Iceland's International Airport Management Takes the Biscuit In Anti-whale Meat Ad Dispute

The 2011 IFAW Icelandic Anti-whaling campaign leaflet.

After eight years working to stop whaling in Iceland, I should have been prepared for anything.  Icelands’s Keflavik airport, however, has taken the biscuit (a strange British saying that means they've won a particular competition).

Last April we here at the International Fund for Animal Welfare contacted the airport and explained to their marketing department that, together with Icelandic whale watching companies, we were doing a project aimed at tourists asking them not to eat whale meat.

Surprisingly, the amount of whale meat sold to tourists has grown over the years. Our plan was to remind tourists that whaling is not a traditional Icelandic activity, not eaten regularly by 95% of the population and that every time someone eats whale meat they are adding to the number of whales killed.

The airport were very keen to take the advertising and told us they really liked the images we were using and the text which read "Meet Us Don't Eat Us. Don't go home with a bad taste in your mouth".

Contracts were duly signed, payments made and the adverts were unveiled on June 4th.  On the same day we held a launch event for the project at the Reykjavik old harbour in a small marquee between Kristian Loftsson's whaling boats and the whale watching terminal.  Speakers at the event were the General Manager of the Icelandic Tourist Board, the CEO of the Elding whale watching company and yours truly.

So, imagine our surprise when a week ago the general manager of the airport called us and told us that he didn't like the adverts and that they may have to be changed or taken down!

As you can imagine, this came as some surprise to us. It transpired that a minke whaler had complained and the airport had decided to break the contract and demand the ads come down.

We had our lawyers send them a letter enquiring about the reasons for this request.  The airport ignored the letter and took the adverts down at their own expense last Friday evening.

Today, we received another letter from the airport telling us that they didn’t think they had approved all the text on the advert but that they were willing to pay us back the money we had paid for the advertising.

What an unexpected windfall for our campaign!

Part of our plan was for the project to be noticed by Icelanders and to help further fuel a growing debate about the wisdom of Icelandic whaling.  Fuel the debate?  When the airport first asked us to take the adverts down, it was front page news in Iceland’s daily newpaper, Frettabladid.

Sigursteinn Mason, our representative in Iceland was interviewed on national TV and had plenty of time to explain why whaling is cruel and why we are appealing to tourists not to eat whale meat.  When the airport took the adverts down, it was national news again and Sigursteinn had another chance to get our vital campaign message asking tourists not to eat whale meat across.

We are still totally in the dark about why the airport disliked our adverts so much. Their letter says that the adverts “conflict with the image of the air terminal” – what does that mean?  We will endeavour to find out…

The airport adverts were a small part of a larger project. Just about every tourist who arrives at the airport takes the airport bus into Reykjavik. In the pocket of every seat there is a “Meet Us Don't Eat Us” leaflet. When the tourists get into Reykjavik they’ll find it difficult to miss the two-metre high whale tails walking around the downtown area handing out campaign leaflets, nor will they miss the prominent adverts in the tourist newspaper.

So far, the project is seeing great success. The volunteers staffing the whale tail costumes and handing out leaflets in the downtown area report that they are being received enthusiastically by tourists from all over the world.

They are also getting regular supportive comments from Icelanders and one of the harbour restaurants has even given them free lunches.  A British tourist who met one of our campaign tails said "I was going to try whale meat tonight, but you're right, I really shouldn't" and a young Canadian woman told the volunteers "Hey you guys are great, I'm going to help support the campaign by posting it on my Facebook profile".

The project is now in its third week and will run until September. All the signs are that it will have a big impact on reducing the amount of whale meat eaten by tourists. IFAW will continue to monitor the number of restaurants offering whale meat and the number of whales cruelly killed.

We are confident that tourists will see our logic and not go home with a “bad taste” in their mouths from their visit to beautiful Iceland.

-- RM

For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save the world’s whales, visit http://www.ifaw.org

*Editors note: This post has been updated to correctly refer to the only International airport in Iceland, which is actually outside of Reykjavik.

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