These Tourism Campaigns Will Make You Scratch Your Head -- or Plan a Visit

Some cities and states have to get creative to market themselves.

Albuquerque, N.M., is trying to attract tourists by playing up its role in the TV show "Breaking Bad."
People only get a finite amount of vacation time, so why should they visit your neck of the woods? That’s a question state and local tourism boards are forced to ask themselves constantly, and sometimes they have to get a little creative.  

From capitalizing on popular TV shows to embracing some less-than-positive stereotypes people may have about a particular place, here are some out-of-the-box tourism campaigns from the last few years.


Love 'Breaking Bad'? You'll Love This City!

The popular and critically acclaimed TV show "Breaking Bad" ended in 2013, but the city of Albuquerque, N.M., where it was set, is still riding high from the show’s success. 

In 2013, the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to play up its role in the show. The agency spent half a million dollars on online and billboard ads that highlight "Breaking Bad" production sites in the area.

Although the show revolves around some pretty bad behavior -- meth trafficking and murder, among other things -- local leaders never worried that Albuquerque would get a bad reputation. Mayor Richard Berry said in 2013 that he’s “confident that viewers have no difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality." 

Several years later, the city’s tourism industry is booming. In 2017, the Albuquerque Business Journal reported that tourism outpaced health care jobs, with more than 40,000 now employed in the city’s tourism industry. 


Hey, We're Better Than Outer Space

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em. That’s exactly what South Dakota did with a new tourism approach a few years ago.

After hearing from focus groups across the country that the Dakotas were nothing more than a “barren wasteland,” the state tourism agency came up with a unique campaign angle: At least we’re not Mars, an actual barren wasteland.

The voiceover in a TV ad says: "Mars. The air: not breathable. The surface: cold and barren. ... South Dakota. Progressive. Productive. And abundant in oxygen. Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?"

Their efforts may have paid off: The state has had a record number of tourists in the past two years.  


Instagram on the Road

Last year, Minnesota decided to tackle the perception that the state is just a cold, snowy place by bringing its attractions to you. Really.

Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state’s tourism committee, created traveling photobooths featuring two of the state’s main attractions: the First Avenue music club, which was featured in the 1984 Prince movie "Purple Rain," and scenes of the Minnesota outdoors.

The state set up the booths in cities across the country last year, ranging from Denver to Chicago to Kansas City, and modeled them after Instagram to encourage people to share their photos on social media. 

The Prince booth came complete with a fog machine, purple lighting and a drum kit, while the other booth featured a canoe and a machine that generated morning mist and bird calls. 


Come Get an Operation

San Diego doesn’t need to do much to convince people to visit: It has legendary beaches, a world-famous zoo and plenty of sunshine. Even so, the city is now betting it can convince tourists to get that elective surgery they've always wanted in between getting a tan or frolicking on the beach. 

This year, city leaders launched DestinationCare San Diego, a public-private partnership to get more tourists to think of San Diego as a place to get medical care -- and recover afterwards. The city hopes to compete with world-renowned medical destinations like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

"Would you rather go to San Diego for a couple weeks in December, or Minnesota?” Joe Terzi, CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, told STAT News.

The city does have a strong medical sector. It's home to the University of California health systems and Rady Children’s Hospital, which is ranked one of the best children’s hospitals in the country.

Medical tourism in the United States, however, is an iffy venture. The U.S. can’t really compete with the low prices of Eastern Europe or South America for medical procedures. Still, San Diego's hoping medical tourists will see it as a more convenient option than, say, Poland or Colombia. 

Mattie covers all things health for Governing.