Paradise, the Noble Savage, and the White Savior in Fiji

Paradise, the Noble Savage, and the White Savior in Fiji

The latest attempt to promote tourism by the Fijian government has raised eyebrows. It features a celebrity actor, Rebel Wilson, and has people talking about its appropriateness.

The popular view is that Fiji’s tourism must build back better in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Fijians have long debated what a “better tourism” might be. What social, ecological, and economic outcomes should tourism produce?.

This comes at a time when travel and tourism are changing globally. Travelers now demand holidays that produce better outcomes for host communities and our planet.

For example, we now realize that measuring tourism success based on total tourist arrivals and expenditure is bad. It encourages environmental and cultural destruction and it makes climate change worse. But travelers are becoming more aware of sustainable and responsible tourism alternatives. More recently, a regenerative tourism approach hopes to make destinations better than before.

Fiji created its new “Open for Happiness” campaign to shift travelers from the dreaming stage to committing and booking a holiday to Fiji. The effort to put as many bums on seats as possible is a priority to restart the country’s economy.

Destination campaigns like this usually are based on the motivations of potential travelers. Marketing campaigns attempt to tap into those travel desires and turn them into bookings and arrivals.

Such campaigns are a large investment, especially for less developed countries. It is hard to predict if a campaign will succeed in building an appropriate brand. Value for money and efficacy are only discernible in hindsight.

For example, the “100% Pure New Zealand” campaign created a strong sustainability brand value for the country and its tourism. But it also had broader impacts. It gave New Zealand a soft power political and trade advantage, especially in agriculture.

Then there was Australia’s Northern Territory’s unofficial campaign, “CU in the NT”, and Australia’s “Where the Bloody Hell Are You?”. Those humorous promotions were successful at getting media attention, but faded soon after. They had little enduring benefit. They actually polarized and undermined goodwill, rather than enhancing brand values. And they completely bypassed sustainable forms of tourism.

Tourism campaigns often have a greater purpose than just encouraging travel to a destination.

National pride can be stoked by tourism advertising. Advertising can build a coherent impression of what a people and country stand for. It can also help advance a nation’s standing in global trade, soft political power, and people-to-people relations.

This is an excerpt from an article by Joseph M. Cheer, originally published by Tourism Geographic Editor.

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