Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

The tourism slogan is not the problem

Posted by butalidnl on 20 November 2010

The government is always saying that there is something wrong with our tourism industry. After all, why is it that Thailand and Malaysia could attract 14 million tourists/year, while we attract only 3 million? Good question. But I don’t think that the answer lies with our tourism slogan. Or that the country needs to “re-brand” the country’s tourism campaign. I think the problem (problems, actually) behind the lack of tourists is not in the way we advertise the country. We have problems enough, as it is.

Problems
In the first place, I would say that the security image of the country is quite negative. And, this is mostly due to the Muslim insurgency and the image of lawlessness in Mindanao. Foreigners are not that good in geography, and they can’t comprehend that only the Southwestern part of Mindanao has violent incidents, and the rest of the country is generally peaceful.  News of the Maguindanao massacre by the Ampatuans, and of rebel activities in Mindanao, help to paint a picture of insecurity. And the kidnapping of foreigners by Abu Sayyaf in Palawan didn’t help either.

Our geography is another negative factor for tourism.  Our country is an archipelago, which means that transfers from one island to another would have to be by boat or plane – and this means additional expenses and travel time for the tourists. By comparison, Thailand and Malaysia are composed mostly of contiguous land mass (most tourists in Malaysia stick to peninsular Malaysia). And to make things worse, the Philippines has terrible weather during July and August, the peak months for travel for Europeans and Americans. The rainy season for Malaysia and Thailand starts later, around October. It’s a pity that Mindanao, which has good weather in July/August, has a reputation for violence.

And of course, there is the thing about the country’s  airlines not being accredited by the US and the European Union (actually, they are on a blacklist). This means that travellers from these places could not get travel insurance if they fly on our airlines; and this is quite a big deterrent for potential tourists. After all, they could always just go to Indonesia, Thailand or Malaysia, whose airlines are accredited.

So, based on the above factors, I think that the Philippines should realistically expect to be able to generate less than 14 million tourists. But, this is not the say that we should simply accept having only 3 million tourists – I think it could be possible to host a couple of million more tourists per year, if we do things right.

Treat the Tourists Special
Tourists, especially if they come from Europe, have come from quite far away. They have spent a significant amount of money to come over. We need to lay out the welcome mat for them. It would not do for them to be swindled on their first day in Manila, or have to contend with sub-standard rooms and facilities.  We should ensure that they get the best possible treatment.

Tourist Police and Tourist Courts. We should form a special section of the police force to work in tourist areas, and to deal with crimes towards tourists. These police should be able to crack down hard on criminals that victimize tourists. And special courts should be set up to handle crimes against tourists; meaning, for one thing, very speedy handling of cases (since the tourist is in the Philippines for a short time).  The punishment should be extra harsh, and speedy.

Special Handling of Complaints and Inconveniences. In cases where the tourist suffers from unexpected inconvenience, authorities should step in to facilitate things. For example, if they get sick with something like dengue; the government should take over their medical expenses. Or, if they have problems with their accomodations, the government should be able to help resolve the problem. I think the government should set up something like a Tourism Ombudsman Office in the various tourist areas to take care of complaints and inconveniences. And they should really be able to work fast – none of the usual bureaucratic slow handling of cases.

Maximize Balikbayans, Social Media
Balikbayans make up a significant portion of the tourists in the country.  Foreigners accompanying balikbayans also get the balikbayan stamp on their passport upon entry.  And I think we can do even more so that balikbayans generate even more tourists.

Bring a Friend Campaign. I think there was a campaign before to that effect. Anyway, I think they should revive it. Overseas Filipinos are the country’s best advertisement. They could encourage their friends to come to the Philippines with them. I think it should be possible to offer discounts or special deals to foreigners who come to the country together with a balikbayan.

Utilize Social Media. The Department of Tourism should promote the Philippines through social media.  Posts in facebook, or blogs, show our friends abroad how beautiful the country is. And, since they are personal experiences, they are quite credible. I think what the DOT can do is to have contests/awards for the blog that best promotes tourism. And make the award category by destination. Thus, we would have the best tourist blog about Boracay, Bohol, Cebu, Camiguin, Metro Manila , etc. This could generate attention among the bloggers, and this kind of thing would also get spread through facebook etc.. And, for the budget conscious DOT, it is relatively cheap.

