[OPINION] The missing link in our tourism strategy

January 17, 2018 at 16:00

The missing link in our tourism strategy

Numbers Don’t Lie By Andrew J. Masigan | January 15, 2018

About this time last year, members of Skål International, the world’s foremost organization of tourism professionals, had a meeting with the newly installed Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), actor Cesar Montano. I attended that meeting as a member of the group.

Understandably, sentiments of doubt and trepidation filled the room given Mr. Montano’s lack of experience in the tourism trade and absence of bureaucratic management skills. We wondered: What relevant skills does Mr. Montano bring to the table? Does he even have a plan? Can the fragile state of the tourism industry survive a COO who is learning on the job?

For those unaware, the TPB is the promotional arm of the Department of Tourism and is responsible for all facets of advertising and communications. This includes participation in international tourism expositions; promotion of Meetings Incentives, Conference and Events (MICE); creation of cultural and sporting events; and marketing communications through tri-media advertising, below-the-line advertising, public relations and internet adverts, among others. The TPB has a budget of P2.5 billion.

Before Mr. Montano addressed the group, we were all advised not to ask questions as he will not be entertaining them. It was an ominous sign.

In his pre-written speech, Montano casually shared what he thought was the most potent means to promote the Philippines to the world. His “grand idea” was to produce movies set in the Philippines.

Montano spoke about two films, in particular, which the TBP intended to co-produce and utilize its budget on. One is a film about pre-colonial Philippines and another, a romantic comedy entitled, Prayerfully Yours, starring Megan Fox and — surprise, surprise — Montano himself. Both films are to highlight the country’s landscapes, seascapes, flora and fauna in the hopes of doing for the Philippines what the Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand.

There was no talk about country branding, thematic or tactical advertising, MICE or forging alliances with international tour operators. It was all about Montano’s film fantasies. When members of the group huddled after Montano’s talk, we all agreed that we were royally screwed.

As of October 2017, Philippine tourism arrivals grew by 11% to 5.474 million visitors.

By all indications, the TPB and the Department of Tourism (DoT) will likely reach its target of 6.5 million visitors for the entire year. Not bad. It seems we weren’t screwed after all.

Upon reviewing the TPB’s accomplishments, I discovered that the lion’s share of the its budget were spent on legitimate promotional activities, not on Montano’s movie fantasies. Thankfully, sanity prevailed.

The Chinese were the drivers of growth with more than a million of them visiting our shores. They are now our second largest market, following Korea. While we all know that this is largely due to the cozy diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines, I would like to think that the TPB had something to do with it too.

Records show that the TPB successfully facilitated dozens of familiarization tours with travel operators and media; it participated in numerous international exhibitions like the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Singapore, Guangzhou International Travel Fair, OZTEK Dive Conference in Sydney and the Luxury Travel Congress in Dubai; it produced local tourism events such as the World Food Congress, Anilao Scuba Diving Festival and the Boracay Dragon Boat Festival; and it facilitated (or supported) multiple MICE event primarily relating to the ASEAN summit.

While the year may have been busy for the TPB, regretfully, sheer number of promotional activities are no longer enough to push Philippine tourism arrivals to the level of Indonesia or even Vietnam.

Vietnam attracted 12.9 million tourists last year, a whopping 29% increase from the year before. Indonesia welcomed 15 million visitors, a 21% leap from 2016. Within the ASEAN context, the Philippines is an underperformer and its growth rate, lethargic.

The gaping hole in the TPB efforts is country branding and a strong thematic advertising campaign to support it. This is where the TPB falls short.

To define terminologies, a country brand refers to how a nation is perceived by the world on several dimensions. Not only does it include a country’s attractiveness as a tourism destination, it also speaks about a nation’s heritage and history. It touches upon its culture, the stereotypes of its people, its exports and the global brands associated with it (like Jollibee). It reflects where a nations stands in terms of its economy. In short, a country brand is a snapshot of a country’s past, present, and future.

The concept of country branding has been around since the 1950s and progressive nations around the world have leveraged it for various purposes. Germany, for instance, built an image associated with precision and technology. France established theirs based on design and craftsmanship. Both nations have intentionally crafted these images to lend credibility to their exports, industries and of course, in tourism.

A thematic campaign, on the other hand, refers to a series of advertisement messages that share a single idea and theme which make up an integrated marketing communication.

Former TPB head, Chicoy Enerio and former DoT secretary, Mon Jimenez, did it right.

The Philippine tourism industry grew from the doldrums to 6 million visitors over five years on the back of the “Its more Fun in the Philippines” campaign. It was a brilliant thematic campaign that evolved to become our country brand. It was utilized not only by the tourism sector but also in investment promotions and diplomacy.

We still recall how Philippine investment forums in Europe, Asia, and America would go by the theme, “Doing Business is more fun in the Philippines.” They were packed to the rafters every time.

In diplomacy, bilateral government meetings would be themed as “Partnerships are More Fun in the Philippines.” The word “fun” gave the country its character.

The “Its More Fun in the Philippines” campaign was a runaway success since it was supported by a multimedia blitz utilizing TV, print, billboards, cinema ads, digital ads, and special events. It included advertising spots on CNN International, BBC, the Asian Food Channel, and MTV.

Throughout the life of the campaign, the Philippines became a “fun” place to visit, a “fun” economy to do business in and a “fun” people to collaborate with. It changed the Philippine paradigm in the eyes of the world. It was a smart and effective way to spend the TPB budget.

This is what is lacking in the TPB and DoT today. I would even venture to say that the 11% growth realized in 2017 was largely due to the residual effect of the “Its ore Fun in the Philippines” campaign.

Last June, the DoT launched a new campaign called “Experience the Philippines.” It was aborted, still-born, due to allegations of plagiarism of its TV commercial entitled “Sights.” The DoT and TPB have since reverted to “Its More Fun in the Philippines” as its slogan, but it is not promoted as aggressively as it was before. It is neither seen on international TV nor in billboards in Time Square, Piccadilly Square, or Ginza as it once was.

The TBP must deliver more than 11% growth if it is to be regionally competitive. The TBP, with its P2.5-billion budget, must spend strategically so that growth rates can approximate that of Vietnam and Indonesia.

More than five million people depend on the tourism industry for their livelihood. Tourism provides a trickle down effect with turbo-charged power. This is why the TBP and DoT are just as important as the Departments of Trade & Industry or even the Department of Finance. Let’s not forget, tourism accounts for more than 10% of our gross domestic product. We simply cannot dismiss tourism as a minor cog in our machine.

At this juncture, familiarization-tours, occasional MICE and sporting events no longer cut it. The TPB must think strategically and give due focus on country branding. This is the hole that needs to be filled. Only with growth rates above 20% can the tourism industry uplift the lives of more Filipinos.

Source: http://bworldonline.com/missing-link-tourism-strategy/

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