Fijian workers is not at issue here, nor whether they are the face of the destination, the campaign footage only confirms the lingering inequality that the travel industry continues to experience. ‘engender between luxury tourists and luxury resort workers, one that remains unresolved.
Living a fantasy in an all-inclusive resort, with few authentic local interactions other than the on-site tourism workers who are described as happy – it’s nothing new, and that demand isn’t going away either. But the problematic increase in the tourism industry’s frictions with the world’s inhabitants before the pandemic – whether linked to equity or overpopulation – remains fresh in the minds of residents in many parts of the world, and was largely driven by an industry that put the needs and comfort of visitors first. on those of the host communities.
“When we convince a whole market of consumers that not only do they deserve the wealth that an island has to offer, but that their very presence on the island is what saves it and makes it better, then we create a power structure. which ignores the real societal problems that no amount of tourism money can solve, ”said Cain of Brave World Media.
With generations of indigenous traditions in Fiji, including enviable landscapes on its more than 300 islands, Tourism Fiji missed a huge opportunity to reject colonial history and racist foundations of tourism, and instead promote a message of sustainable tourism that dispels the stereotypical perception of islanders and inspires travelers to become more aware in the future.
“We can no longer ignore what we have learned over the past two years, which is that tourism and irresponsible incentives to travel around the world have contributed to rising rates of infections and ultimately to the deaths of many. low-income communities and small islands, ”Cain said.
“If the exhausted and defeated Rebel Wilson came to an island where people are happy and prosperous, then clearly it was not her tourism dollars that helped. A more interesting and creative angle would be how, despite the absence of the privileged tourist, the soul of Fiji has never wavered. And it is through this more local lens that we should inspire tourism.