Vienna’s new ad campaign uses negative travel reviews to lure tourists

The Leopold Art Museum in Vienna, Austria, reviewed.
The Leopold Art Museum in Vienna, Austria, reviewed.
Image: Paul Bauer/Vienna Tourist Board
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If you’ve ever booked travel to a destination based on online reviews, you probably know they aren’t totally reliable because, well, everything is in the eye of the beholder. This reporter, for example, once drove six hours to a supposed hotel in the Florida Keys based on enthusiastic reviews, only to find a motel and no sign of the promised beach, then drove home and bought new sheets for a staycation instead.

Now the city of Vienna, Austria is taking aim at online travel reviews. In a new campaign called “Unrating Vienna,” the city’s tourist board is highlighting terrible but humorous reviews in an effort to convince prospective visitors to come see and judge the city for themselves.

The counterintuitive campaign uses real reviews tourists have posted online to show the absurdity of some of the assessments, like a one-star review for the Leopold Art Museum, which says the “paintings are disgusting.” Given the fact that the museum contains key works of globally acknowledged Austrian masters like Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, the harsh summary is laughable.

An ad from the “Unrating Vienna” campaign.
An ad from the “Unrating Vienna” campaign.
Image: Vienna Tourist Board.

And that is exactly why the tourist board decided to highlight it. “We take a humorous look at the notion that online ratings are not always the right path to take when it comes to looking for relaxation and moments of enjoyment,” Norbert Kettner, the board’s managing director, tells Lonely Planet. “[The campaign] is intended to make people sit up and think and trigger broader public discussion.”

While Kettner acknowledges that online reviews are useful and can help guide people to the best sites, the new campaign is meant to emphasize the fact that only a visit will tell you what you need to know. The ads ask, literally, “So who decides what you like?”

An ad from the “Unrating Vienna” campaign.
An ad from the “Unrating Vienna” campaign.
Image: Vienna Tourist Board

Of course, the Viennese tourist board hopes that your answer to this challenge will be, “Me!”

Online travel reviews have become an important part of tourist culture. But they do sometimes cause trouble. Last year in Japan, a Zen monk in an ancient Buddhist temple at Mount Kōya made news for his virulent (and viral) responses to tourist reviews on of the World Heritage site where he resides. The Sekishoin Shukubo guesthouse lets visitors stay at the temple and experience conditions similar to those of the monks. However, after some visitors complained about the plain food and ungracious hosting, perhaps hoping for a not-so-authentic Zen experience, Daniel Kimura, an American-born monk, chided them online.

In the Zen tradition, teachers offer harsh lessons, and Buddhist lore is replete with stories of teachers beating students with sticks until they’re dazed into enlightenment. Kimura took a similar approach, responding to a complaint about the food with this statement, “Yeah, it’s Japanese monastic cuisine you uneducated fuck.” A gripe about insufficient explanations of local traditions was met with this response from Kimura: “If you are that interested in a monk’s life then you should shave your head and be one.”

The responses may have enlightened readers, but Kimura ultimately apologized for his statements and the responses were removed from the site. “Even a monk gets impatient,” Kimura told the Guardian.

It’s a sentiment the Vienna Tourist Board understands.