What happens when an all-white leadership team — tourism board, ad agency, production company and actress — comes 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 centers the needs of the privileged tourist, portrays the country’s host communities and culture as a mere backdrop, and sells the stereotype of a “happy Indigenous” brown island as “paradise.”
Tourism Fiji’s campaign, which features Australian actress Rebel Wilson and was produced by ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, tells the story of a white female drifting in a raft off the shores of Fiji, in search of happiness. The campaign was launched to coincide with the reopening of Fiji’s borders to the world on December 1.
In the story line, Wilson spots a tropical island in the distance through her antique telescope, a-la-Christopher-Columbus, and asks “Is happiness something that you can actually find?” Bula! greets a passing tour boat, with a local musician playing the guitar for a white tourist couple enjoying the views from the top deck.
Once on the island, she is welcomed at the shoreline by Fijian resort workers in uniform, one of whom is made to sound clueless – actress? he repeats in a tone that insinuates islanders are too dim to know about Hollywood. The destination’s showcase predictably sticks to sun, sea, sand, but as Wilson continues her dizzy blonde act, she says to the viewer, “Is it better to put yourself in a place where happiness finds you?” while strolling across a high end beachfront luxury resort.
Granted, two years of no tourism is a harsh economic blow for tourism-dependent Fiji, and travelers — particularly Aussies, Kiwis, Americans and the British — are desperate for tropical scenery and pampering after suffering some of the world’s longest lockdowns.
But must tourism leap centuries backwards to its colonial roots to lure the high spending visitor back?
This is an excerpt from an article by Lebawit Lily Girma, originally published by Skift.com.