Cities around the world welcome you to their beautiful shores, their exciting nightlife, their incomparable cuisine and their out-of-this-world attractions. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard to remember which one said what and why. While destinations like Paris, New York and London sell themselves to a large extent, the smaller, less trafficked destinations too easily get lost in the shuffle. I’d be willing to bet, for instance, that you won’t see Cleveland or Nebraska on many travel bucket lists.

Even those that do get accolades and tout them loudly find it hard to make a dent on tourists’ consciousness. Best airport in the world? That’s nice. What else have you got? And when negative reviews are slung your way, what do you do? Insist that reviewers are quite mistaken? Apologize? Panic? Nah. That would be playing it safe. And safe is, well, generic, vanilla, uninspiring.

Four destinations have exalted themselves high above the masses by intrepidly venturing into the land of personality-pounding honesty (it is the best policy, after all). They’re touting authenticity, turning that frown upside down, embracing sarcasm and opting for edgy over easy to get their message across. And they’re doing it exceptionally well.

Collage of things to do in Cleveland


The beauty of the slogan “Make No Mistake, This is Cleveland” is its ability to face reality head on—Cleveland is not a glamorous destination, but it still holds surprises that make it a major selling point.

In essence, Cleveland targets a specific type of traveler—one that loves to discover the authenticity of a destination, its more subtle nuances and the true nature of its locals. Slogans such as “World-class experiences without the world-class ego,” and my personal favorite, “Never Flashy. Never Trendy. Always Cleveland” drive the message home with no frills at all—a perfect reflection of the no-frills personality of the city itself. It’s the antithesis of, say, NYC, which might well describe itself as, “Always Flashy. Always Trendy. Always New York.” Cleveland sets itself up as the epitome of approachable, off-the-beaten-path America, and part and parcel of the Great American Experience, in all its guises.


Snowbird Ski Resort

Mountain skiier covered in snow and a fake one-star review


Greg from LA kinda hated his visit to Snowbird Ski Resort. In fact, he gave it a one-star rating (probably because zero wasn’t an option), accusing its slopes of being “Too Advanced,” and stating that “I’ve heard Snowbird is a tough mountain, but this is ridiculous…How is anyone supposed to ride in that? No fun!” Snowbird could have ignored the rating or apologized or simply panicked, but instead, the resort saw the review as a whopping compliment.

In a stroke of unadulterated genius, Snowbird made Greg’s comments the centerpiece of its 2017 ad campaign, juxtaposing the review with stunning snow-capped vistas and a skier in the middle of a total wipeout. The result is a thrilling challenge to adventurers far and wide: Come test your skills against our “ridiculous” slopes—will you master them, or will they master you? As for Greg, well, he ends up looking a little like a whiny lightweight. Sorry, Greg.


Helsinki Airport

Banner with a funny message for visitors to Helsinki


Winter isn’t exactly Helsinki’s high season. And temperatures that sink into the 20s obviously are the culprits. Fortunately for Helsinki Airport, the city’s tourism board has a great sense of humor—a uniquely fearless one, in fact. In 2016, travelers were greeted by signs that read, “Nobody in their right mind would come to Helsinki in November. Except you, you badass. Welcome.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty tickled with that kind of welcome. This caliber of headline-making humor also makes you rethink winter in Helsinki, not because temperatures are going to get any warmer, but because you want to be around people who know how to have fun, will appreciate you, and don’t spin the fact that you’re going to freeze your socks off while you’re there. It’s honest, and it’s witty, and it’s fun. What’s not to love?

Oh, and by the way, the airport also made headlines for its unorthodox approach to being named the Best Airport in the World by Travellink. Rather than plastering the accolade on a homepage for a couple of months, marketers created a reality-style TV series, #LIFEINHEL, in which Chinese actor and TV personality Ryan Zhu took up residence at the airport for 30 days, recording his experiences through video and social media. The series is filled with unpredictable moments, humor, and a trusted revelation of why this is indeed the best airport in the world.


Nebraska Tourism Commission

Ad for Nebraska with people jumping along a rock wall


Nebraska: Home of Kool-Aid. The “Great American Desert.” The Cornhusker State. Admittedly, not a lot for DMOs to work with. Unless…

Taking honesty to a whole new level, Nebraska launched a campaign earlier this year that couldn’t help but grab the attention of tourists who otherwise would rather have watched paint dry than research a visit to the state. Touting headlines like, “Honestly, it’s not for everyone,” “Famous for our flat, boring landscapes,” and “Lucky for you, there’s nothing to do here” juxtaposed against unexpected scenes of natural beauty, Nebraska found a marketing goldmine in its unpretentious, uncomplicated lifestyle, and a unique way to appeal to tourists seeking a serene escape from bustling city life.

“We knew we had to be innovatively disruptive in order to begin to change perceptions,” John Ricks, executive director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission, explained to CNN Travel. “Being the least likely state in the country for people to visit, we built the campaign by talking to out-of-staters and translating their generally unfavorable perceptions into an admittedly different, yet totally honest, approach.”

That’s quite a departure from the state’s previous slogan, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” Yeah, I don’t think I will. But I may be tempted to escape to a place of utter peacefulness for just a little while.

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