MANADO (eTN) – How does a country which basically offers the same ingredients as its neighbors, with limited funds for promotion and worldwide advertising campaigns, promote itself? The Philippines has been struggling to capture its fair share of travelers over the last decade, despite the fact that total arrivals increased by 13 percent in 2011.
“We continue to be far behind other countries in the region when looking at total arrivals. We now reach over 3.75 million foreign visitors per year and forecast some 4.2 million of travelers for 2012. However, we remain far behind countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, or Indonesia,” analyzed Benito C. Bengzon, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Tourism Planning and Promotions at the Philippines Department of Tourism during a press conference at the ASEAN Travel Forum. Even the numbers of ASEAN travelers remain limited. They represent only 9 percent of all arrivals to the Philippines compared to a market share of 40 percent to 50 percent for some countries in the region.
The Philippines archipelago has beautiful islands; world-class diving spots and beaches; superb landscapes; a rich culture; and above all, friendly people. But most of these elements would also apply to other countries in the region. How better to capture the attention of the world by stimulating travelers’ imaginations, as well as their sense of humor? This is the revolutionary approach of the recently-named State Secretary for Tourism, Ramon Jimenez Jr. – revolutionary, as Southeast Asia remains generally rather conservative in its marketing approach.
A former executive from the advertising world, Mr. Jimenez has, in less than three months, completely revamped the image of Philippines tourism with a new tagline: “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” The campaign is supported by a catchy video, halfway between a quiz, fun facts, and the traditional tourism clip. The rhythm of the video seems to go like a merry-go-round, with islands’ names popping up between colorful desserts, smiling people, fiestas, singing birds, and festivals. The film adds a sense of color, sound, and movement, splashing from all over the country. At the end of the video, there is a sensation that advertising movies from other ASEAN countries seem suddenly pretty old-fashioned. “We want to customize our tourism approach according to markets, with the idea of adding a fun dimension to all the activities we propose,” added the State Assistant Secretary.
Capitalizing on Filipino people is at heart of the campaign. “Tourism is a way to alleviate poverty in the country. And by putting Filipinospeople in the center of our campaign, we want to attract visitors’ attention to our best tourism ‘factor’: our fun-loving, warm, and hospitable Filipino people,” told Benito C. Bengzon.
Having a vibrant new slogan and image are great on paper, but it will be of little use if the government does not look seriously at the Philippines’ two most serious issues: the lack of promotion and the urgent need of modernizing infrastructure. Like Indonesia, Assistant Secretary Benito C. Bengzon, believes that good infrastructure and connectivity are an essential requisite to the Philippines’ future tourism success. “Our government is strongly committed to improve infrastructures with many projects already started or in the pipeline,” he explained.
With the current boom in low-cost traffic, the Philippines are currently investing some US$25 million for the modernization of Manila International Airport (NAIA), as well as the expansion of Clark and Cebu airport. There is also plans for the construction of brand new airports in Bohol and Bicol. “We also continue to upgrade our road network, as well as our ports, with a special fund of US$70 million to upgrade roads leading to tourist attractions or development areas,” added Mr. Bengzon. Another US$5 billion is due to be invested through 2015 to increase accommodation across the entire nation.
Recognizing that government’s funding will be limited, product and destination marketing will be concentrated on a few destinations – the ones offering the best potential to support growth, thanks to their good connectivity. From a total of 21 tourism clusers, 9 destinations will have priority including: Manila for MICE and culture; Cebu for MICE and beach holidays; Boracay, Palawan, and Davao for beach and nature activities; while Bohol and Northern Luzon has eco-tourism products.
The Department of Tourism will also work closely with local tour operators to add new circuits and tours. Finally, The DOT will try to simplify visa formalities and rationalize immigration formalities at airports. “We are studying possibilities to ease the entry into our country in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs,” disclosed Mr. Bengzon. There is definitely a new sense of optimism for Filipino tourism.