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Tourism in the country is slowly but surely beginning to boom. Thanks to the new brand campaign, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” This idea developed by advertising agency BBDO and whose work was overseen personally by DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez and approved by the President and members of the cabinet meant to focus on the country’s core strength — that is the Filipino people. “While other countries invite people to observe, Filipinos can promise a more heartfelt and interesting experience. Wherever you go, whatever you do in the country, it’s the Filipinos that will complete your vacation and will make your holiday unforgettable,” says DOT Secretary Jimenez.

We are known to be one of the happiest and warmest people on earth. Thus, it was not so hard to create a buzz of the slogan. Tourist arrivals for the first three months of 2012 aggregated to 1,148,072 registering a 16.3 % increase over last year’s arrivals of 989,501.

And with the global launch of the campaign coupled with advertising spots appearing on Cable News Network (CNN) there is no doubt about it — it’s really more fun in the Philippines. Never mind the whopping P63 million spent by the government for this initial tourism campaign. This would mean attracting more tourists resulting to more jobs which will be good for the economy.

Other than the advertisement on CNN, the government is also mounting “underground campaigns” abroad which is a good morale booster for the Filipinos around the world.

But at the height of all these jubilation and excitement over the success of the international brand-awareness campaign, we forget about the struggle we have to go through to get to the beautiful places we want to see within the archipelago. So, how can it be more fun for us Filipinos and foreign travelers?

First, upon landing by plane in our destination we are welcomed by small, dingy and very hot airports not only in the provinces but also in Metro Manila. There are long queues in immigration due to the very limited booths available. Then, we wait for our luggage which seems like eternity. As we push our rusty carts out, we are greeted with exhaust fumes coming from vehicles waiting in the arrival area. And that’s not an exaggeration! Sanamagan!  

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Second, as we travel from one city to another (or one province to the next) taxis, buses, trains and many automobiles for rent are dilapidated. Only the rich can travel in class and comfort but a regular middle class traveler will have to sacrifice comfort in exchange for seeing paradise. 

Third, the more affordable hotels stink or have many flies. The beds squeak, towels and beddings are dirty, the bathrooms have rusty showers and faucet spouts - sometimes with brown water coming out. Of course, our politicians and statesmen don’t ever experience this and so they do not ensure quality standards for such places. I would expect a government office (perhaps the DOT) to monitor such places and close them up if needed especially when they do not meet standards of good service. In the first place why should they be given the permit to operate if they do not meet the necessary requirements and standards set by the accreditation division / tourism regulation, coordination and resource generation office of the Department of Tourism?

Fourth, we lack maps that should serve as a guide for the visitors. This should include information on top tourist destinations. Every foreign visitor if not invited by a Filipino host will need to do his/ her own research on sights, food, culture, history of every town, city, province and region. Susmariosep!

Fifth, when we get to our final destination to see a fiesta, a church, a historical sight, a beach, a range of mountains or volcanoes, we get disenchanted by the dirt, the filth and the foul smell of the garbage around. How can we be so unmindful of the environment, the endangered species in the country such as the tarsiers, the whale sharks and our rich flora and fauna that have drawn the interest of international botanists? 

In the past, normal travel time to Pagudpod in Ilocos Norte takes 12 hours. Today it takes 15 hours due to the many road constructions along the way. Ilocos Norte offers many beautifully preserved tourist attractions. Paoay Church has kept its magnificence — thanks to the local government and their Governor Imee Marcos. In fairness to the Marcos clan, they have protected this province’s culture and heritage and made it a very attractive and tourist-friendly environment.

In contrast, Plaza Burgos in Vigan, Ilocos Sur (my hometown) is a cultural heritage site but officials there don’t seem to clean it. It is very dirty and smelly. The empanada stalls are dingy with tattered tents. Unfortunately, the manangs are cooking the famous Ilocos empanadas in disorderly and untidy places making sanitation and hygiene questionable, thus, making the food unappealing to a traveler. The Pagburnayan (pottery) business is dying for lack of innovation and interest of the heirs to continue the business. But I believe if the LGU steps in they will get even more tourists flocking to their kingdom. 

In the Visayas, Boracay is the number one tourist destination. But the LGU has allowed it to become too commercialized sacrificing its natural wonder. Sadly, Boracay has lost its glory. The beautiful seafront is gone. The pristine waters are now filled with thick, green-haired algae, most probably caused by the bad sewerage system. Yes, the truth hurts, so do something about this problem before it gets worse.

By the way, I hope they can put public restrooms for tourists in the different (major) destinations around the country. Or else our visitors will be conditioned to “pee” just like Pinoys — in the sidewalk. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” And soon you will see a picture of a foreigner urinating by a wall in Intramuros with a tag saying, “It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

As the tourism campaign continues and the world turns its eye on the Philippines, the local government units and the private sector must work together in synergy for the safety and security of the visitors and toward an interconnected tourism industry.

The Department of Tourism is trying its best in encouraging tourist to visit the Philippines but enticing people to come cannot be done by this department alone. It must be a concerted effort of all the departments of government combined with cooperation, good planning and foresight. 

When this happens, we can surely reach the goal of 6.3 million international arrivals and over 32 million domestic travelers by 2016.

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