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5 Controversial Tourism Marketing Campaigns

Controversial Tourism Marketing Campaigns

Tourism marketing can be a tricky business, and sometimes even the most well-intentioned campaigns can go wrong. As an agency that works exclusively in travel and tourism, we know how much scrutiny campaigns can bring with them.

All of these tourism marketing campaigns were adventurous in their own ways; some were risky while some stretched beyond their understanding of their subject matter. They range from the magnificent to the malificent, but they were all able to garner headlines.


Regina Rhymes with Fun

“Show Us Your Regina.”

This year (2023 for those practicing time travel), the capital of Saskatchewan released a brand campaign intended on building community pride. In the States, the word “Regina” has a very different pronunciation than in Canada. Hint: it rhymes with lady bits. 

The campaign, titled “We are the city that rhymes with fun.”, predictably drew the wrong type of attention. The campaign has since been removed from all of Tourism Regina’s channels, but you can still find bootleg merch of the campaign, which means it did succeed in grabbing an audience.


Lithuania - Real is Beautiful

“Real is Beautiful.”

The Republic of Lithuania is a beautiful place to visit. It has all of the beauty that you’d tend to find on the Baltic Coast. Combining that with a rich history and the slogan “Real is Beautiful” is almost a no-brainer: deeply relevant and brilliantly succinct.

However, the campaign fell apart amidst the realization by many that a ton (maybe even two tons) of photos used to promote the destination in the campaign were instead stock photos of various Nordic and Eastern European countries. As a result, the head of the Lithuanian State Tourism Department resigned.

The campaign is still active, but the photos are far more accurate. This type of confusion happens more times than you may think. For example,…


“Cooler and Warmer.”

Unlike Lithuania, Rhode Island’s campaign didn’t have a great slogan. At first glance, I’m sure that very few know what ‘Cooler and Warmer’ means.

Yes, Rhode Island is tiny. But as an avid subscriber to their newsletter (we all have hobbies, right?), there’s a surprising amount of stuff to do there. That didn’t stop their tourism agency from making the mistake in 2016 of shooting a promotional video that showcased places to eat in Massachusetts and a scene shot entirely in Iceland.

Rhode Island’s chief marketing officer resigned as a result of the campaign.


CU in the NT Campaign

“CU in the NT.”

I don’t think it takes any explaining for you to see why it’s controversial. In 2016, a brand campaign was created to invite travelers to Australia’s Northern Territory, or “the NT”. The result was as wild as the territory itself.

The controversy over this infamous campaign was spectacular but to this day, the website and brand are still live. It goes to show that you shouldn’t let nay-sayers stand in the way of a good idea. I’m a fan of that approach, so let’s round out this list with another case of creativity in the face of controversy…


“Be Taken by Albania.”

To explain this campaign properly, we need to go back to Lithuania for a moment (the capital Vilnius, specifically) and talk about another provocative campaign: “The G-spot of Europe”. It’s unique and immediately gets your attention.

The idea behind the campaign is that “no one knows where it is, but when you find it—it’s amazing”. Obviously, that campaign took off and Albania, at the opposite end of Eastern Europe, decided to try their luck at the same type of notoriety.

Drawing from the popularity of the Liam Neeson flick Taken, Albania crafted the campaign and its oddly charming video.

None of that is controversial and would be pretty unimpressive had it not been for Albania’s reputation as a hotbed for human trafficking. Making light of a serious human rights problem certainly is risky but it appears to be working for Albania since the promotional website is still live—more than three years into the campaign.

The point of this article isn’t to bash failed tourism marketing campaigns. That’s truly bad form and completely unprofessional. Instead, I hope these serve as tales of how creating bold and courageous campaigns can go to the moon or down in flames. I still believe it’s incumbent upon us all as marketers to keep taking risks—just make sure to double-check your visuals.


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Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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