If the goodwill and popularity of President Noynoy Aquino’s (P-Noy) ascendancy can be properly utilized to promote Philippine Tourism, then the Filipino could well be on the way to the Promised Land. If the good governance which is expected of P-Noy materializes, then a lot of the disincentives hampering Philippine Tourism can be eliminated.
Per the Wikipedia listing of 2007 international tourist arrivals, the Philippines was listed as #53 with 3.1 million arrivals for that year. For perspective, during the same period, France generated 81.9 million arrivals, Spain had 59.2 million, respectively number 1 and 2, China was listed at #4 with 54.7 million, Malaysia was #11 with 21 million, Hong Kong was #16 with 17.2 million, Thailand was #18 with 14.5 million, South Korea was #36 with 6.4 million and Indonesia was # 37 with 5.5 million.
Compared with our ASEAN neighbors Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, it is easy to see the potential of Philippine Tourism. If Indonesia, which is farther from the US, Canada, Europe, China, South Korea and Japan, can generate 5.5 million arrivals in 2007 and considering that Indonesia also has to live with terrorist threats like we do — there is no doubting that new Tourism Secretary Bertie Lim can attain at least a 5 million annual arrival level for our country.
In a phone conversation last Wednesday with Bertie Lim, he stated that the average spending of tourists is around $2,000 or P92,000 (based on a P46 vs. $1 rate of exchange). That equates to $6.2 billion/P285.2 billion for the 2007 reported level of 3.1 million arrivals. If we can raise our annual arrivals to 5 million, at still an assumed spending of $2,000/P92,000 per pax — that would mean a revenue of $10 billion/P460 billion.
However, Bertie is aspiring to attract longer staying visitors who will also spend more while they are here. Assuming an increased average spending of $3,500 per pax from 5 million annual arrivals, that would generate a total of $17.58 billion/P805 billion. Imagine the jobs that would create, the local economies that will boom and the industries Tourism will support.
Compared to Indonesia, tourists here have never experienced the severity of that terrorist bombing attack in Bali. The Abu Sayyaf abduction at Dos Palmas was a picnic when compared to the Bali bombing incident. We also do not have the black mark of racial tension as what happened in Indonesia when Chinese residents were mobbed by irate native Indonesians.
Among the many reasons we hear why we cannot even come to par with Indonesia are the lack of infrastructure and the limited promotion money of thePhilippines. Add to that the discouraging bulletins issued every now and then by various countries — warning their citizens of the perils they’ll face when they come here. Being a small country and with many nationals unfamiliar with Philippine geography — a warning about Mindanao tends to be taken as a threat that exists in all parts of the country. That is one of the big downsides of what is called a weak tourism brand.
Spain, a strong tourism brand, had a terror bomb attack right in Madrid. Spain’s tourism industry did suffer immediately because of that but was able to recover during the subsequent year. During the 1960s and the 1970s, Irish Republican Army bombs were detonated all over London. One such bomb razed a hotel. However, British tourist arrivals were hardly affected. That is the advantage of a strong tourism brand. People believed that Scotland Yard can protect them when they visit the UK.
In your Chair Wrecker’s November 25, 2007 (Food, glorious Filipino food as tourism promoter, available at www.chairwrecker.com) column, it was noted that we fail to promote our country as a great destination for food lovers. Who does not travel to also enjoy new exciting cuisines? Note that the top Asian tourist destinations — China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand — enjoy good images as a food lover’s paradise.
We have our unique advantages in the food category — our combined Western and Eastern influences — but we fail to take advantage of this. The way we have been promoting our food failed to consider the perceptions and sensibilities of the target audience. Philippine cuisine has been featured in the international travel shows which are seen mostly on cable channels. Take the case of the shows of Anthony Bordain and Andrew Zimmern when Philippine cuisine was on the episode’s menu. The impression a foreigner gets is not exactly a good sell for Philippine cuisine.
Our balut, sisig and barbecued chicken entrails are not exactly the desired fare of the average potential country visitor. Then the eateries that were featured in the Bordain and Zimmern shows did not inspire the impression of food prepared in sanitary surroundings or cooked by professional chefs. Many of the featured eateries our own upper class folks would not even want to patronize. This reflects a lack of consumer orientation — something considered fatal in marketing.
Tourism deserves the full support not only of the P-Noy government but also of every Filipino. Local economies can develop if they can harness the tourism potential of interesting sites they may have around them. Perhaps the P-Noy administration can implement that portion of the Gordon Law which allocates 25% of all Pagcor revenues for the Department of Tourism (DoT). That is already a passed law, per Bertie Lim, but Pagcor has not remitted anything to the DoT.
The DoT promotion budget is just too small compared to that of Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore, to name a few of our nearby competitors. It takes a lot of promotion — not just good product performance — to build a strong brand image. Most of the top brands in their respective product categories are also some of the heaviest promoters in media and that is because top of mind equates to top brand share.