Tourism promotion

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

At least four of the world’s most beautiful islands are right here in the Philippines. Yet, we have always attracted the least number of visitors among the ASEAN 6.

Just one island in Indonesia, Bali, attracted over six million tourists in 2019 before the pandemic. Close to 10 million tourists visited Phuket in Thailand in 2019.

The whole of the Philippines had 8.2 million visitors in 2019. Thailand had 40 million visitors while Malaysia had about 25 million.

The pandemic sort of levelled the playing field. Bali only had 51 foreign visitors last year. But they are aggressively selling the island now. They are even offering special visas so foreigners can “work from home” in a Bali resort.

Unfortunately, politicians who are amateurs in marketing and promotions are running our tourism programs. The only time we had a marketing professional on top of tourism promotion was when the late Ramon Jiminez was secretary of tourism.

Yet, we have some of the most seasoned tourism promotions professionals working in our hotels and inbound travel agencies. Anyone of them could have done wonders, but our presidents would rather appoint clueless politicians who end up playing things by ear.

So, what do almost every new secretary of tourism want to do? Play creative director and change the theme of the country’s campaign. I heard that’s what the new tourism secretary wants to do too. That means throwing out whatever goodwill or impressions the current campaign has made and start from scratch.

Such programs take years to take root. Other countries run their campaigns for years. Incredible India. Malaysia Truly Asia, which incidentally, was conceptualized by a Filipina creative director.

We are throwing our money away by constantly changing. We never had enough money to buy enough media time and space. And with the dramatic devaluation of the peso, we will have even less dollars to spend on CNN, CNBC and the travel magazines worldwide.

It is ridiculous that the Department of Tourism’s new budget is a measly P3.57 billion. Indeed, the Office of the Vice President, with no functions, has P2.3 billion.

The Tourism Promotions Board gets P1.17 billion to market the Philippines, not enough for a credible campaign to help our tourism sector attain full recovery by 2025.

I can sympathize with the sentiments of our tourism industry, as verbalized by Jojo Clemente who heads the Philippine Tourism Congress.

“For an industry that once yielded almost P3 trillion and accounted for 13 percent of GDP and employed 5.5 million people in 2019, that amount recently approved is paltry.

“With all the talk of tourism being an economic driver, the resources given to it are disproportionate to the benefits the country derives from it. One can only imagine how much more we can contribute if given the proper funding. If they are truly serious about tourism, they have to do better than this.”

Tourism could be a big dollar earner for our country. With tourism, the benefits quickly get to the bottom as visitors book places to stay, buy food to eat, use transportation and many other services provided at the grassroots.

We Filipinos are naturally good with treating guests with the utmost care and hospitality. Our hospitality workers are the best ambassadors of our country, and they don’t even have to leave home.

The last three years have been tough on the tourism industry. People lost jobs and tourism investors had to stretch their resources and be creative to survive. The last tourism secretary did well by providing tourism industry workers priority in vaccinations and other assistance for a quick restart. Now, it is showtime.

I am told we have welcomed 1.5 million visitors this year up to the end of September. Maybe we will have two million visitors this year if our bureaucrats get sensible.

First thing to do is check the competitiveness of our entry rules. We still require a negative PCR test within 48 hours of arrival and registration in that One Health Pass. I am told our visitors don’t mind the pre-departure test, but complain about the unfriendly interphase of OHP.

Thailand only requires proof of being fully vaccinated. No COVID test required. Singapore welcomes all fully vaccinated visitors, no entry approvals, no pre-departure test, no on-arrival tests and no quarantine.

Vietnam no longer requires travelers to show any COVID-19 vaccination or undergo any COVID test or quarantine. Vietnam has fully opened up.

In Malaysia, all travelers may enter without coronavirus testing or quarantine requirements, regardless of vaccination status.

I have experienced the frustration of trying to deal with the online requirements for entry, including VaxPh and it is bad. This is something the DOT must work with relevant agencies to fix quickly if we want to get our tourism off to a good start. Better to be like our neighbors and scratch rules altogether.

Given our miniscule tourism promotion budget, it is best to use it strategically. Focus on key markets like South Korea and Japan. Then select media buys wisely. Digital media should get more targeted attention we need at much less the cost of traditional media.

The use of digital/social media is a natural for tourism promotion. Owners of small hotels like the bed and breakfast types tell me that they depend on social media to market their hotels since they don’t have the marketing reach of the hotel chains.

The other great thing about using social media is the quick feedback. There are metrics available to tell you almost immediately if your message is a hit or if it failed. Those running our tourism promotions will know right away how to tweak their messaging for best results.

Of course, there is no escaping the trade fairs. We need to make sure our participation in such international events will do our country proud. Everyone puts their best foot forward in those events and a bad show will just sell the country down.

There is so much to do to promote the tourism industry. But the government and private sector must work together and know what they are doing. It is hard work, not glamour.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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