What's in a name?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 () - November 17, 2010 - 12:00am

The Department of Tourism (DOT) launched inauspiciously last Monday night a preview of the “Brand Philippines” to carry the country’s campaign in the highly competitive international travel and tours market. Attended by local and foreign stakeholders, the DOT led by Secretary Alberto Lim formally unveiled the new Philippine Tourism brand “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda.”

Lim cited the new brand focused on the beauty of the country and reflective of the hope and optimism of the new administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

If that preview would be the gauge of how the global travel market would react to the “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” as our country’s new tourism campaign slogan, I’m afraid it would surely get the same ho-hum reaction of the audience that night.

The new campaign theme replaces the “Wow, Philippines” that former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon implemented in 2001. For the past nine years, the “Wow, Philippines” was continued by Gordon’s successors until the bright boys of the Aquino administration came in. They decided to come up with their own “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” as the new Country Brand.

The new Country Brand carries the national language which means “how beautiful the Philippines” and emblazoned in colorful logo. The country’s name in Tagalog is spelled with a wide-eyed brown tarsier clinging to the first letter “i” of Pilipinas; a green coconut tree representing the letter “L,” and the second letter “i” has a sun (in yellow color, of course) over it. 

These logo symbols are supposed to depict the country’s unique tropical beauty and its people’s sunny disposition. In fact, Lim intimated that the inclusion of tarsier and a smiling coconut tree were suggested “ideas” no less by President Aquino to give the logo the local colors of our country.

My initial reaction was to ask why Pilipinas and not Philippines by which our country is known in the world and is called by that name internationally? Wasn’t it recently no less than the Department of Foreign Affairs that issued a memorandum to all government agencies, including the DOT of course, that they should officially use “Ph” or “Phl” as the official initials for the Philippines? Why then the DOT went ahead with its new Country Brand using “Pilipinas” and not “Philippines”?

There’s some disconnect somewhere along the way. This definitely reflects how the Aquino administration operates in different directions. But when I raised this issue with the DOT Secretary, his lame excuse was they have to operate within limited budget and that using an all-English brand name “does not have a good ring (to the ears).”

Lim insisted the new Country Brand got positive response when he first tested it while he was in London for the just concluded World Travel Market. He claims the reaction was that it conforms with what the European market looks for in a country destination that promotes culture and heritage as tourists' come-on.

The Philippines came out 65th out of 110 in Futurebrand’s 2010 Country Brand Index (CBI) that was presented during that conference in London. We were down 29 places from last year’s rank. Vietnam already overtook the Philippines this year.

It was the tiny island state of Singapore that led the region in the list at 15th place followed by Thailand, and Vietnam. The Philippines beat only Indonesia and Laos. Singapore was also singled out for being among the Top 10 Country Brands good for business. Thailand was cited as among the Top 10 brands for tourism in the Asian region.

The CBI survey involved 3,400 international business and leisure travelers from 14 countries. In partnership with BBC World News, the FutureBrand has come up with the sixth edition of the CBI that measures overall Country Brand performance. “This year’s Country Brands share some common features. They are all democratic, progressive, relatively politically and economically stable and do business in English.”

The advertising consultancy’s annual report released last week showed the Philippines’ value as a brand has been pulled down by a string of bad news in the country. Although it was not mentioned, it unveiled “high-profile violent incidents this year,” apparently referring among them, the bungled Luneta bus hostage rescue on Aug. 23 when eight Hong Kong tourists were killed by an ex-cop who ran amuck for his dismissal from the service. The most recent travel advisories were not even included yet during the survey period.

But the sad past is now part of our history. Our history tells us that our country used to be called “Filipinas” during the Spanish colonial period. The foreigners at the audience during the launch could not even pronounce the new slogan. So where did DOT’s “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” come from? Tourism Undersecretary for planning and promotions Vicente “Enteng” Romano III is reportedly the brains behind this new Country Brand. Yes, he is the same guy known in the opposition ranks as a staunch critic of previous administrations.

Following the jueteng scandal involving former President Joseph Estrada in 2000, Romano led an online signature campaign for the former’s resignation via the now-defunct eLagda.com website. Romano was also one of the lead convenors of the Black and White Movement, one of the civil society organizations formed at the height of the “Hello Garci” menace in 2005 of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Romano emceed the launching affair, dressed in a black Barong Tagalog with yellow tie. His DOT boss came with pure unadulterated white Barong.

After a brief fireworks display at the launch venue at Oceana along San Miguel Bay, near the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, there was a brief program ominous of things to come. A girl rock band called “Pretty Young Thing,” with two of them dressed in rock suits showing their belly buttons, finally drove away the audience.

The only saving grace of that launching ceremony was the use of the popular song of Haji Alejandro’s “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,” which won the Asian song competition in the 1980s. The DOT, of course, replaced the lyrics “Pilipinas Kay Ganda.” So what’s in a name? I say a lot.

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