Rethink Alberta Campaign targets tourists
A U.S.-based environmental group launched an ad campaign Wednesday criticizing the province's oil sands and asking tourists to stay away from Alberta.
Corporate Ethics International released a minute-and-a-half long YouTube video that starts off showing pictures of Alberta's pristine natural beauty, showcasing Alberta's mountains, lakes, and wildlife.
The video then takes a different turn with disturbing images of oil-covered birds, contaminated tailings ponds, and industrial pollution.
The narrator ends the video by saying, "Thinking of visiting Alberta? Think again."
Along with the video, the group has purchased ads online.
"Anybody who googles any key word associated with Alberta or Alberta Tourism websites or cities or events will see our ad there. There will also be flash ads and banner ads on major tourism sites as well," commented Michael Marx with Corporate Ethics International.
Billboards are also going up in a number of American cities comparing Alberta's oil sands to BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, with the tagline: "Alberta: the Other Oil Disaster."
Alberta's premier says he's not taking the attack on Alberta lightly.
"We absolutely will fight back using accurate information because this is much too important to Alberta and Albertans," commented Premier Ed Stelmach.
While the ads take issue with the oil sands, they target the tourism industry.
"To identify just Alberta and to suggest that people don't travel here, we think is really mean spirited against the travel industry and what we do in Alberta," said Rick Williams with Tourism Calgary.
But the group sponsoring the ads says tourists are a valid target in its fight against the oil sands
"Tourists from the United States, from Europe, from Asia tend to be wealthy, they tend to be educated, and they tend to be opinion leaders," added Marx.
Tourism experts say campaigns like Rethink Alberta don't have much impact in the short term, but could cause damage if they continue to run.
"If it is persistent over the long term, it could start to erode the quality of our image," said Brent Ritchie with the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business.
Corporate Ethics International says its Rethink Alberta campaign will run over the next several years.
The anti-Alberta campaign is just in the U.S. right now, but the billboards will start appearing in the U.K. in the next few weeks.
In response, the province says it plans on launching a campaign of its own.
It says it may buy billboards showcasing Alberta's virtues in the same markets that Corporate Ethics International is targeting.
It also says it wants to correct misinformation that the group is spreading about Alberta.
Ron Liepert, Alberta's Energy Minister, says the province may also look at taking legal action.
"That's something we have to consider. How aggressive do you get? One of the things you don't want to do is give them extra publicity. I'm sure this will be the topic of discussion for the next little while, and it's not just this incident, we better be planning for more of these goofy things that are going to be happening," said Liepert.
Liepert also reiterated what the premier has been saying each time the oil sands have been subjected to boycotts, which has happened a few times over the last year, and that's that the province needs to do a better job of "telling its story" around the world.