THREE STRIKES FOR TOURISM
The Philippine Star
07/04/2017

In the second quarter of the year, Philippine tourism experienced its seemingly harshest blows under the Duterte regime.
The siege started toward the end of May when terrorist groups and Philippine troops openly exchanged fire power in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur in Mindanao.

Collateral damage has been extensive in the city, mainly caused by the renegades, and this had prompted President Duterte to declare martial law in the whole of Mindanao. The skirmishes continue today despite assurances by the Armed Forces of the Philippines that they are now in control in the area.

Then at the start of June, a lone gunman staged a deadly attack inside the Resorts World Manila, one of the biggest and busiest casino operations in the country to date. Several dozens of guests were left dead, while fire damaged a number of casino facilities.

As if terrorism and security issues were not enough, the Department of Tourism itself had to be subjected to criticisms of plagiarism over the airing of its “Sights” television ad, which was said to be a “glaring copy” of a South African ad aired three years ago.

This had subsequently led to the termination of the DOT’s contract with McCann Worldgroup Philippines, which had been contracted last year to carry out a P650-million Philippine tourism advertising and promotions campaign this year.
Having the three strikes over a six-week period would surely affect how Philippine tourism will fare, not just in 2017, even likely in the next two to three years.


Terrorism’s terror

Of the three issues that had struck, terrorism would be the biggest reason for inbound tourists to give a second thought to choosing the Philippines as their vacation tour destination. Definitely, high-powered arms and half-crazed ideologues are not any decent man’s definition of fun.

The hand of the notorious Islamic State (ISIS) can no longer be denied in the Marawi City siege being led by the infamous Maute brothers whose latest objective – with the prodding of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon, regarded as the prince of ISIS in Southeast Asia – is to establish a caliphate in Central Mindanao.

Such is the kind of terror that the Western world has had to reckon with during the past two decades, the most celebrated being the total collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 2001 when Al Qaeda-affiliated plane hijackers rammed the building in a suicide mission.

A string of terrorist attacks followed, including the Bali bombings in 2002, the Madrid train bombing in 2004, the Philippines’ SuperFerry 14 sinking in 2004, the London transport bombings in 2005, the Mumbai train bombings in 2006, the Norway attacks in 2011, and the Paris attack in 2015.

Consideration of tourists when traveling has changed consequently. It is no longer a search for the best bang for the buck, but rather where it is safe and secure from possible terrorist attacks or individuals who have lost their sanity.


Safety and security

The second blow to the country’s tourism efforts is the continued laxity of security procedures in our commercial establishment, as experienced in the recent attack by a deranged gunman on guests of the Resorts World Manila.

It may not have reached the sensational proportions of the Luneta hostage-taking incident at Rizal Park in 2010 where the bungled handling by Philippine police rescue teams led to the death of eight hostages, all Hong Kong tourists, and injury to many of their colleagues.

Still, authorities have noted that the RWM tragedy, where 13 employees and 22 guests died, and several gaming tables and slot machines were burned could have been avoided or better managed.

RWM was shuttered pending the results of investigations, signifying not just substantial revenue losses for the gaming industry and our government regulator, but the weak overall procedures observed in keeping business premises safe and secure.

The review should consider not just the measures needed to screen and prevent such wayward and random attacks, but also to determine the readiness to respond to bigger attacks by terrorists which could lead to a potentially bigger disaster.

As noted in the above partial list of terrorist attacks all over the world, ideologues like ISIS and Al Qaeda will continue to pursue their deadly assaults on people who they believe are not supportive of their beliefs and goals.


Creative boo-boos

The third black eye dealt on the Philippine tourism sector was also a third offense of the same nature. Did we not ever learn?

Early on in the previous administration’s term, the DOT bared a logo for its ad campaign “Pilipinas Kay Ganda.” Almost instantaneously, comments percolated about how similar the logo was to Poland’s “Polska.”

Later, the DOT introduced the current advertising campaign tagline “It’s more fun in the Philippines” to replace “WOW Philippines.” The latter was without doubt original; the former was criticized as too similar to a tourism campaign by Switzerland in the 1950s that says “It’s more fun in Switzerland.”

Prelude to the latest DOT brouhaha, the storyboard of the “Sights” ad seemed too cloyingly romanticized, bordering on being contrived, even as McCann Philippines protested that the inspiration for the controversial ad was a true-to-life retired Japanese who now lives in the country.

It’s hard to believe that seasoned advertising officers and executives of a global advertising agency would not have been aware of a three-year-old tourism campaign by a country as big as South Africa, and definitely a keen competitor of the Philippines in the tourism business.

More importantly, after experiencing the two earlier boo-boos that smacked of plagiarism, has the DOT not been able to come up with a mechanism that would be able to ferret out copy cats or poorly inspired ad campaigns?

The cancellation of the McCann contract signifies a huge loss of time and opportunity for Philippine tourism since we will have to go back to the drawing board and start from step one to come up with a campaign to support the country’s aspiration to attract more tourists to visit.

In the meantime, the DOT has advised that it will instead run the first McCann ad “Anak” that demonstrates Filipinos’ readiness and willingness to “adopt” visitors and treat them like family. Watching it, I felt uncomfortable because it seemed far too removed from reality, still too contrived.

I like this guerilla ad (https://vimeo.com/221701540) by some creative Filipinos who wanted to promote the Philippines. The expressed theme at the end goes “Sometimes it’s hard to fall in love with the Philippines. But most of the time it’s harder not to.” The video may be a bit too long, but it seemed more original.


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