MANILA - When Secretary Ramon Jimenez launched the tourism department's new slogan in 2012, the public was divided over it. Many questioned if it was creative enough, or how effective it could be.
Just a year before that, Jimenez’s predecessor launched the slogan “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” which was widely panned on social media for being derivative and unworthy of being used to promote the country.The criticism eventually led to Albert Lim’s resignation as secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Jimenez’s new slogan “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” was not attacked as viciously as Lim’s tourism catchphrase, but it still had its fair share of doubters.
Beyond the goal of coming up with creative promotions, Jimenez was also tasked with revving up a tourism industry that was widely seen as underperforming when compared with the Philippines’ neighbors in ASEAN.
But by the end of his term, Jimenez’s ‘More Fun’ had racked up international awards, even being hailed as among the world’s best marketing campaigns.
Foreign tourist arrivals were up two-thirds compared to when he started, and the tourism industry’s contribution to the economy had more than doubled.
"The whole advertising industry loved Mon J. He was one of our biggest rock stars," said ABS-CBN Creative Communications head Robert Labayen, who spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004.
TAPPING FILIPINOS’ POWER TO ‘TREND’
From the start, Jimenez believed in his mission.
"If our country is so beautiful, why is it so difficult to sell. Hindi natin kinacareer ang tourism eh,” Jimenez said in an interview in 2011.
But he was also aware that the Philippines, with a much smaller budget compared to its neighbors, couldn’t possibly compete with Thailand or Malaysia using traditional means.
“You begin with Filipinos being agents of tourism everywhere they go."
Before influencers became influential enough to attract Philippine marketing professionals, Jimenez already saw the potential of using social media to catch up with its neighbors.
“Filipinos are the only people online that can cause a trend on Twitter. We have 25 million Facebook subscribers, who are highly readable. Even if only 1/4th of them got one tourist to come next year, we would triple the arrivals."
After the debacle of “Pilipinas Kay Ganda”, many urged the DOT to just reuse the slogan “WoW Philippines” which was popularized by former tourism chief Richard Gordon. But Jimenez said he wanted something “fresher”.
In January 2012, the DOT launched “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.
Right off the bat, the new slogan stirred up controversy. Some said the phrase was similar to “It’s More Fun in Switzerland” which was used in a 1951 ad by the Swiss National Tourist Office.
Others said they still preferred “WoW Philippines”, but Jimenez was unfazed.
"The line isn't a manufactured slogan. It's simply the truth about our country. Don't be swayed by people who are trying to punch holes in it,” he said.
True to his forecast, Filipinos sent #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines hashtag trending worldwide.
"Everything he said was gold. He was so young then but he sounded like a sage," said Labayen of his former mentor. "His wisdom was the only thing greater than his eloquence."
Renowned author Neil Gaiman, who had visited the country thrice, tweeted “The #itsmorefuninthephilippines hashtag is a true one. They applaud loudly and hug you a lot”.
INDUSTRY GROWS, AWARDS GIVEN
Tourist arrivals, meanwhile, began to pick up. In 2011, around 3.9 million foreigners visited the country, which was already a historic record then.
“Philippine tourism is poised to surge forward as we receive a steady increase of tourist arrivals, as seen in the first quarter of this year," Jimenez said after the Philippines attracted 1.15 million tourists in the first three months of 2012, an all-time high.
By the end of 2012, the total number of tourist arrivals had grown to 4.27 million. By 2013, this had further risen to 4.68 million, and in 2014, it reached 4.83 million.
The promo also landed third among the world’s best marketing campaigns in 2014, according to the Warc 100, a global annual ranking of marketing campaigns based on performance, effectiveness and strategy.
Warc 100 specifically took note of the marketing campaign’s tremendous success despite its minimal budget allocation.
“How a low-budget strategy tackled an image problem that prevented potential tourists from visiting the Philippines,” Warc 100 said.
By the end of 2016, tourist arrivals hit 5.97 million. The tourism industry had also become a bigger part of the economy.
The Philippine Statistics Authority estimated that from the year 2000 to 2010, tourism made up 5.8 percent of the economy. In 2010, this meant that tourism contributed P518.5 billion to gross domestic product (GDP).
In 2011, tourism’s share had grown to 5.9 percent of the economy, or was worth P571.3 billion. By the end of 2016, the industry was 8.6 percent of the economy, contributing P1.24 trillion to the GDP.
When Jimenez’s term ended in 2016, newly-appointed Tourism chief Wanda Teo said she wanted to revise “It’s More Fun…” because she said it was not bringing in enough tourists.
This was despite the growth in the number of visitors over several years.
Teo, however, would later retain the slogan amid pressure from netizens. Instead of revising it, the new DOT chief “supplemented” Jimenez’s brainchild.
In 2018, however, Jimenez was charged by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) over the campaign.
The NBI said Jimenez allowed and even extended the contract of Dentsu Philippines Inc over the P1.2-billion tourism campaign even as the company failed to qualify for the bidding for the project.
This was while Teo herself became involved in a controversy after the Commission on Audit reported that the DOT bought airtime in the blocktimer programs produced by her brothers, the Tulfos, on the state TV network.
"We believe these 'charges’ are meant to draw public attention away from the current controversy involving the current Department of Tourism leadership and PTV-4 where nearly P60 million [was] allegedly spent to buy airtime in a TV program owned and produced by a preferred party," Jimenez said after the complaint was filed.
Teo was eventually replaced by Bernadette Romulo-Puyat who continued using “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” as the country’s official tourism.
When Jimenez’s death was announced on Monday, Puyat said the late tourism chief “laid down the foundation for the country’s most famous tourism campaign “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” which I have chosen to retain until now, and the DOT policies that helped shape the National Tourism Development Program (NTDP) for 2016-2022.”
“Today, we mourn the loss of Mon Jimenez but we will be forever grateful to him for the growth of the tourism sector, and for promoting the Philippines as a place that is wonderful, joyous and fun,” Puyat said.
"Mon Jimenez was a legend while he lived. He will be immortal even after his death," said Labayen.