The Department of Tourism (DOT) was reported to have hoped that a new slogan would propel the Philippines past not one or two, but five, of its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of foreign tourist arrivals to their shores.
In 2015, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the country was visited by 4.83 million foreigners, trailing Vietnam, which drew in 7.8 million; Indonesia, 9.4 million; Singapore, 11.8 million; Thailand, 24.7 million; and Malaysia, 27.4 million.
Note that all these five Asean member-countries enforce draconian anti-drug measures, so it would be evident from the body count (no, not that controversial body count) that foreign travelers to Hanoi or Kuala Lumpur are buying peace instead when presented choices ranging from powdery white-sand beaches (Boracay) to exotic flora and fauna (Palawan and Bohol).
What’s really the point of sunbathing in some tropical hideaway or picking orchids in some enchanted forest when you risk being kidnapped for ransom by the likes of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group or robbed at gunpoint by criminal hillbillies?
So you scale down your must-see list to, perhaps, shabu-free Singapore or shell-shocked Bali (knowing that Indonesian authorities did not suffer jihadists gladly and had arrested those who blasted to death foreign tourists there a few years ago).
Note also that in all of Asia, WTO data also showed, China was the most visited by foreign tourists, despite the continental superpower being equally merciless against drug pushers and the whole caboodle of “generation killers,” as they could be called based on their description by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The five Southeast Asian countries and China had created slogans of their own to entice both the budget travelers and the moneyed ones, but, apparently, did not have to depend solely on catchy phrases to sell their beautiful attractions, as well as pleasant distractions.
The Philippines’ latest attempt to dip into the pockets of foreign tourists through a party cry was made during the reign of the unlamented Aquino administration, which came up with the rather thoughtless “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
These catchwords were actually lifted from a tourism campaign of Switzerland years back, and so much for originality, and so much more for sloth on the part of the previous DOT.
The WTO figures for the Philippines seemed to bear out that perhaps, a more radical approach to sloganeering favored the irreverent and the irrational.
Coming right up the Duterte alley is Sen. Richard Gordon, who apparently has found something positive from the outrageously negative image that rabid critics of President Duterte said the nation’s leader has painted of himself and the country, too.
Gordon, fresh from Senate hearings on alleged links of former Justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima to drug traders and narco politicians, has since pitched “WOW, P.I.!” as the slogan to replace “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
A take-off from the “WOW, Philippines” that he also came up with when he was Tourism chief, the new slogan has a Duterte expletive written all over it no matter how you try to mask it.
Of course, defenders of the President and would-be ones of “WOW, P.I.” would not put malice to it for all its references to what mothers are not and would say that the phrase actually means WOW, Philippine Islands,” as what the country is still called by those who have been sleeping under a rock the past decades.
To many perhaps, “WOW, P.I.” is worth a try because, after all, we’re selling a country that is long on attractions and short on collection of the all-important currency (usually dollars) that tourism is expected to bring in.
But as the good Book says, there is a time for everything. When perhaps the country has managed to get itself halfway into its dream status of becoming drug-free, crime-free, globally competitive and not so poor anymore, sometime in the not-too-distant future, then we may no longer be so coy about our national identity hiding behind an acronym in shame, but would offer to the world our newfound pride as a nation and boldly declare, “WOW, PHILIPPINES!”