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Editorial

More fun, indeed

/ 09:07 PM March 01, 2012

US envoy Harry Thomas Jr. has just become a tourism ambassador of the Philippines. “I can tell you honestly it’s more fun in the Philippines,” Thomas said in a forum with Filipino-American students in San Francisco. But although making an allusion to the new campaign of the Department of Tourism, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” he was actually referring to more robust Philippine-American relations of late, as well as improved international assessment of the Philippines and President Aquino’s anticorruption campaign.

But the fact that Thomas used the DOT’s new campaign should illustrate how it has been catching on since its launch before a very skeptical public last January. Ditching the usual one-adjective campaign pitch that neighboring countries have used to draw tourists, the six-word slogan, according to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, was in response to the country’s need for a simple line that would be “easily understood, competitive, and differentiated,” one that would help the Philippines get a bigger slice of the tourism pie.

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Jimenez said that in New York beginning “this summer” (the West’s or the Philippines’, he didn’t indicate), a billboard over a busy parking lot would read, “Parking. It’s more fun in the Philippines,” while showing a beautiful snapshot of bancas lined up on the white shores of Puerto Galera in Mindoro. Meanwhile, somewhere else in the world, maybe in a busy subway, Jimenez added, another billboard would show the Unesco World-Heritage-listed Banaue Rice Terraces, with the inscription, “Going upstairs. It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

The campaign has had its share of detractors, of course. One alert Netizen said it was “unoriginal” and could have been plagiarized from the Swiss who had the same tourism slogan back in the 1950s. Moreover, Filipinos have had a field day spoofing it on Facebook and Twitter. One user posted the inscription, “Watering the plants. It’s more fun in the Philippines,” and the photograph of a boy urinating against a wall. (The humor replicated the wisecrack of the late comedian Bert “Tawa” Marcelo about his alleged arrest for breaking the law and relieving himself in public. “This is not against the law,” Marcelo said he protested to the police. “This is against the wall!”) Another post showed two men in a videoke showdown with the caption, “Death by ‘My Way.’ It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Devastatingly funny, it referred to the joke about the Frank Sinatra classic being the usual fuse of videoke bar violence in the country.

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The two postings showed that the Philippines’ worst critics are its people. Thomas’ predecessor Kristie Kenney referred to this during her stint, when she cited negative criticism coming from Filipino-Americans themselves. But the postings have a ring of truth to them since even Filipinos gung-ho about the country’s tourism potentials complain about the problematic law and order situation as well as inadequate tourism services and facilities.

But the postings also show what draw tourists to the Philippines aside from its breathtaking and highly diverse and colorful sites—the hospitality and humor of its people. Even Thomas remarked that he has found the Philippines a most stimulating experience because of the Filipinos’ natural optimism, which, he said, “has rubbed off on me.”

We don’t know if the ambassador was trying to make up for the furor he caused when he remarked last year that 40 percent of American tourists come to the Philippines for commercial sex. But he has apologized for the remark and has since visited just about every festival in the country while attending jazz concerts and marveling at Filipino musicians’ facility to switch from classical to jazz and pop with nary a struggle for adjustment.

Even Neil Gaiman, the best-selling American fantasy and graphic novel writer, has Tweeted to say it’s really more fun in the Philippines because of the warmth of the Filipinos. “The hashtag is a true one,” he posted after the DOT slogan launch in January. “They applaud and hug you a lot.” He said his visit to the Philippines in March 2010 left him “aching and tired” for having signed hundreds of books but also “happy.”

“I’ve never felt so loved. And never been so hugged,” Gaiman said in a blog entry titled “Hugged to Death.”

With the country’s human and natural qualities, the only thing holding back the DOT from achieving its target of 10 million tourist arrivals by 2016 is itself. Obviously, the target is quite stiff because tourism arrivals this year are expected to peak only at 4.3 million. But meeting the daunting challenge is part of the thrill and should add to the fun. Yes, it’s more fun in the Philippines.

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