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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

‘Polska kay ganda’

/ 03:03 AM September 19, 2011

We would have made a fool of ourselves. Under its previous secretary, the tourism department adopted a logo that was copied from Poland. And “Pilipinas kay ganda” should have been “Polska kay ganda.” That was one of the lowest, if not the most juvenile, points in the then new Aquino administration.

But Ramon Jimenez, the new tourism secretary, seems to have the vantage point of understanding the value of slogans. Perhaps because he is a marketing man, Jimenez has already announced that the Philippines will have a new one for tourism before the year ends.

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Nothing is more heartening than that. Slogans are, in fact, a principal tourism booster. All we need to do to verify this claim is to look at the figures. In the international tourist arrivals data posted by the World Tourism Organization for 2010, the top Asean country is Malaysia, with its 24.5 million visitors a year. Malaysia is bested only by China in the entire Asia-Pacific region. After  Malaysia is Hong Kong with 20 million visitors a year. The Philippines is not anywhere near the top 10 tourist destinations in the world.

What drives Malaysia which, like the Philippines, is known for its cultural diversity? Some 20 or 30 years ago, Malaysia had limited natural features, it certainly had less islands to speak of, compared to ours.

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Malaysia early on understood that tourism is a game of perception to be played in a global arena. Entering the world of tourism meant going into a field of competition and contest. By adopting the slogan “Malaysia truly Asia,” it cleverly positioned itself in that tourism market as an Asian destination.

It is interesting to note that in a study of tourism slogans in the Asia-Pacific region, “Asia” is the key word. Second-place Hong Kong touts itself as “Asia’s World City.” Korea, seventh in Asia Pacific with its 8.80 million visitors, describes itself as the “Soul of Asia.” Some Asian cities have also come to understand the mechanics of the game rather well. Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta) in Indonesia, the proud repository of the heritage treasure Borobudur temple, styles itself as “Jogja, Never-ending Asia,” putting it in direct competition with its neighbor Malaysia.

We need not look far. Right in our backyard is Cebu, which has discarded the sobriquet “Queen City of the South.” Which “south” is that? Obviously it is the south of the Filipino traveler. But that south is not the same in the orientation or on the map of the global traveler. When it adopted the new slogan of “Island in the Pacific,” it became known in the global tourism market.

Tourism is a game of perception that certainly includes a script employing much “folklorizing,” “ethnicizing,” “exoticizing.” In the game of global tourism, one has to satisfy the global taste for “other-ness,” and project an image of exotic-ness. Anthropologists find that absurd. What place in the world has remained unperturbed, undisturbed by visitors? But that is the game.

One surprising player in that game is Zamboanga City. It suffers from the strife-torn image of southern Mindanao. Its proximity to Basilan is something it cannot avoid. Mayor Celso Lobregat often laments that being the civic center of the Zamboanga peninsula and the vast Sulu archipelago, any news of war that takes place within the region is often datelined and filed in Zamboanga City, even if it did not happen there. That is certainly a problem in the game of perception. But against that tide, the mayor has stopped the use of its traditional slogan “City of Flowers,” which really did not excite much interest among global tourists. Today, Zamboanga City is “Asia’s Latin City,” thus positioning itself as another exotic destination for the traveler looking to Asia for an experience of that “other-ness.”

So far, only Cebu and Zamboanga have understood the value of slogans in the world arena. Many of our city slogans are run-of-the-mill types that only offer “rural” attractions rather than project global appeal. That should be the first object of any image-overhauling move.

Of course, the slogan is only one aspect. Other considerations are as critical. Obviously, the Philippines has to address a lot of other of problems—from poor infrastructure to sub-standard accommodation facilities, not to mention mulcting taxi drivers and stinking bathrooms. The quality of our airports is anything but global. We even have much to learn about the wonders of 21st-century architecture. Our airports are still box-like structures that do not inspire awe.

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Malaysia addressed this concern early on, aside from inundating the world’s cable TV channels with appetizing ads and repackaging tourist buses with images of exotic jungles and video clips of the white beaches of Langkawi. We had an impressive ad that was run in cable news channels during the “Wow Philippines” era. It should be interesting to see what Jimenez, the marketing guru, would come up with to challenge “Incredible India” and “Mongolia of endless possibilities.”

Philippine cities must do no less. Slogans like “the friendliest city,” “city of bloom, blossom and boom” or the “city of smiles” simply tell us that we have yet to step into the global dimensions of the game. We have yet to learn the ropes. Our slogans address only the local, not the global. We have yet to see that an expanding global inter-connectedness is opening up to new local meanings, self-images, representations best played in a competitive global arena.

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TAGS: DoT, Government, Ramon Jimenez, Tourism, Tourism Campaign
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