News National Anti-tourism campaign urges Melburnians to stay away from regional Victoria

Anti-tourism campaign urges Melburnians to stay away from regional Victoria

Jess Wheeler says he hopes people enjoy the sense of humour attached to his tongue-in-cheek advertisements. Photo: Jess Wheeler
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An online tourism campaign that uses colourful language to urge people to stay away from regional Victoria has raised the ire of some of the regions it’s trying to promote.

The ‘Do not visit Victoria’ campaign was co-created by Jess Wheeler, a Melbourne-based associate creative director with advertising agency Fenton Stephens.

It features art deco style-advertising posters that at first glance promote regional towns, before the punchline of the ‘anti-tourism tourism’ campaign hits.

Mr Wheeler said his message to fellow Melburnians in lockdown was simple.

“People of Melbourne, we love you, but right now you are letting us all the f..k down,” Mr Wheeler said.

“As we enter our second lockdown, amid the highest infection numbers to date, the gravity [of the situation] appears to have eluded some of you.”

A tongue-in-cheek advertisement for the regional town of Bendigo
Mr Wheeler’s playful advertising references Bendigo’s history as a gold rush town of regional Victoria. Photo: Jess Wheeler

Mr Wheeler created the campaign with fellow Melbourne-based collaborator Guillermo Carvajal.

The pair say their work was characterised by their sense of humour, something they hoped came across in the posts.

“We were just spitballing ideas as to what we can do in this situation, and were reading about how people from Melbourne were fleeing to regional Victoria, either to their holiday homes or just trying to shack up in hotels,” Mr Wheeler said.

“It was quite distressing for the towns that don’t have the infrastructure to handle an outbreak.

“We did a first run of six [posters] and we got inundated. Literally every town has asked for one,” Mr Wheeler said.

No laughing matter

Not all regional shires represented are happy to be represented.

An image of a man in a suit
Cr Peter Roper is questioning the taste of the ads. Photo: Alpine Shire Council
Cr Peter Roper, Mayor of the Alpine Shire that includes the holiday hotspot of Bright, said he understood the joke but questioned whether it was appropriate.

“I get the humour, but in reality it’s probably one step too far for quite a large number of people in our community,” he said.

“We have people in our communities who have come through the bushfires, gone through the first round of COVID-19 and now have alpine resorts closing on them.

“That puts an enormous burden on the residents and our communities when we’ve got business accommodation providers closing because people from Melbourne are trying to circumvent the rules around lockdown to try to holiday in our area.”

A gimmick tourism poster for the tourism town of Bright
Alpine Shire mayor Peter Roper questions whether the joke advertisements are made in good taste. Photo: Jess Wheeler

Jason Schram is the Mayor of Colac-Otway Shire, a region encompassing Apollo Bay that is yet to record a positive case of COVID-19.

Cr Schram said he did not find it amusing either.

“Everyone needs a little bit of humour at the moment, but there are a lot of people really suffering in these regions,” Cr Schram said.

“People in regions like the Colac-Otway Shire have adhered to the rules and done everything right, but businesses are [still] closing and people are out of work.

“I personally didn’t see the funny side of it.

“We still do want people to come visit – obviously not from the lockdown areas of Melbourne, but people in the south-west from Colac-Otway to the South Australian border are COVID-free and there’s no reason we can’t help each other out and travel amongst ourselves.”

A joke promotional poster for the town of Portland
Advertising copywriter Jess Wheeler was taken aback by the popularity of his posters. Photo: Jess Wheeler

A serious message

The original campaign featured six towns but has since extended the promotion to include towns like Ballarat and Bendigo.

The pair has released the designs on Facebook and is also selling merchandise featuring the designs online.

“We’ve just set up a website, but we’re not making any money on it,” Mr Wheeler said.

“The plan originally was it was just going to be a message, but we got a lot of people saying to us ‘Can I purchase these?’ or ‘Are you going to make T-shirts or prints or tea towels?’ which seem to be extremely popular for some reason.

“It’s kinda set up for people to make items. If any profit is made, we’ll probably put it to charity.”

A tongue-in-cheek advertising poster for Heathcote
Heathcote’s reputation for producing exceptional wines was teased out in the posters. Photo: Jess Wheeler
Mr Wheeler said despite the tongue-in-cheek delivery, there was a serious message within the promotions.

“This situation is about us all sticking together,” he said.

“While the message has an ‘us and them’ tone in the humour, the underlying message is this a way for us all to support each other and stay put and not spread this thing around.”