It's more fun in the Philippines: Not catchy at all?
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O Abalos () - January 9, 2012 - 12:00am

Last week, a new slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, was unveiled by the Department of Tourism (DoT). As is customary, debates on its appropriateness raged on. The DoT leadership stressed that it is people-focused, that it emphasizes our innate ability to connect. Critics, however, argued that it is just so bland for a slogan-not catchy at all. With the controversy it has generated, one wonders to some extent, what is a slogan and what’s in it?

Slogan, a battle cry then of a Highland clan in Scotland, is now generally accepted by the English dictionary as a word that connotes a motto, a saying, a jingle, a catchphrase or a watchword. To some extent, it is a rhythmic or cyclical expression of an idea. 

For all intents and purposes, however, a slogan is an advertising phrase. As such, investments poured into such advertising effort or promotion will only translate into profits if the products or services offered approximate the representation it makes. Otherwise, sustainability is not even an issue worth delving in. It is practically dead from the very beginning.

The country’s present crop of leaders, in probably trying to detach from the Arroyo brand, are trying to figure out a new tourism slogan. Departing from the relatively successful WOW Philippines, the DoT through then Sec. Alberto Lim, launched in November, 2010 the slogan, Pilipinas Kay Ganda (Philippines What a Beauty). Possibly coined by a person so engrossed with ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda, the discontinued slogan was just so bland. It simply lacked the needed sting and substance of a catchphrase.   Instead, as the website was instinctively labeled, tourism industry players felt that potential tourists may misinterpret it as promoting our women. Or, simply put, the slogan is trying to put premium on sex tourism. Unknowingly, however, with the new slogan that stresses Filipinos’ innate ability to connect, it may also be misinterpreted as promoting sex tourism as well.

However, before we get carried away by the inappropriateness of our new slogan, let’s take a look with objectivity at the better performing neighboring Southeast Asian countries and see whether the catchiness of their slogans alone catapulted them to where they are right now. Undoubtedly, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are this region’s leaders. Singapore brags about its “Uniquely Singapore” slogan. Thailand surprises everyone with its “Amazing Thailand” catchphrase. While Malaysia flaunts immeasurably its “Malaysia. Truly Asia” tagline.   While these three countries are really performing well, Malaysia surprised everyone by bagging 23.6 million tourists and placing 9th overall in the rankings of tourist arrivals in 2009.

Looking at Malaysia’s performance, can we safely conclude that it was all because of its slogan? The answer is a big and deafening “NO”. In the same breath, we can claim in unison that since the time of Sen. Gordon’s until Sec. Durano’s reigns at the DoT, the slogan, WOW Philippines, was great and promotions were lavishly done. Yet, in 2009 we barely hit 3.0 million tourist arrivals. 

While we all agree that our present slogan is downright bland and that of Malaysia catches potential tourist’s imagination, there is no denying that the latter’s products approximates its slogans and promotions. Moreover, apart from its usual tagline, Malaysia has several programs that go with it. For instance, six years ago, Malaysia launched "Malaysia-My Second Home" (MM2H) by offering foreigners, particularly retirees, to live permanently in their country. They started by giving five-year visa with unlimited entry/exit privileges and without minimum annual residence requirement. Permanent residency is also a possibility after a five-year stay. Retirees may also bring in household effects duty-free, and import or purchase one vehicle locally, tax free. Income tax incentives are also offered for investing retirees. Notably, recipients (foreigners) are eligible to buy houses at a cost of not less than RM150,000.00 (or roughly US$41,677.50 at the current exchange rate) each. More importantly, for purposes of owning the house, they are also entitled to borrow from local banks 60% or more of its cost or value. As a result, Malaysia topped other Asian countries for two (2) consecutive years in a row in the International Living’s survey for preferred destinations. On top of relevant programs of this kind, they are so blessed too with nature’s bounty, like rainforests and pristine beaches. They also developed places and structures of interest and, in fact, have built man-made wonders like the Petronas Twin Towers which was once touted as the tallest building in the world (1998 to 2004) and have remained, to this day, as the tallest twin buildings. 

With due respect to the DoT top honchos in the past, these needs were earlier recognized. In fact, the DoT, in consultations with the major players in the industry came up appropriately with this vision statement: "The Central Philippines will be a significant destination that offers direct international access, seamless interconnectivity, world-class tourist facilities and products that meet the demands of tomorrow’s tourist. The Central Philippines will achieve these through the sustainable development of tourism products, environmental protection and enhancement, underpinned by adequate infrastructure with rational management of the destinations, capacity building, investment promotion, effective marketing and an improved business environment."

In dissecting this vision statement, it can be gleaned that there are three significant areas that the tourism department must work on. These are (1) product development, (2) adequate infrastructure and (3) promotion and marketing.

As we have all observed, among these areas of concern, promotion and marketing is well taken cared off. Sen. Richard Gordon started it through his WOW Philippines promotional campaign and Sec. Durano sustained it.  

Apparently, the issue is not more on the slogan or on promotions and marketing. As far as Cebu and the rest of the country are concerned, the big question is, what kind of tourism products are we promoting. Or, more appropriately, is there a good product worth promoting.

In this precarious situation, we can probably take comfort in the arms of the new tourism czar, Sec. Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. It can be recalled that during the launch of the new slogan, he emphasized that it shall be complemented by relevant infrastructure development in key tourism areas.

Clearly, therefore, the key now is for DoT, in coordination with the private sector and LGUs, to develop products and places of interest. Hand-in-hand with other line agencies, this government should take the initiative of making these products and places of interest reachable by providing the much-needed infrastructure. Let us leave the promotions’ augmentation to the private sector. We all know too well that the private sector (especially, hotels, travel and tour organizers), profit-oriented as they are, can always find ways of letting the world know how great our products and spots are.

Indeed, it is true that tourism, despite the global economic crunch, is still a multi-billion dollar industry. However, it largely depends on the availability of patrons’ leisure time and disposable income. Therefore, the industry’s survival solely depends on the moneyed leisure lovers’ willingness to spend. Thus, their preferences are first and foremost in the minds of both major and minor players in the industry.

Finally, let not the blandness of the present slogan be made a flimsy excuse or used as shield for our inadequacies in product development and infrastructure. Otherwise, we will simply salivate on the prospect of having millions of tourists while our neighboring Southeast Asian countries are feasting on them.

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