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Wow, bring a friend

by Greg Macabenta


I truly admire the positive attitude and optimism of the new secretary of tourism, Mon Jimenez. He’s absolutely right. One of the ways to persuade tourists who are already in the Philippines to return and to spread the good news about our country is to be nice to them (com’n guys, it’s not every day that we have to deal with a hostage crisis).

And one of the ways to persuade tourists, who have not yet been to the Philippines, to make a trip is to launch a truly creative, vibrant, memorable and original advertising campaign  one that folks will be singing in their cars, as Mon is reported to have told the media.

I guess this is what the seven top advertising agencies, bidding for the DOT account, are working on right now. Hopefully, a great campaign will be chosen by the DOT before the lean months of 2012 roll along. There’s no need to worry about the coming holiday season because Manila-bound flights will be fully booked.

A great advertising campaign has a way of creating a lot of awareness, generating excitement and persuading consumer targets to try a product or, in the case of tourism promotions, to consider visiting.

Unfortunately, a great campaign also has a way of exposing a product  or tourist destination  sooner and disappointing customers if it doesn’t live up to expectations. I just hope that the seven ad agencies pitching for the DOT account will be frank enough to tell their prospective client that.

Of course, there are many things about the Philippines that can live up to the highest expectations of tourists. The seven ad agencies can really go to town extolling them. But there are also many aspects that can disappoint. Will the agencies also recommend ways to address that?

And speaking of ad campaigns, Dick Gordon’s WOW Philippines brainchild, which some advertising folks considered “un-creative,” is now said to have been one of the most successful ever launched by the DOT.

In fact, when the much-maligned Pilipinas Kay Ganda of past DOT Secretary Bertie Lim was launched, some ad agency folks, who didn’t think this one was “creative enough,” cited Dick’s WOW campaign as the one that should have been continued.

As you can see, advertising people subscribe to the theory of post-event infallibility, which stipulates that the best way to judge a great campaign is when it has already succeeded.

I guess that’s the reason some of them think ”Amazing Thailand,” “Incredible India,” “Malaysia – Truly Asia” and “Uniquely Singapore” are creative.

Who knows, if Pilipinas Kay Ganda had not been a victim of infanticide, it could have succeeded (assuming all the right components were in place), and could, therefore, have also been adjudged creative.

If adjectives are all it takes to mount a great tourism program, the Philippines has come up with many gems in the past. PAL’s “The Beauty of the Philippines, Shining Through,” was one such exquisite play on words.

I recall two other good ones, in the sense of their being memorable. One was “Fiesta Islands” and the other one was “Bring Home A Friend.” Both, I believe, were launched by Mina Gabor, during her incumbency as DOT secretary.

But, while both campaigns brought in tourists, foreign and Pinoy, and kept the tourist and travel industry alive, neither could match the traffic generated by Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and other major destinations.

This reminds me of the master showman, Lou Salvador, Sr., whose two movie theaters in downtown Manila were being clobbered by the latest in cinema technology at the time: Panoramic screens. Lou, Sr. installed a brand new set of screens in his movie houses and ran ads announcing his great new “Clear-0-Matic Screens.”

That succeeded in generating a bounce in the box-office. But, it could only do so much  and not much more.

Similarly, a great advertising campaign that folks will sing in their cars will surely generate an increase in number of visitors, but it should be obvious that what our country needs is more than that to achieve the target that the new DOT chief is aiming for.

I think Mon Jimenez is simply being diplomatic or polite when he says that tourism should be “the people’s business” and that everyone in the country should help. Of course, he needs to be diplomatic and polite. One of the reasons that the travel and tourist folks ganged up on Bertie Lim was because he wasn’t chummy-chummy enough with them.

But, if Mon won’t say it, I’m taking the liberty of stating what every secretary of tourism should be telling the folks who own and run the tourist spots, hotels, restaurants, resorts, sports facilities, beaches, swimming holes, diving places, nightclubs, dance halls, cocktail lounges, massage parlors, department stores, souvenir shops, gift shops, airlines, transportation companies, shipping lines, and local governments that have benefited from tourism: do your share and pay your way.

One of the reasons Hawaii and Las Vegas are major, major tourist destinations (to paraphrase a Pinay beauty queen) is because the sectors benefiting from the tourist traffic are actively funding tourism promotions and aggressively investing in the development of tourism facilities and attractions. But while the promotions and development expenditures are being defrayed voluntarily by the tourist and travel industry, the assessments are also mandated by law. A percentage of income that these sectors earn, such as from hotel bookings, is credited to tourism development and promotions.

Is it any wonder that a single facility like MGM Grand generates more tourist traffic in one year than the whole Philippine tourism industry?

The truth is, getting our tourist and travel industry to contribute to development and promotions is like pulling teeth. Well, okay, in the past, they reasoned that the money they would have contributed would have simply lined the pockets of the politicians and the bureaucrats. What about now? Are they still doubting Noynoy Aquino’s vow of keeping all government expenditures above board?

Meanwhile, Mon Jimenez and his DOT team may have to make do with the tourist attractions and facilities now available. But, frankly, they have more than enough to market, if the tourist and travel industry were to truly, fully, enthusiastically, religiously and, oh yes, desperately get their act together with the DOT and help.

It goes without saying that the rest of the government, specifically those whose operations impact on tourism, should be harnessed. But it will probably be easier for Mon to get the private sector to cooperate than to get the support of the many kingdoms that make up the government bureaucracy.

Indeed, the tourist and travel industry can help the country and themselves in big and small ways  for instance, something as simple as placing brochures in the hotels, bed-and-baths, restaurants and department stores that tourists usually patronize.

It’s bad enough not getting tourists to visit the Philippines. It’s absolutely unforgivable when the country cannot benefit enough from their stay.

By the way, Hong Kong and New York City have some of the most discourteous folks that a tourist can ever encounter. Yet both are major, major, major tourist destinations.

Maybe the seven ad agencies can figure that one out.


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