More fun, for free

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - "The biggest reason for our low numbers (of tourist arrivals)," said Philippine tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez at last Tuesday's media talk, "is not our infrastructure, crime, negative reports in the media, or even the cost of flying into the Philippines." The biggest reason for why tourists are staying away, he said, "is ignorance."

"They just haven't heard of the Philippines," Jimenez declared, adding that he was confident that once word got around about how much more fun it is in the Philippines, foreign tourists would start arriving in droves.

He said that in 2011, some 3.9 million tourists (those bearing foreign passports) visited the country-an improvement over previous years, but still a far cry from our neighbors. The current up-and-coming destination in Southeast Asia is Vietnam, which already counts more than five million visitors a year. Still, Jimenez is very confident that he and the Department of Tourism would meet the stated target of 10 million tourists by the end of 2016.

Asked if there has been an uptick in tourist arrivals since the launch of the new tourism slogan, Jimenez said it was too early to tell but that the DOT had already felt "an uptick in interest." One indication may be the fact that "[the governments of] Singapore and Malaysia have already approached us for collaboration and cooperation." Maybe they see the Philippines as the next "it" destination in the area and hope to cash in on it, but Jimenez said to him their interest showed "a helluva lot of business savvy on their part."

"It's still early days," Jimenez said of his stint in tourism promotion and development. But much will depend "on how we move in the next few months." So watch him we will, counting not just the numbers of tourist arrivals but also the change in the overall image of the Philippines in the minds and hearts of the world.

Overseeing the creation and promotion of the Philippine "brand" is David Guerrero, chair and chief creative officer of BBDO Guerrero which won the bid (over seven other agencies) for the new tourism slogan. You'd have to be living under a rock, or away from media and social media and all its permutations, not to know that slogan is "It's more fun in the Philippines."

Soon after the slogan was launched (the day after, in fact), Guerrero was contacted by media who said someone had discovered the same slogan used to promote Switzerland in 1951. Guerrero, who speaks in a charming English accent (he grew up in Britain, where his father, the distinguished writer and diplomat Leon Ma. Guerrero, served as ambassador), smiles and shrugs at the awful timing of the disclosure. They did conduct a "thorough search of all the sites and search engines," but there is no accounting for coincidences. "I wasn't even born when the slogan was used," he says.

Despite the brief dust-up, Guerrero says the fuss has largely died down, and while there were initially negative reactions and even sardonic takes on the campaign, by now most have embraced the slogan.

"Filipinos are a fun people," Guerrero says by way of explaining the basic thinking underlying the campaign. He notes that while other countries may boast of much the same scenic destinations, beaches, fiestas and even food, they don't have the same quirky mix of religiosity, Western culture overlaid over an Eastern soul, friendliness, humour, openness and hospitality that Filipinos embody.

And while the agency has prepared a few materials and a short, rough audiovisual demo before the campaign is officially launched, "It's more fun..." has already taken off on its own. Filipinos around the world have taken the slogan and run with it, creating their own posters and images, using contrasting and ironic words and images to highlight how "fun" it is in the Philippines.

So far, says Guerrero, "It's more fun..." has led trending topics in Twitter, and given rise to numerous memes and its own pages on FB. And the most remarkable thing, he adds, is that the DOT has spent exactly "zero centavos in paid-for media" to promote the campaign.

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