Virgin Blue has been forced to apologize to the town of Dubbo after the central-western New South Wales city took offense at what it saw as a sneering reference to it in a newspaper advertisement.
The ad for the discount carrier’s new frequent flyer program, was seen as a gratuitous backhand that led to an immediate threat of a boycott of the airline, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“There’s no points expiry if you earn or redeem points within any three-year period — so you won’t have to take a holiday in Dubbo if you really wanted to fly to Vanuatu,” the ad said.
Nationals’ New South Wales upper house MP Duncan Gay immediately responded, saying the city’s residents would take umbrage at the remark made by marketing graduates employed by Virgin Blue.
“They sit around in their black skivvies, drinking imported beer and with their ponytails dangling, and don’t think about the harm they’re causing the community,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment in the Dubbo community and it’s caused anger in the community.
“They don’t need smart arses making these sorts of statements.”
Dubbo, home of the Western Plains Zoo, was one of the state’s most popular regional tourist attractions, its fastest-growing inland centre and the gateway to the NSW outback, Gay said.
“I’m urging the Dubbo community to boycott Virgin Blue until they apologize,” he added.
Dubbo mayor Allan Smith also called on the airline to apologize.
“It’s inappropriate to bag one of New South Wales’ and Australia’s best inland tourist destinations,” Smith said.
He said he was suspicious about the possible motives behind the ad, noting that Virgin Blue did not fly to Dubbo, which was served by Qantas, Regional Express and Airlink.
Smith predicted a lot of Dubbo residents would stop flying Virgin.
“I’m quite happy to be in Dubbo rather than Vanuatu,” he said.
In the face of community outrage, an embarrassed Virgin Blue apologized, saying it was intended to be “tongue in cheek” and not a barb aimed at the city.
“We didn’t mean to cause offense to Dubbo or the people of Dubbo,” spokeswoman Amanda Bolger said.
“It was intended to be tongue in cheek. We certainly didn’t intend to cause offense and we’re very sorry.”
Bolger told reporter David Crawshaw that the ad would not be published again.