I think people who work at a city or state’s convention and visitors bureau have the hardest jobs. These are people who must tout the latest and greatest going on in their respective areas, but obviously have zero control over outside forces.
Imagine working at New York’s tourism office right after 9/11. Ouch.
We’ve discussed New Orleans’ smart ad campaign to combat the negative stereotypes surrounding the oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. It’s been five years since the levees broke, and the city has had a lot of attention to mark the anniversary, most notably GOOD magazine’s entire issue about the rebuilding of the city. Things seem to be looking up for the Big Easy.
The city now boasts more than 300 new restaurants, hotels have undergone $400 million in improvements, and there are new cultural attractions such as The Audubon Insectarium and The Southern Food and Beverage Museum. And tourism jobs are up to 70,000, slightly below a pre-Katrina high of 85,000.
What do tourist bureaus, do, however, when a massively popular television series takes the entire town’s system to task? For five years?
I’m talking, of course, about the HBO series The Wire, and the city of Baltimore. I’m one of those arrived-late-in-the-game-viewers of the critically-acclaimed series, and I am seriously addicted to this show. Each season looks at a different aspect of what has contributed to the city’s overall drug, unemployment, homeless and violence issues, via the streets, political and school system, and the media. It paints a completely bleak and harrowing look at the town.
How on earth do the people at Baltimore’s visitors bureau fight the perception brought on by The Wire? I have to believe that series caused a problem for their tourist industry. This is a great piece about how the show fuels this perception:
You could argue that The Wire gives a distorted image of Baltimore. The story rarely takes us to the safe, affluent areas of the city, and they do exist – the Inner Harbor, for example. Home to a public aquarium, a science centre and a “festival marketplace” (a complex of shops and restaurants), the Inner Harbor is superficially a pleasant place to visit, and attracts thousands of tourists. But if The Wire has taught us anything, it is not to trust appearances. The area was redeveloped in the 1970s and 80s under the auspices of mayor William Donald Schaefer, through a public-private partnership. As well as the aquarium, some hotels and a convention centre were constructed with a view to attracting tourist and “hospitality” dollars to the city. But an even larger convention centre was subsequently needed to make the plan work. Then, it emerged, an even larger hotel was needed to make that work. The result was a phenomenon Harvey calls “feeding the downtown monster”.
I laughed hysterically when I saw the city’s latest campaign: Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore. They’re using social media, and made their website all friendly and whatnot. But after watching that show, and visiting a few times myself, it feels like a serious stretch.
I wonder if New Orleans is at all concerned about David Simon’s (the creator of The Wire) new series, Treme. Named after an area in New Orleans, and set three months after the Katrina disaster, the show explores how citizens of the city rebuild their lives. I’ve heard it isn’t as gritty as The Wire, but it’s only begun. Simon’s genius is how he shows a city’s dysfunction on every level.
I’m not convinced even the savviest of PR tourist campaigns can salvage a town’s image once Simon rides into town.