There is renewed energy charging through the Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DoT), and not just due to a former advertising man – Ramon Jimenez, Jr – who’s now at the helm, but thanks also to a catchy slogan: "It’s more fun in the Philippinesî that has gone viral, reaching levels beyond even the wildest expectations of its creators."
The branding exercise, which comes at a cost of Php5 million (US$116,000), juxtaposes the tagline with aptly – if not cleverly – chosen images of the archipelago. The tactic – or gimmick as some prefer to label it – has succeeded in tickling the collective funny bone, especially the humour-loving Filipinos, who have been gleefully sending in their contributions to the DoT’s www.itsmorefuninthephilippines.com site and various other blogspots.
Underpinning the campaign’s DNA, Daniel G Corpuz, DoT undersecretary for tourism planning and promotion, told Mix, was an attraction that "no other destination can offer – and that is the Filipino people".
In fact, Secretary Jimenez said in the early days after the soft launch this January: "What differentiates the Philippines from every [other place] in the world is the Filipino. [It’s] his special gift for transforming what is already a beautiful place into an unforgettably special place. You take two identical islands, put Filipinos on one, it’s going to be more fun there."
As hosts and entertainers, the Filipinos are nonpareil. No less than travel bible Lonely Planet has affirmed this oft-remarked observation, dubbing them "among the most easygoing and ebullient people anywhere", traits tourism honchos are going to town with in their latest drumbeating salvo.
Corpuz continues: "Secretary Jimenez said our strategy is simple: while other countries invite you to observe, Filipinos can promise a more heartfelt and interesting experience. Wherever you go and whatever you do in the Philippines, whether it is in Metropolitan Manila or the provinces, the Filipinos will complete your vacation and make your holiday unforgettable."
The same could very well be applied to conference delegates or incentive travellers, with a bit of tweaking in their handling. Corpuz, who, for many years, headed the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation, now the Philippine Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), explains: "While the ‘fun’ concept won’t be used literally in the MICE sector campaign, we’d like to translate this into the ‘human touch’ approach, underscoring the delivery of personalised service, from meet-and-greet airport arrivals, dedicated secretarial support services, 24-hour conference hall and function room setup, advice on themed parties and activities, flexible room check-out and even complimentary duty-free shopping shuttles."
Stanie D Soriano, officer-in-charge of TPB’s MICE & Business Development, meanwhile, reveals that BBDO Guerrero/Proximity Philippines, the agency which conceptualised the It’s More Fun campaign for DoT, is currently working on a riff of the tagline that will have a business events slant. She tells Mix that this and a concrete suite of initiatives for meetings, events and incentive travel planners are expected to be rolled out next year.
Compared with business events powerhouses in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Thailand and lately, Malaysia, the Philippines is still new to the game of ìsubventionsî – subsidised conventions. Observes Soriano: "That’s the trend now, and we are studying how to go about it. We have to do it because everyone is doing it, but, of course, there has to be a set of criteria for events planners to meet to be eligible."
Ine Faustino, general manager of CCT.168 Travel & Tours, believes the DoT has a good chance of pushing through with this plan now that the supply of rooms and venues is increasing and improving, especially around Metro Manila. "The government is really trying to make the Philippines again a hub for conferences that it was some years ago [the Philippines built one of Asia’s first convention centres, known as the Philippine International Convention Center, which opened in 1976]. And since there are more facilities, the DoT has a better chance of bringing down the rates and making the Philippines an attractive choice for events planners."
On the hotel front, the country has been experiencing a lively boom in the past five years, after a lengthy drought in development. By year-end, Fairmont Hotel and Raffles Hotel Residences are scheduled to open in the Makati financial district, with the years 2013 to 2015 yielding more launches such as those of the Holiday Inn and Suites in the Ayala Center (also in Makati City), the Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt in Fort Bonifacio, Global City in nearby Taguig, Radisson Blu beside the Mall of Asia along Manila Bay, Marco Polo in the Ortigas area and Novotel in Quezon City, among others.
Mid-range and budget chains Best Western and Tune have already put down stakes in the country, and begun to multiply in emerging commercial hubs such as Cebu City, Davao and Cagayan de Oro, while major developer and hotel/resort owner Ayala Land (InterContinental, Holiday Inn & Suites, Cebu Marriott, El Nido in Palawan) is soon to unveil its own line of business-oriented hotels.
At five years old, SMX, part of the 60-hectare Mall of Asia complex, is still considered a "new" events venue by Philippine standards and continues to host prime gatherings like those of the Philippine Dental Association and the Philippine Dermatological Society, as well as serving as the stage for the much anticipated Manila FAME International Expo of CITEM, which manages overseas trade shows and missions. In the same area, the World Trade Center that has seen numerous trade fairs and exhibitions, is undergoing a much-needed refurbishment.
Aileen Clemente, president of the well-established Rajah Tours, remarks that while the DoT’s latest destination moniker captures how the Philippines "should be perceived by others, this is also backed up by an excellent National Tourism Development Plan adopted by the present administration".
The blueprint, however, urgently needs to be fast-tracked in order for the industry to benefit a country so deserving of prosperity and reaching its potential as a star tourism performer.
Then, it will really be more fun in the Philippines.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the Philippines business events wise:
• Current hosting capacity: between 800-1,500 delegates is ideal for existing meeting room facilities.
• In 2010, 42,000 visitor arrivals – 1.2 per cent of the total tourist traffic of 3.6 million that year – indicated their purpose of visiting the country was to attend conventions and conferences.
• Another 12.5 per cent indicated their reason was business purposes.
• Philippine DoT’s goal: increase conference visiors to 100,000 by year-end 2012 or 4.5 per cent of total visitor traffic.
CONTACT Philippine Department of Tourism
TEL +632 523 8411