Europe-PH News

Beyond Campaigns

March 29, 2012

Trishia P. Octaviano

Europe-PH News

To bolster the status of the Philippines in the international tourism stage, the Tourism department last year unveiled a new campaign that quickly went viral, online and offline. Despite this initial success, industry leaders and analysts said the government must go beyond such campaigns, as many challenges still confront the industry.

BBDO Guerrero, the advertising agency behind the new tourism campaign, clarified that no rebranding took place.

“What we did was not a branding or a rebranding exercise for the country. The Philippines is already a brand... We simply found a new way of communicating -- more modern and distinct, a different approach compared with how competition communicates,” said Ombet D. Traspe, director of marketing at BBDO Guerrero, in an e-mail to BusinessWorld. 

“And that is important if you want to differentiate from the rest of the pack, especially if you don’t have the same amount of resources that afford you to out-shout them in media,” Mr. Traspe added.

Echoing this view, Miguela M. Mena, dean of the University of the Philippines Asian Institute of Tourism, said: “We have a brand because in the industry, it is always being told that Philippines is the brand. ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ is like a selling line. It’s not being said as a slogan. It’s more of a selling line for the Philippines.”

Though a viral campaign is important, an industry official and a member of the academe agreed that translating the “slogan” into concrete programs matters more in boosting the tourism industry.

“How they spin off that slogan is more important,” said Alejandra C. Clemente, president of the Federation of Tourism Industries of the Philippines and chairman of Rajah Tours Philippines, Inc., in an interview.

For her part, Maria Cecilia A. Tio Cuison, dean of the University of Santo Tomas College of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said: “It’s the content, it’s the substance that we should be working on … Yes it’s fun but I hope that the government will do something with the substance and content. When I say substance and content, what do we really have to offer to make the country a more viable tourist destination?”

Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez told BusinessWorld the unveiling of the new campaign was just one of the DoT’s “aggressive initiatives” to achieve its vision of building “a vibrant tourism industry that plays a key role in driving socioeconomic progress in the country.”

“We plan to launch more aggressive initiatives that will revive the industry and shift attitudes. The unveiling of our new brand campaign is one of the many aggressive tacks we will adopt to grab a larger share of the market and help us achieve our target of 10 million foreign tourists by 2016,” Mr. Jimenez said in an e-mail.

The campaign is backed up by programs that will address key issues in the following areas: infrastructure, transportation, product development, travel and investment facilitation, and institutional tourism concerns, he said.

“This year, we aim to finalize and implement the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) which shall serve as the country’s framework for national competitiveness,” Mr. Jimenez added.

Tourism plan

The NTDP was initiated by former Tourism secretary Alberto A. Lim. Its three main objectives are to develop and market competitive products and destinations; improve market access, connectivity, and destination infrastructure; and improve institutional, governance and human resource capacities. 

Benito C. Bengzon, Jr., DoT assistant secretary for tourism planning and promotions, said in an interview with BusinessWorld: “We were looking at where we could be competitive -- is it dive tourism? Is it cultural, historical, and heritage sites? Spas, shopping, and entertainment? We have actually narrowed them down to nine major products. And this was the result of a study done by our consultants.”

These nine areas described in the NTDP, as detailed by Asia Pacific Projects, Inc.-Tourism and Hospitality Consultants President Narzalina Z. Lim, are: nature-based tourism; cultural tourism; sun and beach tourism; leisure and entertainment tourism; meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibitions (MICE) tourism; health, wellness, and retirement tourism; cruise and nautical tourism; diving and marine sports tourism; and education tourism.

The development of tourism, said Ms. Mena, has two tracks. “One track is the marketing track or selling. Tourism is selling, it’s a business. You sell either a place or an experience. But another track that must be looked at as well is product development, or what you offer.”

These two tracks are complimentary. “All efforts should be geared towards marketing without forgetting about your product. If you have a good product and you don’t market it well, then people will not know your product.”

“We have to do it simultaneously. That’s being done as well with some of the national plans,” she said.

These plans, the DoT said, are anchored on why “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” 

Mr. Jimenez said the DoT would like to bring “fun” to a deeper level, and to mean “good governance that practices good business, proper development, and management.” It also means “easy, convenient, and hassle-free [travel] which should be evident across the tourism value chain.”

Airline woes

For French businessman Hubert d’Aboville, president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), “more fun” should mean having direct flights from Europe to Manila and vice-versa.

“What is absolutely awful is to know that from Europe to the Philippines we have no direct flight. Why do we have no direct flight? [It’s] because of the common carriers tax that the Philippines refuses to lift. [With this] we are losing hundreds of thousands of tourists from Europe and these tourists have pocket money to spend,” said Mr. d’Aboville. 

The Philippines charges international carriers with a 3% common carriers tax, plus a 2.5% gross Philippine billings tax on cargo and passenger revenues originating from the country, resulting in taxes of 5.5% on gross receipts. This has forced European carriers to phase out direct flights from Europe to Manila.

“People who can afford do not want to do what I do. To go back to Paris, and I will be flying from Manila to Taipei, Taipei to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Paris. I tell you, this kind of trip is no fun,” said Mr. d’Aboville. 

Air France KLM, the only European carrier with direct flights from Europe to Manila, will cease operations in the country in April. 

“The last direct flight is KLM and they kissed goodbye because they’re not making money. In the airline industry the profit is very, very small, and when they’re paying what they’re paying here, they end up losing money, so they go away,” said Mr. d’Aboville. 

The other problem is the two-year-old European Union ban on Philippine carriers and the US Federal Aviation Authority’s downgrade of the Philippine aviation sector to Category 2 in 2008 over safety concerns.

The FAA’s Category 2 status “will soon be upgraded,” Mr. Jimenez said.

Infrastructure, security needed

The Philippines being an archipelago, accessibility plays a pivotal role in attracting tourists. 

“Given our geographical characteristics, [what’s] important for us in infrastructure is access; how you move people from one place to another from the entry point. All entry points -- airports, sea ports -- those have to be looked at because [they’re] the first impression of the visitors. That will make or break the experience,” Ms. Mena said.

Mr. Jimenez said the construction of “access infrastructure” is a priority under the Aquino administration.

“Pursuant to RA 9593 (Tourism Act of 2009), DoT will work hand in hand with other government agencies on strategic convergence projects,” said Mr. Jimenez. 

For instance, the DOT has signed an agreement with the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Reid Foundation on the Tourism Roads Infrastructure Prioritization project, the Cabinet official said.

The Tourism department is also in talks with the Department of Transportation and Communications to identify ways “to further improve services in key international gateways and airports,” he said, adding that this was “in line with our efforts to provide convenient, safe, and reliable transport to both local and foreign travellers.”

The age-old problem of security continues to hound the industry.

“Security is another problem the government should address. When we participate in trade shows abroad, the first thing people ask about is security,” said Ms. Clemente.

Ms. Mena said security is of two kinds: actual and perceived. “If there’s one incident in Sulu and the media bring it up … the perception is that all over the Philippines, it’s unsafe.” 

But industry players remain optimistic on the country’s prospects as a tourism hub. “We have the Tourism Act and the National Tourism Development Plan. In two to three years we can possibly reach the target of five to six million [visitors],” Ms. Clemente said.

 

Source: Business World; Special Feature; 29 March 2012

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