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Pit Señor, it’s more fun in Cebu now

/ 07:56 AM January 11, 2012

I salute the Department of Tourism for coming out with a new brand to attract visitors to the Philippines, which it summed up in six words: “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

For some time in the past we had this “Wow Philippines,” which former tourism secretary Richard Gordon coined to promote tourism in the country that our very own Ace Durano from Cebu continued to use when he became tourism secretary until the end of his term in 2010. Did it really help to generate more attention to the Philippines worldwide and bring in many tourists? That we will know later once we see the numbers.

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The first tourism secretary of the new Aquino government, Alberto Lim, came up with “Pilipinas kay ganda” catchphrase to replace “Wow Philippines,” but it did not catch fire and was highly criticized for being not so original. Before we know it, out it was. I did not say it before out of respect for the secretary whom I first met at the Makati Business Club Office in 2009 when he was still its executive director. But I did have some objections to the use of “Pilipinas kay ganda” to promote the Philippines. First, it was in Filipino which foreigners who have never been to the Philippines would not understand. Second is that I heard that in some countries abroad the term “Pilipina” has now taken the generic equivalent of a female household helper.

As for the new slogan, some say it is also unoriginal. But who says being unoriginal is wrong? The fact that it catches fire this early means it is a good one. It might be the one finally that we need to sell the Philippines easily to foreigners.

Now what is not fun is this: despite the good feeling of being a “wow country” in the first 10 years of the new millennium, the number of tourists that we drew by the time 2010 ended reached only 3,522,887, not all of which were foreigners in the true sense of the word. They also included Filipino balikbayans. It is true that the number of tourist arrivals in 2010 is 3.68 times bigger than the initial 955,968 number of foreign tourists that we had in 2000. In fact, this represented an annual compounded growth rate of 13.9 percent. What is also true, however, is that our performance was not much to crow about when compared with that of our neighbors.

In  2010, places abroad with smaller populations recorded more foreign tourist arrivals. For instance, Malaysia had 24.6 million; Hong Kong, 20.1 million;  Thailand, 15.8 million; Macao, 11.9 million; Singapore, 9.2 million; South Korea, 8.8 million and Australia 5.9 million. That is in total. In number of tourists per 1,000 people, here are the figures around 2007 and 2008. For every 1,000 people in Malaysia, they had 873 foreign tourists; Australia, 266; Thailand, 222; Japan, 65; Vietnam, 49 and  China, 40 , whereas it was only 33 per 1,000 people in the Philippines.

If you ask why we had this low number of tourists, the answers are obvious. One is our lack of good promotion and marketing program to attract foreign tourists because of our low budget. Second, is the poor infrastructure to support the development of tourism in the country. Even if we only had few tourists compared with our neighbors , we find, for example, that our airports are too small to handle them. That includes our airport terminal in Mactan Island. It is supposed to handle only 4.5 million people a year, but it is presently serving more than seven million already of domestic and foreign traffic.

Next to our problem at the airports is our problem at the seaports, which are not only inadequate but also have insufficient facilities to handle the growing number of passengers. Next to our ports, we add the poor conditions of our roads within our cities and in the rural areas, especially in Cebu, for example. Poor roads discourage tourists to move around.

In the new slogan, the emphasis is not in tourist attractions, which many other places in the world also use, including our close neighbors in Asia, which have retained their oriental character, a great magnet to tourists from the West. The emphasis now is on the experience that foreigners get in interacting with the Filipino people. Many foreigners often find Filipinos warmer and more pleasant to deal with than people in other parts of the world. Are not our Filipino workers also the favorite of foreign employers? With that, perhaps we just hit the right approach to promoting the Philippines: the Filipinos people themselves. We are the main attraction.

In announcing the new slogan, the Department of Tourism cited the Lonely Planet guidebook which calls Filipinos “among the most easygoing and ebullient people anywhere.” Hence, the new strategy according to new Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. is simple: “while other countries invite you to observe, Filipinos can promise a more heartfelt and interesting experience. Wherever you go, whatever you do in the country, it’s the Filipinos that will complete your vacation and will make your holiday unforgettable.”

Jimenez says the national line is a goal, a constant reminder to ourselves why we can tell travellers it’s more fun here than anywhere else. “It needs everyone’s support for it to stay true—we need to make sure people’s experiences in our country are positive, enjoyable, and, most of all, fun.”

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Pit Señor, it’s more fun in Cebu now.

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TAGS: Department of Tourism (DOT), Philippines, Tourism
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