Columns

Offline: PHL tourism headed nowhere

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism is the latest example of the Marcos regime’s failed policies where the hiring of Cabinet secretaries is concerned.

After launching an incredibly bland slogan – Love the Philippines – a couple of weeks ago, it came out with a visual that was immediately found to contain footage not in any way connected to the country’s top tourist spots.

Not only that, but one of the most influential congressman slammed the DOT for failing to include Mayon Volcano in its main visual. Joey Salceda was almost livid in lambasting the Tourism department for what he felt was a huge slight in his region’s most important draws.

Salceda is correct. For all intents, it seems that the top honchos at the DOT rushed the new campaign, one that cost Filipino taxpayers PHP49 million.

My artist-friends were united in telling me that there was nothing creative about the lame slogan and the font used, which was not new but merely recycled.

For PHP 50,000, one told me, he could have done a better job.

As for Love the Philippines, not only does it lack originality but fellow editors found many things wrong with it. One highly respected newscaster suggested adding a simple comma, and state Love, the Philippines.

This made sense to me.

But netizens also said, if it ain’t broke why fix it?

The excellent “It’s more fun in the Philippines” may have been crafted more than a decade ago, but it still has a strong message that resonates with pleasure travelers.

As a result of the brouhaha over the footage, the DOT severed its ties with the ad agency that created it.

What’s wrong here?

Anywhere else, it would have been the secretary of Tourism who should have tendered her resignation. It’s called command responsibility.

She, of course, is an untouchable, being the wife of an important ally of the president. So instead of punishing her, the administration must have coerced her to find a scapegoat.

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco is the best example of what’s wrong with the current regime, as well as the previous one. The Tourism portfolio was awarded to “executives” with little if any managerial smarts.

Remember the first Tourism sec of the Duterte regime? She was a sister of the Tulfo siblings whose only qualification was that she owned a travel agency, and not a very big one at that. She became notorious for giving her siblings a multi-million peso advertising contract, which was deemed to be faulty.

As such, her siblings were ordered to return the money, which they never did. Today, one sibling is a senator, while the other is a short-lived Social Welfare secretary who somehow managed to end up as a party-list congressman.

Today’s Tourism head must be in such a hurry to spend all that money her department has been allotted in the national budget that she forgets that the Philippines is not exactly a major tourism draw in Southeast Asia.

The country’s inbound visitors is meager compared to the likes of Thailand, Singapore, HongKong, and Malaysia.

But hey, that money is there for the spending and never mind if it generally goes to waste.

The two female DOT secs I refer to are political appointees with questionable credentials. It was not always so.

For the record, I began my career in journalism as a Tourism reporter, and the country had a female secretary – Mina Gabor – who did a pretty decent job. There was also a high caliber executive from the private sector, Peter Garrucho, who handled the department quite admirably.

But of course, the two Aquino and the Ramos administrations did what was the right thing, which was to appoint talented executives to handle the department.

I may not like Dick Gordon that much, but I have to admit that he did a helluva job as DOT head. It was during his term that “It’s more fun in the Philippines” was first adopted, if I’m not mistaken. And boy did it click.

Very clearly, being at the helm of the DOT is a tough job, one that requires an executive with vast marketing experience.

Very incidentally, that silly Love the Philippines slogan or whatever you want to call it, along with the entire campaign, is said to have had the approval of this Cabinet secretary who is being billed as a creative whiz, when in fact he is little more than a so-so director with tight connections to the Marcos Jr. regime.

Between this “smart” boy and the incumbent Tourism sec, the country has a mediocre team-up of doubtful competence. So to expect them to come up with brilliant marketing strategies may be too much of a stretch.

Meanwhile, arguably the country’s top tourism attraction, Boracay, is fact heading in the wrong direction. It has become overdeveloped and is earning a reputation for being the wrong kind of party place. It’s trying to be a Bali, and in so doing is attracting the wrong kind of crowd. And yes, drugs is a problem there now.

My greatest fear is that the likes of Bohol or Puerto Galera may be headed in the same direction as Bora, and there is no cause to believe that the Tourism department knows what to do about the looming threat.

With bean counters being in charge, and no concept of forward planning, I have to say that the Philippine tourism industry is headed nowhere fast.

About the only saving grace of the tourism industry is the private sector, which continues to develop facilities all over the archipelago. In so doing, they are boosting local tourism while global pleasure seekers have not yet discovered or rediscovered the Philippines.

Incidentally, I have to recall what was a borderline brilliant campaign that Cebu once had to attract international tourists, crafted by then Governor Lito Osmena.

The Cebuano leader who once ran for president sold his province to the world as “Cebu – an island in the Pacific.”

This was done partly because the Philippines had a negative image to some, which remains true to this day. But faux nationalists blasted Mr. Promdi for turning the focus away from the country.

The country is not lacking in creative thinkers who know how to sell the Philippines (or parts thereof) to the rest of the world. The only problem is, none of them are connected with the pathetic Department of Tourism of the Marcos regime.