July 5, 2023
MANILA – We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: A tourism slogan is only as good in drawing tourists to Philippine shores as the beauty of our attractions, and how easy and convenient we make it for travelers to enjoy them.
A tourism slogan—regardless of how much the government spends on it, or how much it’s debated over on social media—is only good as the supporting infrastructure that makes it easy for foreigners to enter our country, stay in comfortable and safe accommodations, move around conveniently, and when their vacation is over, depart with a pleasant experience that makes them want to return in the future.
One could have the best catchphrase for marketing the Philippines’ beaches abroad, but if tourists continually have a difficult time getting through our airports, using our antiquated and inconvenient transportation systems, and fearing for their safety while moving about the country, it won’t be long before word will get around that the product we’re offering them does not match the hype.
What the Philippines needs to draw in more tourists is for our form (the tourism campaign) and our substance (the tourist attractions we offer visitors) to go hand in hand at more or less equal levels.
If the hype outstrips the product by too much, foreigners will feel they’re not getting their money’s worth. If the hype is insufficient, it will be a waste of the genuinely beautiful attractions that our country has to offer.
That being the case, there is something to be said about the way the Philippines punishes itself with predictable regularity in coming up with new marketing campaigns every time a new presidential administration comes into power.
And there is also something to be said about the latest iteration of this process which has yielded the now controversial “Love the Philippines” tourism campaign that has gotten off to a rocky start, landing in international news for the shameful use of stock videos of places in other countries.
First, our tourism officials must make sure that, going forward, all key stakeholders are consulted in the crafting of the campaign that will market the country overseas. This means consulting not only officials within the government’s echo chamber but also private sector experts and representatives of the tourism sector, all of whom would be able to provide valuable inputs for the creative process.
Second, given the sensitivity of the public to these efforts—and the manner by which public opinion can scuttle even the most well-intentioned efforts—great care must be taken in ensuring that all aspects of the campaign are thought through. That means even the smallest detail that could be subjected to criticism be addressed to cover all bases, so to speak.
Finally, once the tourism campaign gets underway, and once evidence emerges that it is starting to gain traction with its intended audience, officials must resist the temptation to tinker with it or, as what tends to happen every six years, change it completely. These campaigns need time to take root and be linked to the nation’s public identity as far as the foreign market is concerned. Changing the campaign every six years will do nothing for us except ensure that we spend substantial sums of public funds on efforts that won’t have the chance to mature into full effectiveness.
Ultimately, however, we have to ensure that the product we offer—the Philippines as a travel destination—is up to the standards that big-spending international travelers require.
There is a reason why the Philippines’ tourist arrival numbers are the lowest among the so-called “Big Five” economies of Southeast Asia despite us reputedly having some of the best beaches and other tourist attractions in the world.
Indeed, the beauty of our white sands counts for nothing if there’s no way for tourists to get in and out in no more than half a day’s travel.
Despite campaigns like “Wow Philippines” or “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” having met with the approval of pundits on traditional and social media, the country’s tourism numbers remain in the doldrums relative to that of our neighbors.
Philippine tourist arrivals each year stand at about half of the levels being experienced by Indonesia and Vietnam (whose slogan isn’t even top-of-mind without Google’s help), about a third of Malaysia’s, and a pitiful fifth compared to Thailand’s.
Even with the Philippines’ most successful tourism efforts of the past, there is only so much a slogan can do.
No marketing slogan will be able to fix the dismal state of our airports, our unsafe sea transport system, our rickety mass transit modes on land, or our taxi drivers who always feel compelled to jack up their rates for foreign passengers.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Philippines’ policymakers in the public and private sectors need to focus on substance rather than form.
A catchy tourism slogan would be nice. But a complete package for tourists that will be exciting, convenient, and safe would be much better.