I Believe In What Tourism Can Do

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by Claire DG. Amador
Reposted with Permission

“Tourism is not just the physical movement from one place to the next, but a positive shift from one mindset to another. It is also a way of seeing the world and finding your place in it.”

This is a paraphrased thought combined from two authors whose names escape me right now (sorry, Sirs). Usually I start YTRIP* talks with it because it puts things in perspective: tourism is not just an industry, but a way of seeing things. It is about experiencing and living life.

I believe that tourism cuts across all sectors: it is very much economic, social, cultural, and political. It’s the kind of industry where everyone’s a participant. It’s also the kind of activity (for lack of a better term) that would transform (take note, transform and not just change) lives and outlooks and people. It can cause a revolution – it transcends cultures, connects stories, uplifts (or destroys) lives, and best of all, converts people. I use “convert” loosely because I always believe in the way traveling makes people better than they were when they left their bases. I also focus on people because at the end of the day – it is our decisions and actions that define the present and the future, the economy and the countries.

I believe that tourism cuts across all sectors: it is very much economic, social, cultural, and political. It’s the kind of industry where everyone’s a participant.
I have always believed that tourism will be the saving grace for the Philippines and it is one of the reasons why I fervently hope the government and the citizenry would give it the attention (and understanding and study) it deserves. A lot of countries and cities are investing so much in tourism – Budapest for instance, has it as its biggest contributor to the economy. Ethiopia is exploring it as its main economic driving force. California, as a state, recognizes it as a primary industry. For us, my question is, do we have what it takes to make tourism our main industry, our driving force? But first, do we want it?

Simplicity Is Not Always Beauty

If there is one thing that truly amazed me over the ruckus with DOT’s Pilipinas Kay Ganda campaign – it was the amount of attention and reaction it generated. People actually cared about tourism (finally!). We are no longer bystanders and passive participants – this time around, and with much thanks to technology – we are involved. I thought that was a good thing. The fact that a lot of people would like to help craft the country’s tourism campaign shows how much we care about how we project ourselves to the world. It shows there’s greater consciousness of who we are, who we ought to be.

The reaction was so much that I decided to keep quiet and just watch – to see where it would lead to and how far it was going to go. I was astounded by how serious it was to a point where a very good and capable man had to resign his post. That was our loss, I thought. You don’t find a lot of Enteng Romanos willing to give up their corporate, private lives to work in government.

One of the reasons, I think, why the Kay Ganda campaign elicited so much negative reaction is its simplicity. It is basic and plain. Maybe a lot of people thought it was too easy – a tourism campaign has got to be better than that: more colorful, more depth, maybe? A lot of people attribute to Wow Philippines (which did have a measure of success) and I particularly liked the ‘more than the usual’ slogan because that’s what tourists and travelers are after – however – beneath the surface, do we believe that we are, in fact, WOW?

When Pilipinas Kay Ganda was launched, I was in the US where I met a lot of people who did not know much about us. I tried, of course, to talk them into exploring our country but admittedly, top of mind – we’re not within the horizon of choices for their trips. We’re too far, we’re expensive, and we’re not in the radar (not even a tiny blip). Some of the Filipinos I met there complained about the weak marketing we employ and I agree to a certain extent BUT it’s not just that. I think it’s because we have not fully decided yet on how serious we want to be about tourism in the Philippines.

Being serious in tourism means investing not only in infrastructure but also in education and in developing a culture of tourism amongst us.
By serious, I do not just mean numbers and statistics, massive marketing and developing island resorts. Being serious in tourism means investing not only in infrastructure but also in education and in developing a culture of tourism amongst us. A culture that would enable us to develop infrastructure and MAINTAIN it well; a culture that would enable us to provide genuine openness, honesty, and warmth to our visitors (and to each other) without making it seem like work; a culture that would allow us to become our own ambassadors and enable us to speak about who we are eloquently; a culture that would enable us to appreciate, protect, and sustain our natural and cultural resources and understand why it’s important for us to do so; best of all, a culture that supports the community through thick and thin.

The Missing Spark

Another reason why I think there was so much hoopla over the proposed Kay Ganda slogan is that it was flat; it did not inspire. There seems to be no fireworks when you say it and it is hard to explain. As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, how can one explain the beauty of the Philippines exactly? In truth, I do not see a problem with the slogan – but there would be a problem with the person who will explain it. It is abstract. We can go on and on about our mountains and beaches and food, but WHY is it beautiful? If we cannot answer a basic question like that, it will frustrate us, especially as it is such a common adjective. And here’s a thought: I learned that inspiration comes from within, it is a spark triggered by an external factor that reflects an inner value. The Kay Ganda slogan may not have sparked inspiration in many probably because the value which it hoped to connect to was not there.

And I think the Kay Ganda slogan hit the core: can we say, in our own words and genuine interest, how beautiful this country is and why? I don’t think we are versed as a people to market – let alone wonderfully explain – the Philippines ourselves. To be eloquent and go beyond the Chocolate Hills, beyond Boracay, beyond sinigang, bagoong, and mangoes – there has to be more to us. And it is not even just about the words we will speak – but it will be in how we speak them. Do our eyes brighten up when we talk about the Philippines? Saying you’re Pinoy with just your mouth is different when you say it with your eyes and your heart.

