Spain joins in the celluloid titillation in new tactic to woo tourists


A threesome with a simmering painter versus lust in the dust with a brooding drover are the competing fantasies being offered to international travellers as Australia and Spain go head to head in the use of movies to promote themselves as tourist destinations.

Apparently taking a leaf out of Tourism Australia’s exploitation of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia to lure visitors to Australia, the National Tourist Office of Spain has launched a campaign around Woody Allen’s current offering at the box office, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

A full-page advertisement in selected Australian newspapers on New Year’s Eve encouraged readers to do the impossible: “On 26th December watch Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the next day, book your trip to Catalonia.”

The ad features a still from the movie, showing Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem staring lustily into each other’s eyes across a table spread with Catalonian delicacies — an image designed to appeal to travellers whose vices range from the gustatory to the fornicatory.

Allen’s film tells the story of two US girlfriends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Johansson), on holiday in Spain, who get mixed up with a mysterious and volatile painter, Juan (Bardem). After a series of plot twists, Cristina falls into bed with Juan and his ex-wife, Maria (Penelope Cruz).

A big difference between Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Australia is that the former has received largely positive reviews and has been welcomed by critics as a return to form by Allen. Australia, on the other hand, has been dismissed by many critics as an exercise in kitsch.

In the latest panning, New Zealand critic Michael Field described the film as “a long, tedious shocker and an embarrassment to a film industry with an otherwise outstanding record”.

Writing on the Fairfax Media website on Wednesday, Field complained: “Every white Australian character in the movie — other than Drover (Hugh Jackman) — is portrayed as a nasty white racist or … a drunkard. The one seemingly intelligent woman, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), is English. Aborigines are all spiritual beings … Australian women are all painted in the movie as cows.”

The use of movies to promote tourism has a long history, with the Oscar-winning Out of Africa (1985) credited with starting the contemporary flood of visitors to the Dark Continent.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has boosted tourism to New Zealand.

Tourism Australia invested $50 million in a campaign designed to piggyback on Australia. The campaign seems to have gained traction, despite the movie’s poor reviews.

In a double-page spread in the travel section of London’s The Sunday Times, a travel writer gushed of Australia: “Like some newly discovered starlet, this country is as good in the flesh as it is on screen.”