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I just arrived from Europe where my wife and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in Madrid. My wife chose this city because she loves Madrid; now even more so because family and friends were there to celebrate with us. All of our guests, after joining us on tours and dining in restaurants, said that they grew to love Madrid. For the first-timers, it was a spontaneous expression.
This is why I believe and I support Sec. Christina Garcia-Frasco’s choice of “Love the Philippines” as the country’s tourism campaign. I was delighted by how “Love the Philippines” succinctly captured what I personally felt about the country, and what I imagined every visitor must feel once they meet our people and experience the Philippines.
Unfortunately, things were overshadowed by the snafu surrounding a promotional video for the new campaign. It was indeed an unfortunate oversight, but it should not take away from the merits of “Love the Philippines.” People make mistakes, that’s a reality.
What saddens me, though, was that it was Filipinos – our own kababayans – who actively propagated the news through social media. As if it was not our collective misfortune, but rather still an “us” versus “them” situation.
The noise took away from what would have been a brilliant campaign that took us from being “wowed” to “having fun” to actually “loving” the Philippines. For anyone who is familiar with campaigns and communication, taking the message from simple awareness to forming a solid opinion about it, is how you take the campaign a step higher. It’s how you get people to act on the information.
For non-marketing professionals, I would frame it as being in a relationship. For anyone in a relationship – as tourists are with their destinations – you go from being introduced to being familiar to eventually loving someone, or something. Someone who is actively trying to woo another will succeed if he or she does not only aspire to just be liked by the intended, but aims to be loved.
I speak from years of experience pitting our homegrown brands against multinationals and established brands. Pop Cola versus Coke, Selecta versus Magnolia, Kettle Korn versus Jiffy and Redenbacher. I know what it’s like to go up against formidable opponents. My takeaway is this: you go for the gut. To build a brand, you don’t stop at being liked. You aim to be loved.
Back in the day, people didn’t just buy Pop Cola, they preferred it over the other brands. They loved it for several reasons: it was affordable, it offered value for their money and it was a homegrown brand that connected with their Pinoy-ness.
It’s natural for people to love something. It requires less energy and is certainly less stressful than hating something. But why stop at being liked? It’s quite common to like something. As a marketing person, why would you aspire to be liked and not aim to be loved?
When I talk to people about their travels, they mention – off the top of their heads – places that they LOVE. Not places that they merely “like,” but places they LOVE. “Oh, I just love Ibiza.” “I love seeing the cherry blossoms in bloom.” “I love the Northern Lights.” “I love sampling the wine in Napa.” Love, love, love. That’s what connects with people, that’s what stays with them and that’s what they will most likely remember and share.
Speaking as a businessman, I believe that we as Filipinos must take tourism as seriously as we do agriculture or exporting manpower. I have observed that the smart players in the tourism industry are buying airlines. After the pandemic, the amount of business to be made from travel is simply phenomenal. This is where the growth is right now, and the smart money is going to tourism.
The smart countries are also capitalizing on their culinary attractions. Notice how Dubai, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia’s Bali are encouraging chefs to locate there or pouring resources into developing homegrown culinary talents? Food tourism can do wonders for a country’s visitor arrivals.
One only has to look at Peru, which is now the center of attention among culinary tourists because of its consistent ranking in the Michelin Guide. What one observer noted is that Peru also attracts plenty of food enthusiasts with what are politely called “champagne tastes and beer-bottle budgets” because of the country’s favorable exchange rates. Imagine if the Philippines were to capitalize on its wealth of fresh tropical fruits, abundance of herbs and vegetables and exotic seafood, and elevated these to fine dining with the expertise of our talented chefs.
Now as for our kababayans. The message “Love the Philippines” is not just for the visitors who come and stay here for only a limited time. It is also for us, Filipinos, to Love the Philippines. I’ve been told that some people found that the phrase sounded like a command, an imperative. I find nothing wrong with rallying people to love their own. To Love the Philippines is to care about its future. To Love the Philippines is to not contribute to its shaming. Would you spread nasty rumors about someone you love? Would you help destroy their reputation and their chances of finding employment or a lasting relationship? Who does it serve if you destroy something you are supposed to love?
Tourism supports many livelihoods, and these livelihoods are found not just in the city but also in the faraway provinces where the tourist spots are. I speak of the souvenir vendors, the basket weavers, the trike drivers, the locals working the reception or tending to the gardens at the resorts – their livelihoods depend on tourism. Their jobs are often seasonal so any disruption – whether it’s a typhoon or bad publicity – is devastating. We can’t do much about the weather, but we can do something about bad publicity, starting with refusing to propagate it.
To me, the progression of our tourism message is correct: “Wow! I had fun! I love the Philippines.”