My exposure in tourism has allowed me to see what other countries are offering. Guess what? We all offer the same thing. Watch any tourism ad and it will be the same things over and over, regardless of location, climate, and history. The categories are the same. One’s choice of destination is a deductive exercise based on economics, PR, and philosophies. One’s choice of spending, staying, and returning though is based on a very important factor: Experience. And experience rests on the story and the storytellers – the people. How connected are we to the message we relayed to the world? How much of what we promised did we make real? And how authentic is our message, how authentic are we?

The curious thing about us is that what sets us apart from everyone else is the same thing that’s tearing us apart: OURSELVES.

I am amazed and overwhelmed by the way the people rallied against the Kay Ganda campaign – but I personally think conclusions were jumped at too soon, demands were too high, and the reactions a little harsh. Historically, we have always been quite hard on ourselves and it mars whatever greatness we can muster.

Manny Pacquiao was on the cover of American Air’s in-flight magazine and I was proud that he was. I remember though when he was rising as a star and I brushed him aside because I thought he was overrated. I saw his most recent fight and felt ashamed of myself: he really is fantastic – he is one heck of an athlete. Despite that, who among us laughed or even thought him ridiculous when he spoke after the fight in his attempt at English? I know a few people who did and it hurt to hear it.

And here we are: DOT comes out with a slogan, we disagree, criticize and demand.

The curious thing about us is that what sets us apart from everyone else is the same thing that’s tearing us apart: OURSELVES.
It’s great that now we know we deserve better, and the good part this time is we ask for more. I think it’s good that people, in their heart, felt obligated to speak up. Maybe the new slogan just did not resonate with how proud they are of the country or how wonderful they feel about the Philippines. It wasn’t enough to define who and what we are. Personally, the slogan was not enough for me – I didn’t mind it being simplistic. I minded it being abstract and common. But my point is, as we raise the bar for the slogan so should we raise the bar for ourselves. We tend to support Pinoys in the international scene especially when we compete with other countries. And then at home, we compete with each other. Manny wins a fight in Vegas, and even before he could bask in his glory, we focus on his broken English.

On hindsight, it wouldn’t hurt to support each other, too – not just during the wins, but also at times when we’re broken.

It's Time For Commitment

I do not have a proposal on what slogan or marketing program the DOT could employ. That’s not up my alley. As an advocate for local sustainable tourism though, I would like to hope for a campaign that would embrace all Filipinos and be able to inspire us to fall in love with our own reflection, our history, our heritage. I like the idea of having Manny Pacquiao as a tourism endorser (hey, California had Arnie) BUT it should NOT just be him and about him. We Filipinos are always distracted by the shiny, the temporary, and the famous. Maybe this time around, we can have something more lasting, more fundamental… more authentic. Let’s have a campaign that we’d love to be married to, to be committed to – a campaign that we like not just because it’s colorful or astig, but because it speaks to us, it reflects our truth, and that we actually mean it (in citizen action, government policy, and for the tourism industry).

One of the campaigns I like was Secretary Aspiras’s, The Philippines – (the islands) where Asia wears a smile. Somewhere in the past we also had a line that said ‘Come home to the Philippines’ which I think showed the authentic side of our country: we pretty much feel like home to everyone. ‘Islands Philippines’ is also easy to recall – 7107 on low tide, and I should ask Charlene Gonzales on high tide. I brought these up because for me, these messages floated characteristics that showed who we really are: we are a smiling, happy, hospitable people (in a continent where we seem out of place, which makes us stand out); we are home to everyone, and we are also a rich archipelago of funny and charming people. Simple, but hearty and true. (Parenthetical notes are mine, by the way).

We Filipinos are always distracted by the shiny, the temporary, and the famous. Maybe this time around, we can have something more lasting, more fundamental… more authentic.
I would also like to hope that as we demand for a more encompassing tourism campaign, can we as a people also demand more from ourselves and embrace (and actually live out) the values that will be presented in the new campaign and sustain it? And let’s go beyond marketing: let’s look at the program- is it pro-poor, pro-communities? Is it sustainable and responsive to the needs of the environment and the communities? Are we now going to maintain our destinations well? Are we now serious with peace and order? Are we now supporting cottage industries? Are we now going to be responsible travelers, and in that sense, responsible citizens?

This may seem na├»ve or idealistic, but if we can have a tourism campaign and program that would capture the imagination of most (if not all) of our 90 million people plus the Pinoys abroad – imagine the possibilities and the potential for national and cultural transformation. I would not mind working harder for a country that embraces its greatness even more. It would be a country that knows its place in the world. Tourism, for me, could do that.

It is not just a line or a campaign this time. It’s like coming out with our biography. If we cared so much about a slogan, it might not hurt to care a little bit more about the whole country.

A very good friend of mine said that the best way to see a place is to be with the people who love it. What lenses do we use when we see ourselves and the Philippines? Let’s own and love this country sincerely, and together let’s fix home. Maybe we can stop shooting ourselves (and each other) in the foot.


post-script: I note that tourism marketing programs are geared for the international audience and then there’s another degree for the domestic market, but I have always hoped that any tourism program would capture the locals first. If there’s a buy-in at the local level – you gain a nation of allies that will help you spread the word to the international market. Not to mention, a nation that authentically lives what you’ve set your visitors to discover. And yes, I do and always will have a bias for domestic tourism.
*YTRIP is a youth-led non-government organization that promotes sustainable local tourism and responsible travel to develop love for country, heritage, and everything else Pinoy.
**This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of YTRIP as an organization or any other organization I belong to. These thoughts are my own. Thank you for taking time to read this. It was initially meant as a private journal entry which got converted into a full blown note.

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