People make it more fun in the Philippines

It’s not just the beaches and the fiestas, but the genuine warmth and friendliness of Filipinos that make the Philippines more fun to visit.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez believes the Filipinos are the most effective “agents” of the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) new marketing campaign, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

“Everybody must keep in mind ‘more fun in the Philippines’ is a competitive superiority claim and it derives its meaning from the fact that the Filipinos are the most crucial elements in the entire brand marketing mix, because the Philippines is not just a place to see, the Filipinos are the people to be with,” Jimenez tells STARweek.

“Boracay is just a just a pile of sand if you remove the Filipinos from it. Cebu is just another province surrounded by beaches and socio-cultural wonders, it is the Cebuanos, the Filipinos, who make it the unique experience that it is. Because Filipinos are probably among the most natural, accomplished hosts in the world, maybe it is in our DNA. So when you say it’s more fun in the Philippines, you mean that there is a superior, complete experience in the Philippines,” he enthuses.

15, 000 versions

While the DOT has so far only done three official posters of the new slogan, over 15,000 versions have already come out in the Internet using the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” catchphrase, according to Jimenez.

“When we launched it on Jan. 6, within hours it was trending on Twitter. Today, there are over 15,000 names or versions of the three posters we started, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the super creative to the super corny,” the DOT secretary says.

“So the first part of the mission was accomplished. The people are now very effective agents, because I promised that we will make everyone the primary agents of tourism…They are the ones who will walk the talk, they are the ones to be energized by their own marketing campaign. And now comes the second part, which is to make the world know about it,” Jimenez says.

“Most people in the world have not heard of what the Philippines has to offer. Philippines, isn’t that in Bahamas? Where is the Philippines? Believe it or not, we’re still at that stage,” he says.

“I came from Berlin (Germany) – those who have been to the Philippines before, they were very happy with the new slogan because that is exactly what they have been wanting to say and they were so happy that somebody finally said it…This is not only true for Filipinos, this is true for every foreigner who has ever fallen in love with the Philippines.”

However, there are also people critical of the new DOT slogan, Jimenez admits.

“There is no such thing as a campaign that has 100 percent acceptance, there is no such thing in the world. There will always be people who will find something wrong with it,” Jimenez, who has spent most of his professional career in advertising, says.

Jimenez was the owner of the Jimenez Basic Advertising, the firm that successfully marketed some of the most iconic brands and products in the market today.

Among the clients of his firm were San Miguel Corporation, Globe Telecom, Unilab, Jollibee, Chowking, Coca-Cola, Cebu Pacific, Innove, Citibank, Sara Lee, Meralco, and Nutriasia Foods.

Tourist arrivals up in January

Jimenez reported that tourist arrivals in the country went up by 17.5 percent to 411,064 last January from 349,713 recorded in the same period last year.

“For the first time in Philippine history we have exceeded 400,000 visitors in a single month, that is very important. We have never done that… So in theory, if that is the new level of tourism in the Philippines, we could break our target of 4.6 million this year and 10 million by 2016,” Jimenez states.

“We had 3.9 million in 2011 and we have nearly 3.4 million people directly employed in tourism, meaning for every tourist that arrives, one Filipino will have a job. That is very, very important. In tourism, the distribution of income is immediate,” the tourism chief underscores.

Jimenez said the Aquino government has allocated a huge portion of its 2012 budget for infrastructure for tourism.

“The majority of the DPWH’s (Department of Public Works and Highways) budget for infrastructure is for tourism and that will be the case for 2013. Also, we are building or expanding more airports, seaports than at any other time in the history of the Philippines,” Jimenez says. 

These include the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, as well as the airports in Clark, Pampanga; Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Kalibo and Caticlan, Aklan; Cebu, Bohol, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Legazpi, Albay and Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

“All of these will be upgraded in the next two years,” he says.

‘Pocket open skies’

Jimenez also expressed full support for the pocket open skies policy implemented by the Aquino administration. President Aquino signed last year Executive Order 29, liberalizing Philippine aviation by easing restrictions on foreign airlines in select international airports outside Metro Manila.

“I believe it is more relevant to the times. The idea of a single gateway is in the past. Name a successful country that is still in a single gateway,” Jimenez says.

“The Philippines has responded to that need and it’s very relevant not only because that’s how the world of travel operates, but because we are an archipelago. People don’t have to go to Manila if they only want to go to Cebu. That makes simple sense, that is what is happening now, you have direct flights from China to Puerto Princesa,” he says.

President Aquino signed last year Executive Order 29, liberalizing Philippine aviation by easing restrictions on foreign airlines in select international airports outside Metro Manila.

“It teaches our airlines to compete. I believe Filipino airlines and airline services are among the best in Asia – Zestair, Cebu Pacific, PAL (Philippine Airlines) – everybody can compete. We’ll learn how to compete. They will not only succeed, they will probably win,” says Jimenez.

Aside from the improvement of major airports in the country, Jimenez also expects the construction of more five-star and three-star hotels in the country in the next few years, including the planned PAGCOR Entertainment City in Parañaque City which is expected to create an additional 8,000 rooms.

“Will we have enough hotels? The answer is yes. Look around you, there is a lot of construction taking place, all the big brands are back, including Hilton. We do not only encourage the big brands, we also encourage the three-star hotels,” he says.

The DOT, along with other government agencies, has also revised visa rules to boost the country’s tourism.

Among the visa reforms recently implemented were the increase in the visa-free privilege for 166 countries/territories from 21 to 30 days, granting of a 30-day visa-free stay to Chinese nationals traveling to the Philippines and a 14-day visa-free stay for Indian nationals who have a valid American, Japan, Australian, Canadian, Shengen, Singapore, or United Kingdom visa. Retirees planning to settle in the Philippines automatically get a six month visa.

