Travel and Tourism

It’s more fun promoting the Philippines

Tanya T. Lara - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Domingo Ramon “Chicoy” Enerio — chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism — is back in his office since he got back from a short working trip to Tokyo the week before.

But his office has been unusually quiet for the past days even though it’s business as usual in the TPB, on Roxas Boulevard. The entire staff is making preparations for September, the traditional tourism month with travel events organized by the government and the private sector kicking off on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Meetings are being held, plans are being finalized, but there is one topic that the staff hasn’t dared bring up with Chicoy — our losing bid to host the FIBA in 2019.

As head of TPB Chicoy represented Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez and the DOT in a delegation that included businessman Manny Pangilinan, basketball stars, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executives and so many other people that put together what even the harshest critics called “a perfect video presentation and bid.”

If only we weren’t up against China.

 “He hasn’t said a word about it?” I ask his assistant.


“To anyone?”


I’ve known Chicoy for nine years now, having met him in London in 2006 when he was our tourism attaché for the UK and Scandinavia. Through the years, I’ve come to know him as one of the hardest working people in promoting the Philippines. He does it with a deep love for country and a sense of humor that helps him hurdle the challenges — insurmountable as they may seem, he always finds a way, whether the problem is lack of funding or lack of cooperation from industry partners.

After working in the tourism offices in Paris for three years and in London for five years, he felt he needed to come back and work in the home office in 2010 — perhaps a second act in a 35-year career in which he has served under more than a dozen tourism secretaries, starting with the very first, Minister Jose Aspiras in the 1970s.

“I felt it was the right time to come back for a new assignment,” he says. “TPB’s mandate is derived from the Tourism Act of 2009, which was passed under Secretary Ace Durano, and in the Senate, Senator Dick Gordon was a strong proponent. We only got a full board 2012.”

In only five years, the TPB’s strategy in promoting the Philippines has changed dramatically, mainly because of social media. “We keep saying that it’s a game changer for the country. It somehow levels the playing field in terms of budget to the point that Malaysia, Singapore and other countries are wondering how they can be as successful as the Philippines in marketing itself for almost no budget.”

Social media has not only made the Philippines easier to promote globally, it has also pushed the creativity of the people that collectively put the country’s best foot forward.

Here are 10 stories from Chicoy Enerio and why it’s more fun to promote the Philippines these days.

1. September is Tourism Month. TPB is holding two back-to-back events starting Sept 1 and 2 with the MICE Con, which it has been organizing for the past six years. “We’ve held it in Cebu and Clark and now we’re bringing it back to Manila. Marriott Hotel offered us the use of their new Marriott Grand Ballroom for free!  It’s a two-day educational program for the private sector to learn from local and international speakers how to pitch the Philippines for meetings, incentive travel and exhibitions. It will also talk about digital media and marketing.”

This segues into the second event, the Philippine Travel Exchange, a business-to-business event where 200 sellers from the Philippines meet with their counterparts from abroad. “One day, 28 meetings. They have 15 minutes to talk to a seller or buyer, parang speed dating,” he says with laughter.

This is followed by the Philippine Travel Mart, which is organized by the private sector for the public to avail of travel deals.



2. They only had P50,000  to launch It’s More Fun in the Philippines campaign. “We sequestered ourselves for two days straight and listened to eight pitches from top advertising agencies. The last pitch on day one was very good, but the last pitch on day two was even better — that was the It’s More Fun campaign by BBDO Guerrero.”

Chicoy says they only had P50,000 to launch the campaign. “We had to host 50 or so Filipino celebrities, media people and bloggers during the launch. We didn’t even hold it in a restaurant, but at the DOT office,” he says.

Yet it’s become the most successful campaign, one that has resonated with every Filipino. Chicoy says they came up with only three posters — and I’m sure you remember this because everyone was sharing them on Facebook and Instagram: the Banaue Rice Terraces (“Going Upstairs”); Butanding (“Status Report”); and Kayaking (“Commuting”).

“We got so much support from netizens. Those three posters generated 70,000 new posters, all by users, and in fact they insisted we use them for free,” Chicoy says and adds, “Of course we couldn’t use the naughty ones, there were a lot of those, too. It was the first time the country trended No. 1 globally — and for once it wasn’t for something negative.”

The campaign has now shifted slightly to highlight specific destinations rather than the country as a whole because, as Chicoy points out, “You need to refresh a campaign like this once in a while.”

3. Thirty-six million Facebook users mean free publicity. He’s been asked by his counterparts abroad the key to having a huge online support. “Well, they have to have a hundred million Filipinos — and we have 36 million on Facebook, the sixth largest online community on Twitter, and we are the SMS capital in the world. The online sharing of the Philippines on Instagram is 88 percent compared to a global ratio of 68 percent. Mahilig talaga tayong mag-share, kahit anong litrato gusto nating ipakita sa mundo.”

