Dignity departs

Rant time, I’m afraid.

A few months ago in Tunisia, hundreds of people died and thousands more were injured during a popular revolution against a hated dictator. Now, it seems, the Tunisia tourism authorities regard all that as a subject for (literally) naked commercial exploitation.

The image in that BBC story shocks me, and makes me deeply angry. Have these people no ethics at all? Do they really think the brutality of a police state is worthy of a joke on a billboard?

They also apparently feel comfortable relating messages of torture and death to images of female nudity – and all in a bid simply to encourage Londoners to spend money feeling good.

It’s sick – and, in commercial terms, bone-headed. For the Tunisian tourist board to publicly allude to the fact that, barely six months ago, state security was trying to suppress popular demonstrations with beatings and killings (during and just before which, I might add, they willingly overlooked the country’s politics, as did everyone in tourism) only perpetuates the idea that there’s an undercurrent of violence.

But I’m fed up analysing puerile, ignorant, insensitive and counter-productive messages in travel advertising.

What the hell is wrong with this industry? Tourism matters to Tunisia, yes – but why, when tourism arrives, does dignity depart?

The ad exec quoted in the BBC story laughs off 23 years of state-sponsored torture and killing as “unfair”. Is she still in a job?

Her knuckle-headed “provocation” must have been approved at the highest levels – presumably by the director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office in the UK, perhaps also in Tunis (where tourism is part of the Ministry of Trade). Yet the minister was yesterday quoted as saying the country wants to use this year to diversify its tourism product away from package beach holidays. So why the stupid London ads?

Reaction on Twitter last night was swift – and negative. Creative director and copywriter Derek Payne said the ad agency “shouldn’t have recommended the ads in the first place“. Abi Dare, a British travel writer, said it was “a huge leap [too far]“. Jordanian economist Hazem Zureiqat was lost for words.

I’d be interested to know what ordinary Tunisians think.