Further, by the end of the year, the Philippines will endeavor to be the first country in the world to grant senior-citizen rights and discounts to all seniors ariving in the country. The Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Finance are currently working on the mechanics of this.

“This is, beyond doubt, the most tourism-oriented government in Philippine history. And President Noynoy will go down in history as the most tourism-oriented president in Philippine history,” Jimenez says.

There are, however, obstacles to these ambitious tourism plans. For one thing, the failure thus far of the country to regain Category 1 status with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and to have the ban imposed by the European Union (EU) on Philippine carriers lifted continue to restrict expansion of air service to and from the country.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas recently admitted that not enough has been done by the Civil Aeronautics Administration of the Philippines (CAAP) to adress and correct safety concerns raised by the FAA and the International Civil Aeronautics Organization (ICAO), thus leaving the category upgrade within the year unlikely.

In addition, taxes and other charges imposed by various government agencies like the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Immigration on airline companies have made flying into the Philippines very expensive.

Just last month, KLM stopped direct flights between Manila and Amsterdam – it was the last direct link between Manila and Europe – and Qatar also cancelled its Cebu-Doha flights. The government has been mired in a long-running dispute with the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) over such taxes and charges.

Such negative developments obviously impact on tourist arrivals, Jimenez admits, but he is unfazed.

“Certainly, the issues on CCT (Common Carriers Tax) and GPBT (Gross Philippine Billings Tax) imposed on these foreign carriers have an effect on the country’s tourism industry,” Jimenez says. “However, we should only see these as temporary problems because both regulatory and legislative bodies are already working on amendments to the law. The Tourism Department will ensure that these concerns will not hamper our efforts to increase tourist arrivals and build a progressive and competitive tourism industry.”

The DOT, he adds, has “already embarked on more aggressive initiatives to compete effectively with the rest of Asia. Part of the job is convincing the rest of government to compete as well. The national government takes it to task to spearhead the review of policy bottlenecks that run counter to tourism’s progress. These include matters pertaining to the economic viability of airlines as affected by these burdensome taxes and the infamous Customs Immigrations and Quarantine (CIQ) charges.”

House Bill 6602 (Rationalizing the Taxes on International Air Carriers operating in the Philippines) is one measure to address the issues on CCT and GPBT by exempting international air carriers from these taxes. The bill was approved on second reading before the House of Representatives adjourned for the Lenten break last month. “The immediate passage of this bill will help bring back the carriers, which used to link the Philippines to Europe and other long haul continents. It will greatly support the country’s open skies policy and help enhance our tourism competitiveness. Since we are already on second reading in the Congress, we have every confidence that both CCT and GPBT are headed for repeal,” he adds.

In the meantime, expanded connectivity will be worked on by renegotiating air service agreements with key growth markets, such as through chartered flights. With the configuration of KLM from direct to stop-over in Taipei, tourists from Europe will hopefully still endeavor to visit the Philippines through connecting flights made available by other carriers. As of latest count, there are 20 carriers servicing flights from Manila to other points in Europe, and 14 carriers from Manila to the Middle East.

Public-Private Partnership

In line with the government’s intensified tourism campaign, Jimenez says the DOT will ink partnerships with private establishments to make them “tourist-friendly.”

“A very important part of that will be a private sector that is more involved, a private sector that also believes that they have to do their own advertising even on a small scale, the way other countries are doing,” Jimenez says.

Jimenez wants all private establishments such as food chains and convenience stores to have DOT brochures and telephones that can be used by tourists who need assistance.

“Now you are going to see a very dynamic cooperation between the government and private business to improve the way we treat both foreign and domestic tourists,” Jimenez says.

Jimenez says the DOT is also closely working with the new officers of the Tourism Congress, led by its president Celine Clemente.

“We now have a unified Tourism Congress…now they are very excited to do their share. I’m working very closely with them because it is the private sector that will eventually determine whether tourism is going to be successful in the Philippines or not,” says the secretary.

The tourism chief also disclosed the government’s plan to revive night life in Manila to encourage more tourists to visit the country’s capital.

The DOT also plans to rehabilitate the Rizal Shrine inside Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila.

“Our primary responsibility in Intramuros is to make it come alive again and to give the most important places their prime importance. The most important place there is the Rizal Shrine…We will make that shrine one of the most famous historical shrines in Asia,” says Jimenez.

“We will continue to work in reviving Roxas Boulevard… We encourage people to make Manila night life more active, that’s why there are more and more concerts, more and more festivals,” he adds.

He also urges local government units to spend a portion of their internal revenue allotment (IRA) for tourism promotion abroad.

“I hope to be able to convince the LGUs in Bohol, Cebu, Puerto Princesa and in Ilocos in invest in promotional campaign abroad,” he says.

Despite his 35 years of experience in the field of advertising, Jimenez finds his job as tourism secretary more challenging, specifically in coming up with a new campaign brand.

“Well, basically you’re dealing with larger organizations and, frankly, of course more meaningful change,” says Jimenez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts major in Visual Communications from the University of the Philippines.

“It’s one thing to be in charge of the fortune of a brand like milk, soft drink or clothes. It’s quite another to be in charge of a national brand, in terms of size, implication, it’s very different. But I guess the most significant is you are part of an effort towards greater transparency in government,” he says. “It is heavy work but it is satisfying work.”

“The slogan ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ is not owned by the DOT, it belongs to everybody, that’s why we launched it through the social network. We gave it to the people and they have taken possession of it and the most important part of it, of course, is it will require everyone’s help,” Jimenez concludes.

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