Now that we’re all settled in with a new set of leaders and a new administration, the one question that’s all in our minds is this: “How do I help the country move forward? What’s a concrete thing I can do to help this country, without having to get into politics or government service?”
I have an idea: Get to know the Philippines more by being a tourist in your own country.
Now, some of you might say, “What?? How do I help the country by surfing in La Union? Or lying on the white beaches of Boracay? Or by deep-sea diving in Palawan?” Believe me, by making that choice instead of visiting another country, you are helping the country a ton. And it all starts with your vacation money. Instead of that budget supporting a first world country like Korea or Japan or the UK or the US, that money you set aside will support that small beach resort in Camiguin, or that restaurant in Bohol, or that diving school in Coron. And if more of us do this, it could have a huge positive domino effect for Philippine tourism – and, ultimately, the country’s economy as a whole.
And here’s the good news – the Philippines has a TON of very interesting places to visit. That’s not fake news, folks. That is a fact. Most foreign tourists will attest to this. The only problem is, we Filipinos here in the country take all of this for granted. We haven’t taken the time to really discover the beauty of the Philippines.
Recently, I had the chance to catch up with the newly appointed Deputy COO for Marketing and Communications of the Tourism Promotion Board (TPB), newly minted lawyer Atty. Charles Bautista. Charles and I have a lot in common. We are both lawyers, we are both writers, we are both involved in media – and we both have an undying love for the Philippines. Just like me, Charles had every opportunity to work abroad and live in a first world country. But he chose to be here and he chose to work for TPB. He said he wanted to make a contribution and an impact in promoting the Philippines which, he strongly feels, has a lot to offer.
“The Philippines has more than 7,600 islands. There is, quite literally, an island for everyone,” Charles points out. “If you want retail therapy, we have an island for it. If you like diving, there’s an island for that. We have one of the top diving spots in the world. If you’re into beauty or wellness, there’s an island waiting for you. If you’re into biking or motorcycling, we’ve got multiple islands to choose from. If your passion is surfing, guess what? We have several islands for that as well.”
Charles is absolutely right. It’s not only more fun in the Philippines. There’s a lot more to see and discover.
But the world doesn’t seem to know that. Singapore is only one tiny island that is only slightly bigger than Guimaras Island. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, Singapore had more than 19 million tourists. Vietnam, which was way behind us economically 20 years ago, welcomed 18 million tourists in 2019. Indonesia, which is comparable to the Philippines in terms of being an archipelago composed of many islands, had 16 million. Bali alone took in 6.3 million tourists. Malaysia attracted a whopping 26 million visitors.
The Philippines? We had a little over 8 million tourists. And that includes OFWs and balikbayans. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us in terms of promoting the country. And that responsibility doesn’t only belong to the DOT. It belongs to all of us.
There’s more to Philippine tourism than the “usual” tourist spots like Boracay, Palawan, Baguio. I went on a business trip recently to Mindanao. And I discovered towns like Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte and Claveria, Misamis Oriental. The views from these towns are mind-blowing. Cabadbaran has a mountain view that will make you think you’re in New Zealand. And Claveria has a coffee place overlooking hills and mountains that compare to the Swiss Alps in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. I kid you not.
What’s even more exciting is that the TPB is gearing up for the “next chapter” in Philippine tourism. We already have the “product.” The Philippines, as a tourist destination, is fantastic. So the TPB is leveraging on technology and digital transformation to make it easier for people to discover the country.
“TPB has crafted a road to digital transformation and it comes in every phase of the sales cycle,” said Charles. “In terms of reach and discovery, TPB has shifted its campaigns to be digital first through social media, SEO and content distribution on online platforms. Good content is key. It’s not just ad spots anymore. We’re looking at creating more content with various online publishers and streaming services to cater to the new channels where our audience consume their content. The second phase of the sales cycle, engagement, is digitalized through our Travel Philippines mobile app and website, our hybrid events, and our virtual business missions. This allows us to continuously engage on a B2C and B2B level with tourism stakeholders.
“The next steps in our digital transformation journey will be on conversion and retention,” he continues. “The goal is to drive more tourists across all the regions, and make them advocates of our destinations. We want them to post about our destinations on their social media accounts. We are looking at expanding the mobile app to have gamified digital passports to explore the various circuits we have in the country. We will also create a marketplace inside the app and on the web for streamlined transactions with hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and other tourism enterprises. It’s really an exciting time for Philippine tourism.”
So if you’re asking yourself “Where to next, Philippines?” you don’t have to look any farther than our own backyard. You want to help the Philippines get to the next level? Be a tourist in your own country. Discover what the Philippines has to offer. And then tell the world about it.
That, to me, will make you more patriotic than any political statement that you make on your social media page.