Keeping it real
“I thought it would look more like Vietnam,” said my fellow river cruise passenger. We are were sailing along the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, both of us leaning on deck railings, taking in the cool air of late afternoon and slowpassing golden pagoda spires, poking up from behind the riverine forest as if they were momentarily caught on a heavenwards ascent.
I asked her what she thought Myanmar would look like but she didn’t know. “Just different to this,” she shrugged. “Maybe a bit more vibrant.”
Funny how some destinations don’t fulfil our expectations, even when we have no sense of the place before we set off. This passenger would have been the perfect sucker for the Real is Beautiful campaign launched by Lithuania’s tourism ministry late last year.
All went swimmingly until it was revealed the agency hired to create the collateral simply used the cheapest possible stock shots of better-known European destinations, such as Slovakia and Finland, to enhance the breathless blurbs: “Lithuania is a place where real things matter. Things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, and we’re proud of our little imperfections. We see the beauty in all of them. That’s the thinking behind our new tourism slogan. We want you to enjoy a country without make-up. Sincere. Real.”
The department head has been forced to resign amid mockery and mirth after claiming the images of other (possibly more attractive) destinations were sufficient to “communicate emotion”. How funny that the “creatives” thought no one would notice, possibly because few of us know much about Lithuania. Tourism there is hardly booming, yet viewing (real) images online, there is plenty to admire. Maybe it is an inspired fluke because now I, for one, want to see what the country really does look like.
Since the news broke this month, social media has been agog with tweets and Instagram and Facebook pictures and links that show, say, the River Thames and the London Eye with captions reading “Welcome to Vilnius!” The capital of Lithuania actually looks beautiful, with a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town, which makes the need for deception even harder to believe. There are castles, palaces and national parks.
Vilnius is a popular city for stag weekends. Companies with names like Baltic Stags sell packages to Brit blokes behaving badly and they would be unlikely to remember where they were anyway. Vilnius? Bratislava? They all look the blinking same. Unreal is beautiful, baby.
Now I read that Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who sounds like quite a funster, has been criticised for making light of the matter by posting a photo of the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels on his tourism ministry’s official Facebook site with the caption: “We are moving government to this building tomorrow. Real is beautiful.” It has since disappeared and all the fake images have been removed, too. Pity. I’ve always wanted to go to Slovakia and Belgium.