A couple weeks ago I published a post on this subject which got me quite a few interesting comments and bits of feedback. I really appreciate all those who shared their ideas. A couple updates since that last post.
Although I have seen no real evidence of the Department of Tourism advertising in general interest media, I have seen some very effective commercials on CNN from PAGCOR, The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. PAGCOR, which is a Philippine Government owned corporation is pretty unique among the branches of the government I have dealt with so far. They are building a first class casino, amusement park and family destination resort in Manila, and advertising it to the world. They have apparently looked at the hordes of visitors who travel to Hong Kong or Tokyo Disney Land, or perhaps as I recently watched for myself, the convoys of full to capacity luxury coaches traveling from Macau airport and ferry terminals to the huge 5 star plus Venetian casino and resort in Macau. Advertising to the proper target audience is the first step for marketing success. Perhaps the DOT could do some partnering with PAGCOR and get some marketing tips. They are both government agencies supporting the same land and peoples.
One interesting thing I see in the PAGCOR commercials is a brief shot of a map showing how centrally located the Philippines is to all major cites in Asia. The Philippines seems remote to us Americans, but to well off potential tourists from Tokyo around to Singapore the Philippines is closer by air than Las Vegas is to New York. Americans are far from the only people with disposable income who like to travel to interesting destinations.
Now, sticking with that theme, Secretary Durano (you are reading, sir, aren’t you?), you may remember some old travel commercials that used to use the line, “Getting There is Half The Fun”. In the case of traveling to the Philippines it often seems more like “Getting There Is Nearly Impossible”.
I picked three highly popular and oft-mentioned Philippine tourist locations. Boracay, Bohol and Baguio. I also picked two of the largest online travel agencies, Expedia and Travelocity. Tried to book an example flight from a random example city in the US to any of those attractions, as if I had just seen them on a commercial. Guess what? You can’t get there from here. Neither service could find me connections, let alone a price and a departure time. Now you can fly by scheduled airline to all three of those Philippine locations, but apparently because domestic Philippine airline companies don’t chose to be part of the largest travel directories … and largest ticket sales outlets … on earth, they don’t show up. This is simpler, and even cheaper than trying to partner with another government agency. I can not believe this can’t be cured with a few phone calls or data base corrections. I’ll tell you what … when I ask for flights from the US to Macau … which is a tiny dot in Hong Kong harbor … very few people ever fly there direct from the US, it is much cheaper to fly to Hong Kong … Travelocity offered me 27 choices. What does Macau have that the Philippines does not? Obviously someone who sees to it that airline flights that already exist show up for people looking to go there. Again, zero cost, just a desire to market to the people you want to come here to our lovely country.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. This one won’t cost the Philippines anything. In fact,. it can make a profit. Organize the incredibly senseless transport situation at NAIA. Send one of your staffers or a “mystery shopper”, incognito to the airport, with a couple suitcases, and give them the assignment to reach a hotel in the city. Look, with international eyes, at the choices available. It’s sad sir, really sad.
A thousand ‘sleeve pullers’ verbally and even physically assault arriving tourists. A myriad of confusing and ill-labeled transport choices bewilder folks arriving. It doesn’t require money, it involves an attitude of giving a bit of common courtesy to the strangers your efforts have attracted to Manila, rather than leaving them to cope with a scary and unseemly mess.
When one gets through the immigration wicket at, for example, Hong Kong airport, there are organized, regulated transport desks with dedicated, express coaches to specific hotels. The government doesn’t pay for these services, the tourists do … and having transited both airports many times, I’d opt to fly into Hong Kong a hundred times rather than fly into NAIA once … and I live here and know my way around a bit.
Organize proper transport, sir, and rid the airport of all the moochers, schemers and barkers that make it into a haven for pickpockets and other scalawags. There are plenty of police and other officials milling about, it’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of someone taking responsibility to put the country’s best foot forward, rather than turn their backs on travel-weary, already nervous tourists.
OK, this could go on, but I think you get the drift. I have been in the homes of thousands of Filipino, from rich folk to the very poor. I have never, ever, here or in any other country, been treated the way everyday tourists are treated upon arrival at the country’s gateway airport.
We don’t need infusions of money to fix the Philippines tourists issues. We need an infusion of what we used to call PRIDE in my early days in the USAF. Personal Responsibility In Daily Efforts. I implore you, Mr. Secretary, to once in a while come down from your ivory tower and visit tourist infrastructure facilities in the Philippines, and to continue the old Air Force vernacular, “Kick ass and Take Names”. You, and the Philippines would be glad you did.