But it’s not just about publicity, he says. The challenge is how to really engage Filipinos and have them help promote the country, and for local governments to invest. “You cannot just expect tourists to visit your area if there are no activities for them to do or without clean hotel rooms and great food. People are of the opinion that they will get the benefits of tourism without making investments, which is simply not true.”

4. Cebu will host Ironman Asia Pacific next year. Ironman last month was successfully held in Cebu with 3,500  athletes participating. “The best announcement they made is that next year’s event will be bigger. For the first time, they’re holding Asia Pacific Ironman outside of Australia and bringing it to Cebu. It’s not just the number of participants that will increase, but also the quality of the competition and  triathletes.”

Cebu has the infrastructure, says Chicoy. “It has the sea, different levels of terrain, and enough hotels in the Mactan area. And we’re working closely with sports organizations to get more sporting events.”

5. More places are now MICE-ready. Whether it’s local or international, TPB is encouraging meetings and incentive travel to be held in places like Cebu, Iloilo, Bohol, Boracay and of course Manila. “Places that really want to be part of a tourist’s itinerary or to host MICE have to invest in infrastructure, tourism and promotion.”

The ASEAN Trade Ministers meeting late last year was held in Boracay and he says participants found it refreshing to be in a less formal environment. “It offered them a little bit more fun in a more relaxed environment. Nag-karaoke pa nga ang mga finance ministers. They were there for only a short time but their staff stayed for at least a week preparing for the meeting and were able to experience Boracay.” 

6. Madrid Fusion and APEC are events to show the world the best of our cuisine, perhaps even the weird kind — and more. Madrid Fusion Manila, held last April, had every Filipino who had a Facebook account writing or sharing stories about it even without attending any of the events. So successful was it that it will be held again in Manila on April 7 to 9, 2016.

As for APEC, DOT is one of the agencies playing a role in the preparations. “There’s going to be a big reception,” Chicoy says. “I don’t know if they’ve finally decided to hold it at SM Arena but it will definitely highlight our cuisine. Here’s an opportunity for us to offer Barack Obama something local like kapeng barako or even some of our more exotic delicacies.”

Also, the Asia Retailers Convention is going to be held here and “we expect 3,000 of the top retailers in the region — owners and executives of the biggest department stores to attend. An event like this improves not just retail partnerships, but also business opportunities for us. It’s a big chance to show our kakayahan.”

7. One million tourist arrivals was achieved in 1980. And then there was a long lull. “We ended 2014 with 4.8 million tourists; this year we’re hoping to reach 5.2 to 5.5 million. We estimate that the demand for Philippine tourism is in excess of 10 million — meaning these are people who want to visit the Philippines but couldn’t for several reasons, whether it’s flights or not enough rooms or information,” he says.

“It took us 35 years to get to five million, ang tagal noon. It’s because of so many factors including political instability, natural calamities, infrastructure and security concerns. But things are more positive now and hopefully will move faster.”

8. What do past Tourism Secretaries have in common? Chicoy has worked under Tourism Ministers/Secretaries Jose Aspiras, Jose Antonio Gonzalez, Peter Garrucho, Raffy Alunan, Nars Lim, Vince Carlos, Mina Gabor, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Dick Gordon, Obet Pagdanganan, Ace Durano, Bertie Lim, and now Ramon Jimenez.

“They all love the country and have a vision of what Philippine tourism should be. You must remember that these secretaries were leading DOT at different stages of our tourism development.”

9. Tourists coming to the Philippines are getting younger. “We’re still at the baby boomer generation, the 50-plus tourists, but now we are seeing Gen X, Y and the millennials. Maybe it has something to do with the campaign because it’s attractive to the young. Very soon, 50 percent of our population will be below 25. Can you imagine the possibilities? It’s a big come-on for business and tourism companies looking for highly skilled young and trainable people.” 

Last year, 44 million Filipinos travelled domestically — and most of them were young professionals and students.

10. The biggest lesson from losing the FIBA bid. “We really need to be ready with our infrastructure. That was all it was.  China showed their bullet trains, their airports and claimed they have 100,000 hotel rooms in each city. But the best lesson is how well the government and private sector can work together. We sat down so many times with the private sector, SBP, the MVP Group and among ourselves at TPB. There was no doubt we all wanted it for love of the game. We were focusing on how people all over the world will begin to love basketball and it will be the Filipino people that will provide that platform.”

What was the immediate reaction from the team when they lost the bid? “Stunned silence. Because we really had a fighting chance.”

But Filipinos are not new to disappointment— we dust ourselves off and begin again. That’s what #puso is all about. 














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