Lili Gil: Collateral Damage from Cartagena Prostitution Story

Who would have thought that a historic event, the Summit of the Americas, would have turned into a marketing case study of bad PR and bungled crisis-management for the U.S., Colombia, and even an opportunistic airline.

During a time of emerging stability for the region and a revival of investor interest in Latin America, host country Colombia saw a perfect opportunity to highlight the country's tourism potential as well as the positive impact of Colombians in the U.S. go down in flames thanks to a few Secret Service agents having a little too much ‘fun.’

I get it, sex sells, but why all of the news and reports on the 'prostitution of Cartagena?’ The media is obsessing over sex, while ignoring the historic gathering of world leaders that just took place at a destination recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage. Known for its fortress, stunning cobble-stone streets and untouched old-city villas, Cartagena is listed next to Istanbul, Fiji, Paris as a top travel destination in the world.

How about reminding Americans that Colombia is one of their strongest allies in Latin America, that Colombians rank number one among Hispanics for college attainment in the U.S., 29% of Colombians in the U.S. are college educated, and that country's economy --which grew at around 6 percent in 2010, according to the World Economic Forum --is spoken of as a potential future addition to the BRIC group.

But you may wonder, why should I care in America about upsetting the perception of Colombians? At the core of this story lies unfortunate ignorance displayed by most media and marketers alike surrounding Colombia and Latinos.

Their words and narrative are having a piercing impact and causing collateral damage on the perceptions, image and loyalties of close to one million fellow Colombians in the U.S.; of which I am one. We are feeling the heat and the outrage from the derailed coverage of the Summit of the Americas.

Why is this so critical? Because this type of media dis-service provides validation for existing stereotypes of Latinos.

The icing on the cake of this PR fiasco was served up by Spirit Airlines, who quickly seized the ‘opportunity’ with distasteful advertising of prostitutes and ‘more bang for your buck’ for flights to Cartagena.

Spirit's Chief Marketing Officer, Mr. Barry Biffle, should call the culturally incompetent agency that suggested that copy and graphic for the main page. Otherwise, Mr. Biffle  may end up baffled by the power of a million angry Colombians.

An online petition has already begun circulating --created by a Colombian professional in the U.S., Eddie Niño, on --called: ‘Spirit Airlines: Stop promoting Cartagena, Colombia as sexual tourism destination.’

Let us all learn from this experience. Don’t let sensationalism damage your image with America’s fastest growing consumer base; Latinos.

Lili Gil is a Hispanic marketing expert and contributor to Fox News Latino. She was elected as Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and is co-founder and managing partner of XL Alliance. You can follow Lili Gil on Twitter @liligil. 

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