Muppets, Moomins and Mickey – The Cartoon World’s Top Tourist Ambassadors

With the news that New York City has turned to none other than the Muppets as its official tourism ambassadors, we thought it was time to take a look at other popular puppets and cartoon character associated with holiday destinations.

NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined by Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great and Pepe the King Prawn at a Manhattan press conference this week, where he announced the year-long team-up.
But what other parts of the world have iconic characters of their own they can recruit? And how many have?

Sweden and Finland: The Moomins. Drawing heavily on the Scandinavian legends of trolls, the Moomins are a sight cuddlier than the monsters of myth and Lord of the Rings.

Far from being rampaging giants, these creations of Swedish-Finn illustrator and writer Tove Jansson are chubby white hippo-like creatures that live in the forests of Finland, in Moominvalley and get up to all sorts of child-friendly adventures in a series of nine picture books and a comic strip all published between 1945 and 1993.

The Moomins are already considered tourism ambassadors for Finland, with the country even hosting the theme park Moomin World, just outside Naantali.

Belgium: The Smurfs. Known in their native Belgium as Les Schtroumpfs – “Smurf” is a Dutch translation adopted by the English-speaking world – these are another cartoonist’s creation, first appearing on the Belgian scene in 1958 from the pen of illustrator Peyo.

Since the first Smurfs cartoon, their fame has spread around the world, and now the characteristic blue-skinned gnomes with their white hats and trousers are recognised just about everywhere. They have appeared on film and TV many times and their merchandising empire is legend – their fame making them the perfect holiday ambassadors for Belgium, complementing its beautiful mediaeval cities and speciality beers, of course! Bizarrely, however, Smurfs only appear in theme parks outside Belgium, such as US parks owned by the Kings Entertainment Corporation.

France: Asterix the Gaul. In contrast to Belgium and the Smurfs, France has been quicker off the mark in claiming ownership of its iconic cartoon stars. The adventures of plucky little Asterix the Gaul and his pal Obelix have delighted Europe’s children since the first adventure was published in 1961 – and the Parc Astérix theme park can be found some 22 miles north of Paris. Other regions in France, particularly the most ‘Gaulish’ region of Brittany make much of Asterix and co, and their images pop up with startling regularity.

USA: Mickey Mouse…and all the rest! Where would any look at cartoon figures be without a look at the vast Disney Empire and its associated holiday resorts? Since his first appearance on screen in 1928, Mickey has led a seemingly unstoppable cavalcade of memorable characters, many of them from the most famous fairy tales of the world. The epitome of holiday branding, this success has led to the world famous Disney resorts to be found in Florida, California and France. When it comes to promoting tourism, nobody holds a candle to Mickey!

Can you think of any other characters that would be well served promoting their country of origin? While you think, sit back and enjoy the Muppets again, this time having a little “help” with their unmistakeable theme tune…


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