Product before promotions


When it comes to promoting Philippine tourism, the authorities should take a leaf from the books of the late Peter Drucker. He was the most influential management guru of the century and known for saying that the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. Indeed, any business student knows that marketing covers four areas: product, price, place, promotion. Regrettably, the government and others in the tourism sector use an approach that focuses mainly on promotion and neglects the rest. They need to focus more on the product.

As a product, the Philippines has much to offer to tourists and other travelers, as evidenced by the tourism sector’s contributions. According to the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC), the total contribution is about $60.1 billion or 19.7 percent of the gross domestic product in 2016. That is forecast to rise by 7.8 percent next year and by 5.3 percent annually from 2017 to 2027. The total contribution to job generation in 2016 was 18.1 percent of total employment or about 7.4 million jobs.

Those figures become less impressive when compared to other countries. Note that the annual tourist arrivals here is just shy of six million. That pales in comparison with Thailand, which had more than 30 million tourist arrivals last year, Malaysia with 25.7 million, and Indonesia with more than 12 million. Even Vietnam did better, with more than 10 million tourist arrivals in 2016.

To catch up, the authorities have launched a new promotions campaign. But now they are reeling from yet another plagiarism scandal, and as a remedy, they are devoting even more precious resources on crafting a better slogan. Sooner or later, they will do better, but that would be waste.

Infrastructure and policies
People can be forgiven for taking the product for granted. Yes, the Philippines is blessed with wonderful beaches and many other natural wonders. But the same can be said about many neighboring countries. As in other sectors, tourism in the Philippines is plagued by poor infrastructure. And many of those that exist are in dire need of repair and rehabilitation.

First and foremost, the Philippines needs better airports. Much has been said about that. Not enough have been discussed about the need for better sea ports, roads and highways to various destinations, world-class hotel facilities especially outside of the major capitals, even better trained tourism professionals. The government, in collaboration with other sectors, should also take better care of national heritage like Intramuros and old churches so that they attract more tourists. There are many more ideas out there, especially from those who know better about this field.

Even with the problems in the South, the Philippines could do better.

Other countries have worked around similar issues. Thailand also has a Muslim insurgency problem. And despite the terrorist attacks in Paris and London, tourists still flock to those places. Naturally, it would be better if this problem, too, is resolved.

Beyond building and investing in structures, the government should relax its policies on visas, a strategy to attract more tourists. The government could start with China, which has some 120 million outbound tourists every year. Despite this country’s proximity to China, the Philippines is not among the top destinations for Chinese tourists. Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia attract more, thanks partly to their decision to either lift visa requirements or make them easier to acquire. The Philippines should follow a similar approach, and clearly not just for the Chinese.

Also, the government should look at policies that bolster industries that support tourism. The Chinese ambassador in Manila once said during an event of The Manila Times that tourists from his country love dried mangoes, among many things of course. But if more Chinese tourists visit, can Filipinos supply the demand for dried mangoes?

The point? The point is that this country needs to address fundamental issues, even as the authorities become more efficient in producing catchy slogans. Going back to Peter Drucker, our policymakers would be served well to recall another quote of his. That is, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”


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