November 29, 2010

Anatomy of a failed tourism brand*

(I earlier blogged about this interview on Nov. 26, 2010, found here.)

What went on in the making of 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda'
*Originally published in the BusinessMirror Marketing page, Nov. 29, 2010. Correction, P600 million should have read P600,000. Apologies to the DOT, Ms. Villapando and the readers.

(Ms. Ong's own defense in her column, Citizen in the Phil. Star, Nov. 27. 2010. Then a reaction to Ms. Ong by The Warrior Lawyer in Pilipinas Kay Praning.)

November 28, 2010

Sidcor Sunday market

(Weaving through the pathways is much easier now bec. of the more spacious market area. All images copyrighted Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo)

IF you wake up one Sunday morning eager to do your marketing, and is faced w/ just an empty lot at the Lung Center of the Phils., it can only mean you have been remiss in visiting your sukis lately. The Sidcor Sunday market has been at the Eton Centris lot (where the weird flying saucer-like contraptions are) along Edsa, near the corner of Quezon Ave. for the past 3 Sundays already. It's actually quite near Lung Center so all you need is motor down further toward Edsa, or walk? you could try that too.

(Flowering plants, herbs, and shrubs sold at the market.)

We were there at the opening on Nov. 7 and the area is quite larger than the old Lung Center lot. I like the new site better bec. at least, the ground is now covered in stone bricks, so even if it rains, your shoes don't get muddy. Accdg to the vendors, most of them were fully paid up at the Lung Center 'til December, but the new hospital management decided to eject them as the lot where the vendors used to set up would be paved w/ concrete. Quite possibly, the vendors said they would move back to the Lung Center after a year or so, after the concreting is done. The only problem at Eton is that the parking area is smaller, compared to Lung Center, so it's best if you bring a driver to wait on you and look out for a parking spot to open.

(While these poinsettias look pretty to buy, it's best to buy them about a week or so before Christmas so the leaves are still red throughout the holidays.)

Bec. we were still unfamiliar w/ the new layout of the vendors, we couldn't find our sukis. But I found it much easier to peruse all the vendors' goods this time, as the large area allowed for brisker walking, and less bumping into other buyers. I just wish that the stalls were better organized into different sections - dried fish, plants, fruits, cooked foods, veggies - organic and otherwise, seafoods, meats, etc. so it'll be quicker to compare prices on similar items. Also, with a better organized layout, those who just want to buy a few specific items will be able to get the products they need and leave the market immediately.

(One of the many stalls that sell cooked food.)

(Kare-kare, dinuguan, bopis I think, and igado.)

Btw, I wish the organizer could attract more vendors of real yogurt, as well as coco-sugar for those who need to control their blood sugar. Of course, it would really be great if Sidcor could get some choice vendors at Salcedo market to sell at Eton at well. (Btw, I'm quite eager to check out the new weekend market at BGC Taguig, but 'ya know I live in the boonies. hehe. But soon, soon!)

(Mama buying good-sized shrimps.)

(Various fish - sole, dapa, maya-maya, tilapia, etc.)

The Sidcor Sunday market is open from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.

(Some crunchy-looking pako or fern for your salad.)

(Fake diwal. The vendor claimed it was from Roxas City. My family's from Roxas, and this is not how diwal looks like. Bought it just the same to see what it tastes like. Pretty bland and tough when they are large. The small ones are softer, and best baked w/ garlic, butter, and cheese.)

(Still feels like summer bec. of the variety of fruits on display!)

(Mangosteen from Davao.)

November 26, 2010

Why Campaigns & Grey proposed the ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ slogan*

(One of four 'exploratory advertising concepts' proposed by Campaigns & Grey to the Dept. of Tourism. The others are here. All images courtesy C&G.)

AS I was listening to Yoly Ong, group chair of advertising giant Campaigns & Grey explain why they had proposed the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” brand to the Department of Tourism – aside from four other brands btw, all in English – I was almost half-convinced that it could’ve worked.

I know, I know – most of you probably don’t want to hear about it anymore. But apparently there was some sound basis for creating the brand, despite an admitted lack of research and test inputs from the targeted market, which was apparently, the Filipino migrant communities (Fil-migs), especially those residing in North America.

In 2009, as per data from the DOT, there were 3 million tourist arrivals, down 4% from 2008. Of last year’s arrivals, the largest chunk at 582,537 (19.31% of total) came from the United States. This was followed by Korea (497,936), Japan (324,960), China (155,019), and Australia (132,330). Tourists from Hong Kong were 122,786, accounting for only 4% of total arrivals, even before the botched hostage rescue on Aug. 23 occurred. Overseas Filipinos, or Philippine passport holders permanently residing abroad (excludes overseas workers), who visited in 2009 were 197,921, up 1.35% from 2008.

Ong said she didn't understand why there was so much anger at the use of the Filipino language. Tourism stakeholders and many bloggers, including yours truly, felt English should be the language used in the DOT campaign. "Let’s say that roughly, 20% of the Fil-migs understand Tagalog. Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese [which DOT was targeting for its campaign], do not understand English either!” she said.

