Madrid ConFusion Manila
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2018 - 12:00am

Ideally, the person entrusted with the job of selling the Philippines to tourists should have a world view. He or she should have a good idea of what potential visitors are looking for. He or she must be well aware of competition and how they sell their locations.

Ideally, he or she should have spent a good part of his or her life living abroad. This experience provides the empathy with other cultures that helps communicate to a world audience.

The person I have in mind is someone like Manny Gonzalez, the guy who built Plantation Bay resort in Mactan. When I first met him, he was living in the Canadian ski town of Whistler, a few hours out of Vancouver. Last I heard he is living now in Barcelona.

In a sense Manny is a citizen of the world who knows what high spending visitors, not Chinese tourists on group tours, expect in a vacation resort. He knows what luxury is about, more than our tourism bureaucrats who presumptuously give hotels their star ratings. In his previous life as an investment banker, he has learned what it takes to risk capital to build and run a resort like Plantation Bay.

In my book, he would have been the ideal tourism secretary, not that he will accept such an appointment. It is just that Manny’s well rounded experience would have provided the country with someone who knows how to sell the best our country has to offer and yes, create local jobs.

But the world being what it is, we have to suffer a former travel agent, who has spent most of her life in Davao, as our tourism secretary. President Duterte, who appointed her, didn’t know what the job was about, and I strongly suspect, neither did she.

I thought of Manny, tourism, and the present tourism secretary as I read the article of my favorite food writer, Margaux Salcedo announcing that Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 is no longer going to happen.

What happened? We have invested so much on it already over the past few years. We should build on our gains. So I asked around my usual busybody sources at the tourism department and what I heard bothered me. It didn’t surprise me, just bothered me.

I heard the tourism secretary and the Spanish franchise holder and organizer had a disagreement on two points.

One, she wanted to hold the event at Marriott Hotel instead of the SMX where previous Madrid Fusion Manila events were held. Two, she wanted her own organizer to run the event instead of the tried and tested group that has done the past events.

Apparently, the tourism secretary likes Marriott so much. Most, if not all, DOT events are held there… even her grand birthday celebrations. Foro Debate, the franchise holder of Madrid Fusion, preferred SMX because it allows a good flow of people. The exits and entrances and the halls allow for easy clearing for the chefs.

Foro Debate also did not want to risk an organizer they feel is not as experienced as Paceos, a very professional organization they have worked with for a long time.

So the tourism secretary threw out the project and instructed the Tourism Promotions Board headed by Cesar Montano to bid it out. But there is already a five year MOU and a signed contract to hold MFM 2018. So that means DOT still has to pay the franchise fee of $120K this year.

In the end, the Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 was cancelled. In its place, DOT will have Buhay Carinderia. It will be handled by the events organizer the tourism secretary wanted but the Spaniards rejected. It is supposed to be an advocacy program redefining the carinderia as something “innovative, dynamic and relatable.”

 We are not saving any money by junking Madrid Fusion Manila. The budget for the carinderia event, at P90 million, is even higher and half has reportedly been paid to the event organizer friend of the secretary. Not sure if it was subjected to bidding.

Carinderia? How is this tourism promotion? The market is high spending foreign tourists.

Fact is, Mardrid Fusion has helped raise awareness level of the Philippines as a culinary destination. Well known foreign chefs were excited to come here. And every time we participate in Madrid Fusion in Madrid, they flock to the Philippine booth!

As Margaux pointed out: “Madrid Fusion Manila played a great role in three things: (1) Putting the Philippines on the world map of culinary players; (2) putting a handful of Filipino chefs on the map; and (3) inspiring aspiring chefs by having their idols talk here.

“The Department of Agriculture is able to present indigenous Filipino ingredients to international purveyors, traders and connoisseurs. We in the Philippines are also exposed to the fine delicacies of Spain while learning about our joint heritage through jamon, brandies, paella, etc.

“Madrid Fusion Manila made so much noise that it was impossible for the world to ignore. Suddenly, heads turned toManila, wondering why Spain chose Manila over Asian culinary giants.”

Maybe the Agriculture Department should take this over as a marketing event for Philippine agri produce.

 As a tourism observer puts it: “Wala na tayong Madrid Fusion. Isasara pa ang Boracay!”

Just as I was finalizing this column, I got word that Cesar Montano of the Tourism Promotions Board (whose term has supposedly expired) has announced that Madrid Fusion Manila is pushing through but in September. No word that the Spaniards agreed.

And the tourism people have to make sure the previously invited chefs are available. I was told there’s a competing event in Europe this September the chefs will attend. Montano is merely placating the public and buying time. It’s Carinderia, folks!

This is Madrid ConFusion Manila. How our government run things in the international stage can often be too embarrassing for Filipinos who know better.

 Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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