Panda power! Chengdu remakes London cabs to drive tourism
Some 50 London Hackney carriages have gone black and white in order to promote tourism in Chengdu, a provincial capital in southwest China and the native land of giant pandas.
The “panda cabs” hit the streets on June 1 and will be cruising around London throughout the 2012 Summer Olympics, until August 31.
Chengdu wants you
The specially painted cabs are part of a three-month program themed, “Panda cabs running for the Olympics.”
The program promotes Chengdu as a tourist destination for international travelers.
Sponsored by the Chengdu city government, the campaign is jointly run by the Chengdu Association for Cultural Exchange with Foreign Countries (成都市对外文化交流协会) and London Taxi Advertising agency (LTA).
Thirty taxis sport full black-and-white livery to mimic the look of a panda. The other 20 carry cartoon panda images on both sides.
All “panda cabs” bear Chengdu’s tourism slogan, "Chengdu, hometown of pandas, spice it up," as well as the web address of Chengdu’s official English website, Go Chengdu (www.gochengdu.cn), which also went live on June 1.
‘Panda cabs’ bring more income
“Tourist destinations use taxi advertising to showcase [their specialty] ... usually this is a beach or rural area,” says LTA spokesperson Laura Hardy.
“Go Chengdu has used the [concept that it is] home to giant pandas and the pandas themselves,” adds Hardy, noting that her company has carried out similar campaigns for clients including SriLankan Airlines.
“Panda cabs” are based in central London and set to travel through the city's most popular tourist areas, including Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and Trafalgar Square.
More on CNNGo: 10 greatest taxis of the world
“Even if people don't ride in the taxis, motorists and people on the streets see the advertising while walking or traveling in central London,” says Hardy.
The campaign also seems to benefit the cabbies.
Taxi driver Dan Brian told Chinese newspaper Chengdu Daily that he earned 30 percent more money on his first day driving the "panda cab."
"The royals" for hire
As if pandas aren't enough, Go Chengdu also hired royal lookalikes to ride the “panda cab” to further promotion.
On June 4, Go Chengdu posted a picture of “The Queen,” “Prince William” and “Princess Kate" on its Facebook page, a social networking site that's blocked in the mainland (gotta wonder how Chengdu authorities access it in the first place). The image shows the "royal family" posing next to a painted cab during the Diamond Jubilee celebration.
Chengdu authorities have produced a funny video with the royal impersonators to advertise how a “panda taxi” saved the trio from turning up late to the Diamond Jubilee event.
Raising awareness of the giant panda
Chengdu authorities bill the “panda cabs” not as a tourism campaign, but rather an effort to raise awareness of the endangered animal.
“The Chengdu program is aimed to promote global efforts to conserve the giant pandas and harmony between man and nature, which echoes the Olympic spirit of unity, friendship and peace,” according to a post on the Go Chengdu website.
By interacting with screens in the back of the taxis, “panda cab” passengers have a chance to win tickets to the Edinburgh Zoo, where two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, have resided since December 2011.
More on CNNGo: 'One panda is worth 10 of our lives'
The British Department of Transport is expecting about 500,000 international tourists in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, with an additional 70,000 athletes and officials.
During this time, an additional 65 million taxi journeys are expected, says Laura Hardy.
“There is no better time to get Chengdu’s message onto the streets," she adds.