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Branding the Philippines

/ 07:52 AM September 15, 2011

Acting  Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez is beating his brains trying to figure out a way to sell the Philippines as a tourist destination. Mr. Jimenez replaced Alberto Lim in the Department of Tourism after the latter resigned but many believe President Benigno Aquino III showed Lim the door after he figured in various controversies, chief of which was his failure to unite the tourism sector and the brouhaha surrounding his idea of a brand for the Philippines.

Flak rained on Lim when he launched the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” slogan, which critics said was just copied from Poland. The ad was scrapped and replaced by “Tara na, Pilipinas” but even before the tourism sector could evaluate the new brand, Lim got tired of traveling and called it quits.

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Marketing the Philippines should be “as easy as selling fried chicken” because the Philippines is beautiful. “Pero bakit napakahirap? Para tayong nagpapabunot ng ngipin (But why is it so hard, as if we’re getting our tooth extracted)?”

Jimenez’s frustration is not difficult to understand. Indeed, if our country is so beautiful, why are tourists not coming in eight digits, like in France? The world’s tourism champion accounted for 79 million tourist arrivals in 2009, the United States with 54 million or China and Spain each getting 52.2 million visitors during the same year.

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One can’t compare mangoes with apples, so maybe it would be fair to weigh the performance of the domestic tourism sector against that of  our Asian neighbor Malaysia, which is enjoying a boom in tourism.

According to Internet resources, more than 19,456,000 tourists visited Malaysia from January to October 2009, while the Philippines managed with less than 3.2 million tourist arrivals in the same year. Jimenez could be looking at the performance of our Asian neighbor because the “Malaysia Truly Asia” brand is said to fuel its tourism industry.

The subject was mentioned during the TV interview and I heard Jessica Soho thumbing down the Malaysian brand by telling  Jimenez that the concept is “vague.” The ad is basically a promotional and marketing tool for Malaysia’s flag carrier, Malaysian Airlines, (MAS) a government-owned and -controlled corporation. MAS commissioned the Integrated Strategic Communication (ISC) firm to produce the ad in 1999. Ever since it came out, it has bagged numerous prestigious awards from tourism and travel associations around the globe, including in media categories for broadcast, print and website. The worldwide recognition in 2007 translated into more tourist arrivals and here we can understand why Malaysia has stuck with the brand for the past 11 years.

It is well worth noting that Malaysia’s tourism enterprise was in the doldrums from 2000 to 2005. The first sector affected by low tourist arrivals was none other than the country’s flag carrier although MAS had other problems connected with weaknesses in operations and the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Things started to turn around when Malaysia’s flag carrier forged a deal with the world’s largest football club that owns Manchester United football team.

Basketball is the most popular sport in the Philippines; but in Europe, the American continent, Australia and Asia-Pacific, football drives people crazy. Hundreds of millions of people watch Premier League football on television. In 2005, MAS agreed to become the official air charterer of Manchester United’s Asian Tour.

The telecasts of “Malaysia Truly Asia” during the football games’ commercial break opened wide the door for tourists to visit Malaysia. The rest is history.

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I have watched the 30-second commercial a number of times on international cable news channels. Here’s my two-cent’s worth as a lay observer: The images in the advert evoke exotic places and culture. People of not just different but big cultures go to Malaysia and as a multicultural center, Malaysia is saying that it is “truly Asia.”

On the other hand, the images are really nothing new to tourists of all races. The featured scenic spots and faces would amount to the generic location and visage of Asia. As a recent visitor to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, I will say without fear of contradiction that the scenic spots there are way more beautiful than the scenes cinematographed for MAS. I might be digressing, but Lake Sebu is a virtual paradise.

Is the Philippines lagging in tourism because of poor branding?

Brick Marketing, a service marketing website defines brand as “the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan or design of the company who owns the idea or image.

“Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognizable by more and more people, and identified with a certain service or product when there are many other companies offering the same service or product. Advertising professionals work on branding not only to build brand recognition, but also to build good reputations and a set of standards which the company should strive to maintain or surpass.” (To be continued)

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TAGS: governance, Government, Ramon Jimenez, Tourism
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