Worst tourism ads ever: The shows and movies that make you want to stay away

For every Emily in Paris, there's a Wolf Creek. For every TV show or movie you watch that's set in some beautiful location that's constantly bathed in its most flattering light, a tourism brochure with a plotline, a vision that makes you desperate to visit and experience it for yourself… there's a Wolf Creek.

Right now, travellers are probably spending a lot of time in front of the TV. This is a period to lay low, to wait out the Omicron storm. And so, you've probably been catching up on a few shows and movies that escaped you in the past.

In doing so you'll no doubt be inspired by some of the locations on screen. And then, of course, if you're watching any of the following TV shows and movies, you will be inspired to never visit there ever again.

Wolf Creek, Australia

Stan is in production on a second season of Wolf Creek, starring John Jarratt.

John Jarratt in Wolf Creek.

Ah, Australia. Home of knockabout larrikins (thanks, Crocodile Dundee), hilarious drag queens (onya, Priscilla), talking pigs (Babe), and psychopathic serial killers roaming the Outback searching for tourists to torture and murder. Thanks, Wolf Creek. This has to be just about the worst advertisement for local tourism you could imagine, particularly given it would only take overseas-based fans a couple of seconds of Googling to discover the actual psychopathic serial killers John Jarratt's infamous character was based on. It excited some people, apparently, but it surely must have turned a lot more off.

Squid Game, South Korea

Netflix Series
Squid Game
Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children's games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits — with deadly high stakes.Starring:Lee Jung-jae,Park Hae-soo,Wi Ha-junCreators:Hwang Dong-hyuk

This violent cult classic is entirely fictional, and yet it also makes you think, what sort of culture would even come up with this? Deeply indebted players of Squid Game compete in a series of fights to the death – playing children's games – in order to win a huge cash prize. It's a riff on class and inequality, with plenty of gratuitous violence. It's also not unlike much of South Korean cinema, which wouldn't exactly make you want to visit. Think Parasite, another satire of class warfare that makes South Korea look pretty horrendous, and Oldboy, a charming tale of torture, revenge, incest, and live-octopus-eating.

See also: The real-life Squid Game island nobody wants to talk about

Breaking Bad, New Mexico

Walter White next to the Winnebago he uses as a mobile meth lab in the pilot episode of Breaking Bad.

Bryan Cranston, along with the city of Albuquerque, starred in Breaking Bad. Photo: AP

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The funny thing about this venerated series about a mild-mannered suburban dad who turns into a meth cook and murderer is that it actually did work as a tourism advertisement for its setting, New Mexico. Never mind all the addicts and the gangsters and the stultifying urban milieu – Breaking Bad actually caused a tourism boom in Albuquerque, with hordes of fans flocking to the city to visit locations from the series, and to experience the big skies and desert beauty of New Mexico as a whole. Worth it, apparently, despite the risk of running into a real Walter White or worse.

Trainspotting, Edinburgh

The characters of <I>Trainspotting</I>: Spud, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie.

The characters of Trainspotting, Spud, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie, were not exactly friendly locals.

This film worked as a counterbalance to the Edinburgh we were used to seeing on screen, the romantic Edinburgh, the historic Edinburgh, the charming Edinburgh; the castle, the Royal Mile, the Georgian facades. Sudden you had Renton and his heroin-addicted mates robbing clueless tourists, shooting dogs in parks and glassing people for fun and you thought, hmm. Maybe not? Gone are the Georgian facades in Trainspotting; instead we have bleak high-rise council estates. Gone is the castle, replaced by a betting shop with the worst toilet in the world. Charming.

The Wire, Baltimore

Dominic West is Jimmy McNulty in Baltimore drugs-trade drama <i>The Wire</I>, which was created out of the work of former news reporter David Simon.

Dominic West as detective Jimmy McNulty on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire.

The main problem for the city of Baltimore after the release and success of The Wire, the gritty crime series, was that most viewers didn't have any other frame of reference to balance it out. What do you know about Baltimore? Precious little, really. Except now you know it's a hotbed of drug use and violent crime, where institutionalised corruption stymies any hope of arresting the city's slide. Is it really like that? Most people will never find out, thanks to The Wire.

Chernobyl, Ukraine

Aerial photo of abandoned town of Pripyat in Chernobyl with the amusement park which never opened. chernobyl
iStock

The abandoned town of Pripyat near Chernobyl. Photo: iStock

OK, so Chernobyl is based on real events – very, very famous events. Still, do we all need reminding that Ukraine was the site of the world's worst nuclear reactor meltdown, a disaster responsible for several hundred deaths and long-term carcinogenic fall-out? Would anyone relive that nightmare on screen and think to themselves, hey, Chernobyl, love to pay it a visit? Well, as it happens, yes. We humans are a curious bunch. The release of Chernobyl the miniseries actually caused a huge spike in the number of people interested in visiting the site. To each their own?

Narcos, Colombia

Narcos

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in Narcos.

Poor Colombia is desperate to shed the image it garnered during the bad old times, the drug wars of the 1980s and 90s. Bad reputations like that take a long time to fade, despite the country's impressive recovery. And it makes it even more difficult when there are shows like Narcos, the Netflix crime drama tracing the story of Colombia's most notorious drug baron, Pablo Escobar. In the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, local writer Omar Rincon said, "[Narcos] is something like Trump's idea of us. It may do well outside Colombia, but here it produces anger and laughter." It also reinforces everything foreigners think they know about the country.

City of God, Rio de Janeiro

SMH.  Daily Metropolitan

City Of God.

Buena Vista International

This film about organised crime in a Rio de Janeiro favela is brilliant, but also brutal. And like Narcos, it's a perfect depiction of everything people already think they know about its location. Rio is crime and poverty and casual violence. It's a place to be frightened of, somewhere to avoid. Brazilian film critic Ivana Bentes wrote, "City of God promotes tourism in hell." When you put it like that...

Shetland, the Shetlands

Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez in Shetland

Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez in Shetland.

The Shetland Islands, up in the far north of Scotland, look absolutely gorgeous in the BBC TV show of the same name. Heather-covered hills, windswept coastlines, quaint port towns. The only issue with The Shetlands, in fact, is that so many people there keep getting murdered. Like, one a week – and only 20,000 people live there. Per capita, there must be more people slain in Shetland than Tijuana. Think I'll take my chances in Edinburgh, thanks.

Which movies and TV shows do you think are terrible adverts for their locations? Have you visited a place after seeing it on screen? What attracts you? What would turn you off?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

See also: The world's 10 greatest, binge-worthy travel shows

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