Philippines makes bold tourism moves at ITB Berlin

BERLIN, Germany – This year’s Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) Berlin witnessed the launch of the Philippines’ new tourism campaign – one that takes the parts of the old one that worked, paired with tweaks and improvements.

The Tourism Department’s (DOT) delegation, headed by Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, brought what can only be described as the best of the Philippines to the world’s biggest travel fair.

There was a booth designed by Kenneth Cobonpue, weavers from Cotabato, Samar, and the Cordilleras, coffee from El Union, music by Apl de Ap and Joan Nakpil, and food by Asia’s Best Female Chef – Margarita Forés.

Filipino tour operators and resorts – from Plantation Bay in Cebu to El Nido Resorts in Palawan – were also in full force during the fair to attract tourists to the country.

In a country where it’s tradition to change everything once new administration steps in, the DOT decided to retain the old campaign tagline, "It’s More Fun in the Philippines." This, simply because despite the length, the campaign that faced some push-back when it was first launched, seems to have stuck and is working.

“The It’s More Fun in the Philippines campaign started in 2012 and when I assumed office, we talked to the private sector first. I asked them – do you want to continue the slogan or change it? Everybody said keep it,” Romulo-Puyat said.

“When we looked at the hashtag, at that time, there were 4.3 million people were using it on Instagram even though it’s quite long.”

After the fair’s first day, the Philippines hosted a launch event in Berlin, at a bar just off the city’s historic Alexanderplatz. There, Romulo-Puyat explained the new campaign to a crowd of Berliners, travel professionals, and journalists, that the new campaign’s focus is sustainability.

FILIPINO DISHES. Gaita Fores makes a demonstration of Filipino food during the trade fair in Berlin.

FILIPINO DISHES. Gaita Fores makes a demonstration of Filipino food during the trade fair in Berlin.

Going heavy on the digital, doing away with plastics and pollutants for campaigns, the DOT will actually be featuring crowdsourced content to promote the country. “When we promote the country, I can always tell you it’s beautiful. But now, we’re using actual pictures from tourists who say the country is beautiful and it’s more fun,” she added. “Real people telling you they are having fun.”

A new, Filipino-designed font is also made available for download so that tourists can add their own text over their photos. The font is based off the talent of sign makers around the country and has inspired tourists to edit their photos with it, making the campaign more interactive.

“All these TripAdvisor reviews? Before you go to a country, you would go and check them out. These photos are actually those reviews on how great the country is.”

Promoting in the EU

DOT tapped Kenneth Cobonpue to design this year’s booth – a first for the Filipino furniture designer.

Without the luxury of size, Cobonpue came up with a concept that’s based on the different facets of the country and promoting it as a whole, featuring the sea, the cosmopolitan areas, the mountains, and culture featuring weavers. A more holistic approach in country promotion is something that Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) COO Venus Tan is also an advocate of.

DESIGN. The Philippine furniture by Kenneth Cobonpue are also part of the booth during the trade fair.

DESIGN. The Philippine furniture by Kenneth Cobonpue are also part of the booth during the trade fair.

Tan, who rose up the DOT ranks, says that the challenge in promoting the Philippines has always stemmed from the lack of information. “It has always been that issue where PH is really not understood or appreciated the way our neighbouring countries are,” she said.

"What I’m intending to do at the TPB is to drive the message of the Philippines across, veering away from destination marketing. For example, just the beach or this particular mountain. I’m now looking towards psychographic marketing. Meaning, I’m looking at motivation and interest as the driver to bring people.”

Along with the DOT, the TPB will be taking the digital route as well with a kind of positioning that will look into the strengths of the archipelago as a whole. “The culture, our food, folklore, what we have in the islands. These focus on who we are as a country, our history. So, when you create that as an interest, then there is content. There is a story. We have so many stories to tell. So for me, these are the new directions we will employ towards interest as a driver,” Tan added.

“We will translate what is more fun in the Philippines and will put a call to action on the existing campaign and create interest that will bring visitors to the country.”

A relationship between the Tourism Department and the Department of Public Works and Highways is also proving to be beneficial to tourists planning to go to the Philippines. “We identify areas that are deemed tourist attractions and they beuild the roads. Now, the access points are continuously improving. When we build, they will come. We are on an uptrend. We have a target of 8.4 million this year so we are looking into achieving it.” 

Seeking MICE

Tan is also looking into the Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions (MICE) industry and to bring it back to the Philippines. “We pioneered MICE. We’re the first in Asia that had a convention centre – PICC. We’ve always known service,” Tan said.

With major hotel chains building branches in the Philippines, the number of ballrooms that can accommodate large-scale conferences are also growing. “Iloilo is another destination with convention facilities,” Tan said, adding that such events also promote destinations to conference attendees and can increase interest in an area.

Currently, the country is already bidding for conventions to be held in the Philippines such as the UN WTO Assembly and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Tan is also unfazed with the big competitor across the West Philippine Sea – China. “China may be building a mega-convention area good for 20,000 people, but it is us who know the business and how things are done,” she said.

“They may have hardware, but we have heartware – manpower that nows the business,” Tan quipped.

MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES. A look at the booth of the Philippines during the trade fair in Berlin.

MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES. A look at the booth of the Philippines during the trade fair in Berlin.

Sustainability

Romulo-Puyat also believes that the closure of Boracay was actually a move that drummed up interest – especially in eco-conscious Europe. “Is the Boracay closure effective? Oh yeah. Very. People, all of a sudden, were wondering. What is this country thinking, closing its top tourist destination at the height of tourist season?”

She adds that at this point, sustainability is one of the top priorities. “When the private sector came for WTM (World Travel Market), everybody was talking about Boracay. So, everybody’s talking about how serious we are about protecting the environment and the health of the tourists.”

The ITB, held in Berlin from March 6-11, is the world’s biggest travel fair, attracting 160,000 visitors. This year, 10,000 exhibitors participated in the fair. – Rappler.com