Italy outraged over easyJet ad referencing mafia in south

FILE - In this file photo dated Wednesday, April 23, 2008, an EasyJet jetliner lands at the Milan Linate airport, Italy. European budget airline eastJet said Thursday May 28, 2020, it plans to cut up to a third of its 15,000-strong workforce as the global aviation industry struggles to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, FILE) (Antonio Calanni, AP2008)

ROME – Italian officials voiced outrage Tuesday over an online advertisement by budget airline easyJet describing the southern Italian region of Calabria as lacking tourists because of its history of mafia and earthquakes.

EasyJet took down the promotional text on its website, promised to investigate how it originated and said Chief Executive Johan Lundgren had sent a letter of apologies to the governor of Calabria.

In the original ad promoting flights to Lamezia, easyJet wrote that Calabria offered visitors an authentic taste of Italy, even though it had “bizarre houses” perched on cliffs. “This region suffers from an obvious lack of tourists due to its history of mafia activity and earthquakes and the lack of iconic cities such as Rome or Venice that can attract Instagram fans.”

Located in the southern “toe” of boot-shaped Italy, Calabria is indeed home to the ’ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, but it also has spectacular beaches, national parks and other tourist draws. It was largely spared the recent coronavirus outbreak and is eager to see tourists return for the peak summer season.

Opposition leader Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party said easyJet should be ashamed of itself. Calabria's governor, Jole Santelli, said the ad was “offensive, distorted and had a clear racist flavor."

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Santelli said she appreciated that easyJet had apologized and removed the ad. But she said the best way to remedy the “unprecedented gaffe” would be to increase flights to the region.

EasyJet said it was sorry “if this content has caused any offense." In a statement, it said: “The intention was to highlight how Calabria is underestimated as a holiday destination for international travelers and to inspire more people to explore the region.”