By now, you must have heard the endless commentaries about the new slogan launched by our country's Department of Tourism to boost tourist arrivals. Accusations of plagiarism, lack of originality, crab mentality, and more have been thrown around.
I'm here to add another one (commentary, that is, not an accusation).
Let me couch it, though, by saying that despite my various misgivings and disappointments about how things are run and how they happen in this country, I am one with every Filipino who wants our country to succeed in every way, on the world stage. It is precisely because I care what happens with our country that I have been very unforgiving and unflinching when trying to make people see the truth, as opposed to hearing rosy words that will soothe our fragile egos.
A quick quip about the idea thrown around that the DOT copied the 1951 ad of Switzerland: With today's technology, we could easily find out if a slogan, or anything else for that matter, has been used before. (In the "plagiarism again" aftermath, it becomes painfully obvious.) In fact, the term "google" has already entered the vernacular; it is not unusual for someone to say "I'll have to google that first" these days. Couldn't someone from the entire DOT be assigned to fact-checking? As always, once it's said or in this case rolled out, you can't take it back anymore.
Here's what I find out from two other countries in terms of tourist arrivals.
Singapore, that city-state that has attained First World status, with a population that is only comparable to Metro Manila, had nearly 12 million visitors from January to November of 2011. (Source: https://app.stb.gov.sg/Data/tou/typea/type1/2011/16/2011_vas.pdf)
Vietnam, a country ravaged by a hideous war, and still a Communist country, had 5.4 million visitors in the same time period. (Source: http://www.vietnamtourism.com/e_pages/news/index.asp?loai=1&chucnang=07)
Using the same time frame last year, Philippine tourist arrivals amounted to 3.5 million. (Source: http://www.tourism.gov.ph/Pages/IndustryPerformance.aspx)
It really begs the question: Why do the statistics show us lagging behind our other Asian neighbors? I am disheartened with the facts, especially since we are acknowledged to have abundant natural wonders, in spades. Lonely Planet, a respected travel site/guide, had this to say of the Philippines:
"The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asian travels."
"Of course, any traveler who has been here (Philippines) will tell you that it's the people and their culture that makes the Philippines unique...And despite the poverty that afflicts much of the nation, the Filipinos themselves are among the most ebullient and easygoing people anywhere."
"Often overlooked by travelers because of its location on the 'wrong' side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it."
(Read more here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/philippines)
I don't know about you, but I can't help but smile reading these statements. And which made me wonder more, given such a positive spin, why our (tourist) numbers don't seem to live up to the promise. A clue could be found in this:
"Travel alert: Due to the uncertain political situation in Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu archipelago, travel to these areas is not advised."
This warning comes right after the big heading that says Introducing Philippines.
Uncertainty, safety concerns, lack of peace and order - these are definitely factors that tourists consider when deciding where to travel. (We won't even go to specific countries alerting their citizens not to visit certain places.)
How will we attract tourists, when they aren't certain of making it out of here in one piece - but possibly in pieces? We have achieved notoriety - to differentiate it from fame - for hostage situations, and the eventual deaths - of tourists who come here. (All you need do is type "Gracia Burnham" in Google.) Contrast the situation in Singapore, where laws are stringent, even foreigners who are found guilty of being involved in drugs in any way are sentenced to death, and safety issues are practically, well, a non-issue.
They may be accused of being "boring" compared to us (although their government is certainly making strides to make Singapore appear as a "party place"), but methinkest coming back home intact is a bigger concern than being able to live it up in our powdery white beaches of, say, Palawan, then taken hostage and possibly being beheaded.
If you think this factor (safety) is not a concern, try answering this question. "You are given a free trip. Would you rather go to the United Kingdom, or Iraq?"
Another factor we like to tout as "tourist-friendly credentials" is our supposed unparalleled ability to converse in the English language. Anyone on the street, even our louts and beggars, will be able to carry a passable conversation with a foreigner in English. But countries like Vietnam, who don't see it as a priority to learn English (I learned this firsthand when we went to Ho Chi Minh City in the not too distant past), are quite adamant about retaining their culture, are still beating us in the tourist arrivals department.
It would serve the DOT well if they could identify factors of more successful countries in tourist arrivals - even if only from the Southeast Asian perspective and purview - and how they can translate this knowledge into working for us. We should take it as a challenge: What can we learn from other nations and people? We supposedly have the "natural" advantage (our natural resources and wonders), and obviously , the numbers don't lie: repeatedly touting that "we have so many beautiful things in nature" line is getting old, and we need to see why other places who rank so low on the "natural" scale are pulling in the big numbers.
What I am advocating is for the DOT to be factual in assessing what could work for us and our tourism industries. Honestly, I don't think they "plagiarized" the new slogan; it certainly lines up with us being described as "ebullient and easygoing" that we would have more fun.
But the slogan is merely the sizzle.
We need to back it up with real meat. Real substance.
And that requires all of us to see what's wrong.
Too often we are overly concerned with what appears on the surface - I have written about this already in my past post about Philippine culture, and how we find it OK to keep up pretenses as long as we appear "good" to anyone trying to look in.
Sooner or later, we won't be able to mask the stink.