Building the country’s tourism industry is not a matter of having flashing slogans; rather, it takes hard work over a long period to build up the image of the country as a tourist destination. It could not be done overnight.

3 Responses to “The tourism slogan is not the problem”

  1. arlini said

    true! they need to solve the problems first. no problem = millions of tourist.

  2. Chetano said

    I agree with most, if not all, of your observations. On the solutions front -your ideas are sound has to how tourists and foreigners visits should be treated in terms of safety and security so as to demonstrate that we take our tourists’ and visiting guests’ welfare seriously with one major caution: I would not have the government overemphasize or even use the term “special” treatment (which would probably connote obsequious pampering) for tourists and heavily publicizing it as such. I don’t want tourists and foreigners placed up on pedestals to the detriment of the filipino psyche. The Philippine government should try and increase levels of security for all – and not just foreigners, otherwise if a two tiered justice system exists for a long period of time it reinforces the existing class system and inferiority among citizens. Having this type of system might be warranted in the short term as long as the justice system for the regular filipino will also improve greatly. If it does not, the long term implication will be that regular citizens will once again getting the short shrift and that they are worth less than outsiders. I have seen this type of discriminatory “special” elite treatment in many places in the Philippines (one level of service for the light skinned foreigner and a significantly lower level of service for the pinoy visitor.) I do not wish to promote this type of discriminating mentality wherever possible.

    To get your suggestions into the minds of the current and seemingly bumbling heads at the Dept of Tourism you may need to work and pray overtime. I don’t have much faith in the leader of the Dept. The Philippines is in need of serious visionaries and leaders with working credentials who know something about great customer service and managing for quality in govt bureaucracies. The country does not need neophyte political appointees who have been given their positions as rewards for their loyalty, campaigning, or past moneymaking relationships.

    A couple of simple suggestions that could go a long way:

    1) Have a tourist hotline number into which foreigners and visitors may call into and get local up to date security information about the province/area and even town security that they will be visiting/staying or moving to – alerts should be posted for specific areas of violence and thievery to avoid. The system should have a live national staff of at least 15 to 20 people at the national level who can direct callers to either a provincial or municipal office where they can be given up to the day security information via voice mail with the option of speaking to a live local representative. Malacanang should also communicate strongly to the public that the welfare of tourists contributes to the welfare of everyone- and that violence and crime against foreigners and tourists hurts everyone- especially the local area where it has occurred. Every city and small town should employ a staff of at least three local trustworthy guides/concierges who have been trained at the provincial government level on how to help tourists have a succesful visit and alerting them to the potential problems or recent threats in the area.

    2)Have standards of hygiene for all comfort/rest rooms in both public and private commercial places (from restaurants to motels and resorts) in all heavily touristed areas. Enforce these standards with regular inspections from undercover inspectors who pose as tourists and are not from the local area so as not to put local agents in harms way.
    Non-complying businesses or municipalities should be fined for unnacceptable bathrooms and if continuous violations persist in the case of businesses, licenses should be temporarily revoked until the problem is addressed. In the case of municipalities a “black list” should be made public of the offenders slow to upgrade their hygiene standards.

    There are so many other ideas that I’m sure other people have that the Dept of Tourism should also have a web page that accepts all kinds of suggestions for improving tourism and security.
    They should also have regional forums or conferences where ideas from all interested parties can voice or submit ideas and suggestions to the Dept. of Tourism.

    The Philippines cannot begin to approach what Malaysia or Thailand and similar safer hot tropical spots offers tourists unless it gets many positive developments working in harmony together. All it takes is a couple of bad images, negative stories or relayed bad experiences by previous visitors and the result are losses to the Philippines in millions of tourists. Yes, the Phils. has made significant strides in tourism and the quality of it’s offering in the past decade but to get the complete attractive and relatively safer tropical destination package in place will take 5-10 years at least. But it needs to be done and done wisely, with serious thought and work – not slick surface changes.

  3. Tour said

    Thanks for this news.

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