by Atty. Joey D. Lina
Amid all the negativity lately that some fear might spell trouble for tourism here, there shall always be many reasons why it’s more fun in the Philippines.
Most of the time, whether wet or dry season, can be a perfect time for tourists to enjoy the idyllic beaches, exciting surf rides, and pristine reefs of our country which has some of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.
And for foreigners seeking unique adventures in our fiestas, street parades, religious processions, food festivals, live music shows, and many more, much joy can also be found in simple pleasures: From serene rides in kalesas and pedicabs, to the thrilling bursts of speed in tricycles and jeepneys.
Aside from our tourist spots imbued with natural beauty are the significant historical places like Intramuros, the walled city and original site of Manila, and Bagumbayan at Luneta Park – sacred ground consecrated by the blood of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and other martyred patriots who led the Filipinos’ struggle for freedom from three centuries of Spanish colonialism.
And alongside places deemed national treasures that possess “outstanding historical, cultural, and artistic value” is world-renowned The Manila Hotel, the 105-year-old “Grand Dame of Asia” where I currently serve as its president.
But beyond the splendor of tourist spots and cultural sites, the Philippines is known for smiling Filipinos – reputed to be among the happiest people on earth – whose vaunted friendliness and hospitality, together with the ability to communicate in understandable English, give our country a distinct advantage over our Asian neighbors with similar sites.
The amazing beauty and heavenly bliss found in our tourist destinations, plus our warmth and congeniality as a people, are indeed major selling points we could always rely on in attracting foreign tourists to come over and experience life’s most pleasant and memorable adventures.
While some of us in the tourism industry might feel disheartened by recent bad news – particularly the Resorts World Manila tragedy and the 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index report of the World Economic Forum which supposedly named the Philippines as the “11th most dangerous country” for tourists – let us not lose hope.
It’s sad that the Philippines’ ranking dropped to 79th place out of 136 economies, five notches down from last year, with the lowest rating obtained in safety and security (126th) and the highest in price competitiveness (22nd). Clearly, much ought to be done to improve the situation, especially in light of what a Sydney tourism specialist said: “People get good bang for their buck in the Philippines. But safety and security is now the number one factor in determining where tourists go. It used to be things like value for money, but that’s changed.”
Another dampener was the controversy over the “Sights” ad of the Department of Tourism. The social media frenzy is understandable as we Filipinos possess a “sense of ownership,” considering that the ad campaign is deemed to represent us and our country. But not all condemning the DOT ad, done in partnership with McCann Worldgroup Philippines, were critical of the plagiarism accusation. Some felt it was much worse.
Respected columnist Katrina Stuart Santiago put it this way: “There were many reasons to disapprove this concept from the beginning, including the fact that it’s an absolute lie that a blind tourist can travel alone to the Philippines and go around safely. Even locals are wary of traveling alone in this country. There is also nothing PWD-friendly about our streets, facilities, and infrastructure either.
To me, this ad was reckless endangerment of any and all tourists who might believe that one can travel around here blind.”
Despite the mess created by the controversial ad, I must say the DOT did the right thing in ending its partnership with McCann, instead of continuing to defend the advertising company and the ad. Perhaps DOT could now tap into the creativity of more Filipinos through a nationwide contest in coming up with fresh ideas for ad campaigns. Such could be easily done in this age of instant communications.
Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the DOT campaign to revive and maximize further the glowing endorsements given the Philippines in previous years by leading travel publications like Condé Nast Traveler and Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide book publisher.
In announcing the Philippines was the world’s 8th best country to visit in 2015, Lonely Planet said it made a list “compiled from hundreds of ideas submitted by Lonely Planet’s staff, authors, bloggers, travelers, and tweeters which are then refined by a panel of in-house travel experts based on topicality, excitement, value and that special x-factor” with the top 10 chosen “for their merits and the unique experiences” they offer travelers.
And among our country’s unique experiences, Lonely Planet said, is “clinging to the back of a jeepney speeding through the crowded streets of Metro Manila,” aside from a variety of street festivities here.
“For travelers willing to go the extra thousand miles for a deserted beach, the Philippines has around 7,000 of the most heavenly islands in the world,” Condé Nast Traveler said in 2013. It also said international divers come for “the incredible underwater life, unspoiled coral gardens with rainbow-bright fish, green sea turtles, and dugongs.”
But apart from our beaches and diving spots, we could also focus on a more diversified range of tourism products and services – on medical or health and wellness, and other aspects our tourism industry could excel in. Many are quite sure that Secretary Wanda Teo’s leadership can do a lot of wonders for tourism despite the current “hiccups” that need to be addressed.