Lately, I have been writing regularly about tourism in the Philippines, and the reasons why it is not working. Or, let me say, I have been writing about apparent reasons why tourism is not working here. Two weeks ago, I posted about a new tourism slogan that the Philippine Department of Tourism had some out with called PKG, or Pilipinas Kay Ganda. The whole launching of the new tourism campaign was riddled with problems, and in the end, the Department of Tourism ditched the new campaign. They currently are working on an entirely new campaign and slogan for Philippine Tourism.
Some may argue that I am wrong to say that Philippine Tourism is not working. Well, if that is what you are thinking, think about this. The Philippines currently gets only around 2 Million, perhaps up to 3 Million tourists that come to the country each year. Wow, 2 Million, that’s a lot! Is that what you are thinking? Well, Thailand gets upwards of 17 Million tourists each year. Malaysia gets over 20 Million tourists yearly! Basically, every country neighboring the Philippines gets more tourists than the Philippines does, except maybe Burma.
OK, let’s get down to reality. While I think that the new Slogan (which has been ditched), “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” was a boondoggle. Complete waste of time and money. However, the truth is, reality is that the reason for the Philippine shortfall in tourism has nothing to do with a slogan, a set of words or anything of the nature. There are two major reasons, in my opinion, why the Philippines cannot attract tourists. One of the reasons is easily fixable, the other is harder to conquer. What are the reasons?
Reason one: Poor use of the Internet and other Media
I personally believe that this is the most fixable area of poor tourism performance in the Philippines. I have written about this in depth before, and won’t go into it in great detail this time, but the Philippines has really not taken advantage of a lot of free publicity that can be had through a number of means. These days, getting publicity is a lot easier and cheaper than ever before. With the Internet, almost anything is possible. When you take advantage of what is out there for free, a lot can be accomplished on a small budget. How do I know? Because I do it every day!
One thing that you hear from the Department of Tourism is that they cannot afford to run commercials on TV. OK, fair enough, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money! What about You Tube? Guess what, though… as far as I can tell, the Philippine Department of Tourism doesn’t even have a You Tube Channel! In the past, back in 2002 through about 2004, the Philippines ran commercials on major International TV Channels (BBC and CNN for sure). Those commercials still exist on some DVD somewhere, or on somebody’s hard drive. Why not roll them out on You Tube? You can find some Tourism related videos on You Tube, but they sure were not put there by the Department of Tourism.
How about Facebook, I mean, Facebook is one of the hottest sites on the Net these days! Does the Department of Tourism have a Facebook page? No, they don’t. There is a page called “Philippine Department of Tourism” but that is obviously not an official page, you can tell by the way they bad mouth Philippine Tourism on the page! And, even if it is an official page of the Department, well, it is shameful because they don’t even feature any nice pictures (the “profile picture” for the page is a nondescript picture of a suitcase).
There are many other social sites on the net. There are tons of sites (like LiP) that regularly post information about the Philippines, and tourism here. Does the Philippine Government have any people that monitor what is being said on the Web about tourism? Not as far as I can see. They need a team of a few people who monitor the web, and leave comments on sites like LiP and others sites, to bring their message to the public. This would be cheap.
How many times have I (and others) harped in the past that it is nearly impossible to book a hotel room over the Internet? Oh, if you want a big fancy hotel, sure you can find one or two that have Internet bookings available, but if you want to visit some City that is not in the “big 3” (Manila, Cebu or Davao) it is nearly impossible to book a hotel room online. Why? This would be easy and cheap to set up. Heck, most hotels won’t even answer an e-mail, though, how could you expect them to take a room booking online? I have said many times since living here that a lot of businesses here just don’t want your money, no matter how hard you try to give it to them! And, I believe that statement is 100% true.
How about booking an airline flight online? Oh, you can book to come from your country to visit the Philippines… to Manila that is. But, it is not easy to book your domestic flights online. Want to go to Bacolod? How about General Santos City? Well, getting those domestic air tickets is very difficult to do.
I know that this is how it is, because almost every day, I get e-mails asking for help in getting a hotel room or a domestic flight. I am not in the tourist business, nor am I working for the government, but people e-mail me because there is no easy way to do it. Imagine how many other people get similar requests by e-mail. Why are the Philippine Department of Tourism and Tourism related businesses (hotels, airlines, other hospitality businesses) not taking advantage of the Internet? It’s free, or as close to free as you can get!
Reason two: Bad Reputation
Another big problem with Philippine tourism is that the country has a bad reputation worldwide. I saw a show the other day on TV where they said that “the Philippines is the kidnap capital of the world.” I am sorry, but that is pure BS. A lot of countries have a much higher kidnap rate than the Philippines. Murder rates? Have you looked at Mexico lately? Heck, the USA has a much higher murder rate than the Philippines does according to some International Studies I’ve seen recently. Yet, the Philippine reputation is that it is the wild west down here, and you are taking your life in your hands by coming here. My experience could not be further from the truth.
So, this worldwide bad reputation that the Philippines has will be a big obstacle in attracting tourists. However, by taking advantage of some of the means I outlined earlier, it can be done slowly. But, at least the country could attract people who are not concerned about the reputation. But, it would seem that the Philippines is not even trying to do so.
My friends, there are serious problems with Philippine Tourism. A slogan is not one of the problems, though. It makes me wonder why a new slogan was the first thing that the new Administration jumped at when they came to power. I suppose you get a lot more headlines when you roll out a new slogan and new tourism campaign. When you roll out a new You Tube Channel to promote the country, you don’t get listed in the papers much.
You know what they say…. there is no such thing as bad publicity. I believe it was William Randolph Hearst who said something like “write anything about me in the newspaper, just make sure you spell my name right.” If I am incorrect on who said that… please let me know.