'Tourism brand should be unassailable'

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Nov 19 2010 05:44 PM | Updated as of Nov 20 2010 09:16 PM

MANILA, Philippines -  Some say the new tourism logo "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" may not be so new.
Reports circulated online that the slogan's design is a rip-off from Poland's `Polska' tourism logo.

Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, however, dismisses the similarities.

"There are similarities, pero pagkakaalam ko, yung sa kanila, isang kulay lang yata. Yung sa atin, mas makulay," he says.

Some bloggers say heads should roll following the supposedly plagiarized logo.

Is the new brand viable?

But aside from drawing flak for supposedly being a product of mimicry, critics say, the new tourism campaign to market the Philippines may bring more bad than good to the country. They question the logo's viability.

Cesar Cruz, president of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA), says not only are most of their members not warming up to the brand, with the momentum in tourist arrivals, it may not even be necessary.

"Based on the feedback, about 90% of membership are one in saying they don't like it," he says.

An advertising executive whose firm designed the trail-blazing "WOW Philippines" campaign says the Department of Tourism (DOT) should have done its homework first before revealing the new brand.

"Why are they saying now were going to back-pedal, to do a study. You don't run it out first and then do your research after," says Bobby Caballero, president and chief creative director of Caballero and Associates Advertising Inc.

"We're trying to save. Even President Noynoy has slashed his budget and here we are experimenting [with] P200 million?" he adds. "A good campaign should be unassailable, believable and campaignable. We have formidable competitors that want to eat us for lunch."

Caballero says it takes a lot to produce a new tourism campaign. He recalls, "WOW Philippines", which was rolled out soon after the 2000 Sipadan hostage crisis involving foreign tourists abducted in Malaysia,  was met with much reluctance and public skepticism, and took 2 1/2 years to take off.

"Tessie Sy [of SM] decided to start it [WOW Philippines], put it on SM bags and it took off from there," recalls Caballero. "The government can't do it alone. It needs help from the private sector, and we're willing to help."

Caballero's group has drawn up the "Philippines is home" campaign which, it says, could be a possible intervention.

It features the likes of Jacky Chan, who went online in defense of the Philippines, during the Manila hostage crisis.

Through his Twitter account, Chan had appealed for calm following the August 23 hostage crisis which killed 8 Hong Kong tourists, adding that such an incident always happens around the world.

"Jackie didn't ask for anything when he went on Twitter, why let that go?" Caballero says.

Putting RP on the map

The DOT expects around 3 million tourists to visit the country this year. Filipino migrants supposedly make up half of the figure, which is reportedly one reason why the new tourism is in the vernacular.

But Cruz believes a good campaign should focus not just focus on the target market.

"For the longest time, a brand that refers to the people is the most effective one, the best campaign is 'Where Asia wears a smile'," Cruz says.

"What sets the Philippines apart from the rest of Asia is its people," he says. "Based on the feedback we're getting from our clients, when we ask them what they remember from the Philippines, it's not the beaches, it's not what they've seen but their experience with the local people. `Pilipinas, Kay Ganda' does not connote anything about the people," he adds.
While fresh attempts to encourage tourism may be noteworthy, Cruz notes, considering not many foreigners are familiar with the country, changing `Philippines' to `Pilipinas' may not be a good idea. He says we may only end up alienating tourists.

"I want to commend them for this nationalism, out-of-the-box thinking for promoting the Philippines, but I think at this point, it's ill-timed. Compared to Thailand, which is receiving 10 to 12 million tourists, and Malaysia 20 million, we're hoping we get 3 million at the end of this year. We still have a problem telling foreigners where the Philippines is," he says.

Cruz also warns against the use of the word "ganda" (beautiful).
"It's in the vernacular language, there's a danger there. `Ganda' in India means `dirty' or `bad.' Could you imagine if you're going to use this brand?" Cruz says. "If we don't have the money to launch a new campaign for a new brand, a decent campaign why should we?"

Time and tested brands

Instead of reinventing the wheel, Cruz and Caballero say, the Philippines may be better off building on effective campaign strategies and old and tested brands.

Caballero notes the previous administration succeeded in drawing visitors by building on systems that worked, and marketing the country's destinations. "Travellers don't think of the Philippines but particular destinations like Siargao."

Caballero says other campaigns have worked and have not been changed, including "Malaysia, truly Asia" which has been around for 17 years, and "Amazing Thailand."

Cruz adds, this kind of continuity boded well for tourist arrivals over the past 6 years, when the previous administration used the "More than the Usual" campaign to build on "WOW Philippines," by identifying trending markets, and looking at popular activities in various destinations.

Against the challenges that come with drawing more tourists to the Philippines today, critics believe various stakeholders, including the private sector, should help government market the country.