A few weeks back I wrote an article on one of the big problems facing Philippine tourism — and a very critical safety issue that by chance involved the Philippines ‘Top Man’ in the tourism business, Secretary of Tourism Joseph Hotchkiss Durano, commonly known as “Ace”.
As a little aside, I wonder how many otherwise intelligent and highly capable Filipinos ever give any thought to how it looks to the rest of the world to continue the use of childhood ‘pet’ names into careers in business and government. I mean how many people would take US President Barak Obama as seriously as they do if he went around a “Barry O’Bomber” the name he went through high school with? Would you hire a lawyer in a tough, dog-eat-dog legal battle if he or she was known through the court system as ‘Dimples, or Bong Bong or Ding”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s everyone’s right to use the name they want, but to an outsider looking in it sure seems a strange way to be taken seriously.
Anyway, I’ll go on record right at the beginning here as a strong supporter of Secretary Durano. He’s a man with a tough challenge, and unlike a lot of folks in leadership here in the Philippines he seems to be producing. I can’t count the number of big foreign investor hotel deals I’ve seen come to fruition during his term, and he’s active, good looking, speaks well and should be able to represent the Philippines well in the international arena.
But just look at these recent tourism statistics for 2007 (I’m focusing just on Asia here):
- China, 54.7 million visitors
- Malaysia, 17 million visitors
- Thailand, 14 million visitors
- Singapore, 14 million visitors
- Vietnam, ~5 million visitors
- Philippines, 3.4 million visitors
Pretty sad numbers, if you ask me. It’s important to have hotels and attractions in place for tourists when they get to the Philippines, but if we (I can say we, I live here and I want the Philippines to succeed just as much as anyone, don’t go getting all jingoistic on me) can’t get more visitors than that in a year, something is seriously flawed.
I mean take a look at some of the folks who outdo the Philippines more than 4 to one in the tourism business? Malaysia? Well there’s plenty to see there, but it’s twelve little ‘kingdoms’, many of them dirt poor, spread out over a huge geographic area, different cultures, different religions etc. Yet every night on my TV on the popular cable channels, like National Geographic, Discovery Channel, ESPN Sports, CNN, Bloomberg, etc., the one potential tourists actually watch, there are dozens of professionally done “Malaysia, Truly Asia” commercials that draw the eye and generate interest, even within Filipinos, in visiting Malaysia (you know to me, an hotel is a necessary evil of travelling, I need a roof over my head and the hotel needs to meet some basic standards, but I don’t visit another country because of a hotel. no matter how fancy it is).
Know where the Philippines spends the TV advertising dollar? Yep, on the shows that air on The Filipino Channel in the US and other foreign counties. Umm, Secretary Durano … hello? You don’t need to advertise to OFW’s and other Filipinos abroad. This is their home. In general there are only two categories of Filipinos abroad … those overseas to take advantage of a job or business opportunity who can’t wait to come back, or those who left, assimilated into another culture, and have no interest in coming back. Either category is pretty much a waste of advertising dollars … and no matter what their inclination about visiting their beloved bayan, they already know where home is, they hardly need to be told. It’s kind of like a US tourism agency buying ads on the Armed Forces network that goes to our military in 200 something countries … hello, they’re Americans, they know where “home’ is.
I see this all the time with Filipino businesses here in the Philippines as well. For some reason … I don’t know if it’s some sort of inferiority thing or an exaggerated and self-limiting sense of “meekness”, but so many advertising pesos are spent on marketing to other Filipinos, when, in fact, the market, especially for tourism, is the rest of the world, not other Filipinos.
How many retirement age Americans, for example, even know about efforts to attract residents like the excellent SRRV program offered by the Philippines? Why aren’t there commercials about programs like that on channels Americans and other foreigners watch? It’s talked about often, again on the Pilipino Channel programming but guess what? Filipinos don’t need it … they are already Filipinos/former Filipinos and if they want to come back here along with their pensions and investments, they don’t need any special visa programs. Target audience, Mr. Secretary, target audience. No matter what the budget, rather than focusing on what can’t be done, just spend the money you have on people who are potential customers … your business will thrive.
This little discussion wouldn’t be complete either without a mention of the most lopsided country in that depressing list of tourism figures above …. Singapore. Singapore attracted more than 3 times the tourists in a single year than the Philippines did. Why?
Places to see? Not hardly. Singapore (known to the Bruisers who were posted there back in colonial days as “Stinkapore” is a tiny island … about the size of Metro Manila, with little to see other than a modern airport, and is so crowded that one major attraction are highways built to relieve congestion which are built in tunnels that also serve as the cities storm sewers. Wow, world class, eh? Beaches? The Philippines has thousands, Singapore has mud flats. Natural resources? The CIA World Fact Book lists one for Singapore … fish. The Philippines has dozens. Hmm, maybe the Singaporeans have some sort of in-bred hereditary advantage … people don’t like to talk about this, but there is evidence that some races are smarter than others. Hmmm … Malay-Chinese heritage, which quite interestingly is the racial component of the majority of Filipinos. Better education? Maybe, but a huge percentage of skilled jobs, especially those with artistic and imaginative skills like those in advertising and TV go to imported Philippine workers. English skills? Ummm, what can I say? Problematical as they sometimes are with the current Filipino anti-English mindset, Filipino English skills, especially in pronunciation and ease of conversation is orders of magnitude better than Singaporean’s.
So what is it that makes Singapore a tourism and business “tiger” compared to the Philippines? I don’t have all the answers, Secretary Durano, but maybe, once again, a big part of the puzzle might be right there in front of our very noses … targeting. When I watch Australian TV I see commercials telling well-to-do Australians about the investment and tax advantages of living and investing in Singapore. Ever seen a commercial about the advantages of say investing in high-end Philippines condo developments, or the stability and secrecy laws of Philippines banks in these troubled times? No, of course not.
I don’t want to sound like a know it all foreigners, Mr. Secretary, but sometimes a set of eyes with an outside perspective can be of some value. The Philippines has every possibility of again being a tiger of Asia, and being a real tiger of tourism, but it’s not more money that’s needed, I would submit, it’s targeting sir, targeting, the heart and soul of any successful marketing campaign.
If you hate this article. or love it, please let me know … I have a number of other low or no cost ideas that the Philippines could use today to move itself up into its rightful place in the world … but like any idea, they need ‘buy in’ … if this line of thought is boring, I’ll write about something else.