“If we go by that argument that Tagalog only appeals to our fellow Filipinos, look at the data. The 580,000 visitors from North America are what DOT calls ‘low-lying fruit’. Do you know how many Fil-migs there are? Almost 10 million! So if we just got the 10M to come, just once, we would have a 300% increase [in tourist arrivals]! And we would be no. 2 [in Asia] like Singapore. Because by their numbers, there were 23 million [arrivals in] Malaysia, No. 2 was Singapore at 9 million, No. 3 Thailand, No. 4 was Indonesia, No. 5 was Vietnam! Only 700,000 tourists more than us last year!,” she added.

I was interviewing Ong, along with Marilyn Villapando, C&G chief of corporate affairs on Nov. 23, Tuesday, at the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel where they were holding a planning seminar. Four hours later, DOT Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions Vicente “Enteng” Romano III, irrevocably resigned his position, accepting full responsibility for the PKG branding exercise. He later admitted in his press briefing, that it was rushed.

(Yolanda "Yoly" Villanueva-Ong, C&G group chairperson)

Inspired by Pacquiao, Black-Eyed Peas

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the PKG brand is the best slogan ever created in the history of Philippine tourism, but neither did C&G apparently. The agency actually submitted four other “advertising concepts” to Romano. “We chose five [concepts], because normally, what we do is we try to go to the closest to where they came from, and close to what is generally expected of a tourism campaign, which is the ‘adjective campaign’ – ‘Amazing’, ‘Incredible’, ‘Charming’, whatever, ‘Truly Asia’,” Ong explained.

“And it was going wilder and wilder. Last one was really a trial. ‘What if we created a campaign that had primarily a Tagalog word?’ Kasi nga, we don’t have research. We were only using our own insights.” She added that they took inspiration from one of Black-eyed Peas’ hits “Bebot”, composed by Filipino-American, and had in mind Manny Pacquiao’s recent string of victories versus his boxing opponents.

“So we had a feeling that there was a curiousity about the Philippines and maybe ‘Kay Ganda’ would become like ‘Aloha’, but always with a translation incorporated in the logo. In fact, if we were to do a storyboard, it would have included Pacquiao, Lea (Salonga), Arnel (Pineda), Charice…interspersed with sceneries with e.g. Koreans, saying ‘Kay Ganda’ in their funny accents,” she further expounded.

The usual branding process

Under normal circumstances, especially for private sector clients, planning for a whole brand concept takes about a year, Ong said. This comes after an intense three years conceptualization of the vision for a new brand, as was the case for Procter & Gamble, a C&G client. “And as it comes closer, they flesh it out with programs and then everything. Nothing airs without testing,” she emphasized.

She added that if the client is going to tap a new market, it “mines insights” from targeted consumers. “Of course, not everybody can afford that kind of process. Sometimes we do shortcut it, but always, always, always, before you produce, before you spend one centavo on any production before airing, you test. That is something we will never violate. Even on a 90-day political campaign, we will test it first.”

Ong said, Romano contacted them in August asking if the agency could do a “Brand Architecture.” He wanted to know the “strategic approach” to arrive at a new brand to replace “WOW Philippines”.

“In fairness, he asked us to write out a TOR (terms of reference),” she said. So they sent him a proposal in early September priced at “P550,000 plus VAT. That’s the process. And the end of that is directional. It was with the understanding that it was a friendly-friendly rate. And he said he’ll find a way to have it approved,” Villapando said. So this was what Romano was referring to when he told me that the branding concept, including research, was “less than a million pesos, a friendly rate.”

Soon after, DOT was rushing them to come up with “Exploratory Advertising Concepts” ('adcepts') instead, which were the five that the agency eventually submitted. Ong said they had just a week to come up w/ those adcepts. By October 27, when Ong said she left for abroad, no concept had been approved. And by then, there was no more talk of how much the agency would be paid for its efforts. “I didn’t think it [the launch] was even going to push through because when I left, things were tentative. Then when I came back (Nov. 11), I was surprised that there was a launch already (Nov. 15).”

(One of the many logo designs submitted by Campaigns & Grey to the Dept. of Tourism.)

Of the five adcepts C&G submitted, DOT chose the Filipino slogan, but Romano didn’t like the agency’s earlier renderings of the ‘Pilipinas’ logo. He showed them the different logos of Spain, Maldives, Italy, and Poland, to emphasize the trend in logo designs abroad, which were “playful and light.”

The Polska fiasco

Ong dismissed accusations that they plagiarized the logo from ‘Polska’, stressing that the only thing the same with the ‘Pilipinas’ logo was the font. “The font is common. The colors are different. ‘Polska’ is all red. ‘Pilipinas’ is in different colors – there’s red, blue, in fact, I never even saw it before I left, because [the design was being sent] back and forth [from us to DOT], back and forth. So the final logo had the tarsier, the smiling coconut and the sun. President Aquino suggested the tarsier and smiling coconut. Bertie Lim was telling the truth.”

She said even the Grey Global's legal counsel said the logo, “wasn’t plagiarized. In fact, 'it should be Poland which should complain. It’s far [from the original Polska logo]. So it’s not plagiarism at all,' he said.”

In the end, the preview, or launch, whatever you want to call it, was just “too premature and the scale was a little too big,” she said. Ong also stressed that she had no inkling of the grandness of the affair, and was present for the event, contrary to what I had published earlier in my blog. (Sorry, my bad people! Off with the heads of those sources!) But she and Villapando left right after the unveiling of the new slogan, and “before the dancing girls came in.”

Ong also clarified that even if the PKG concept had been approved, the P200-million brand campaign budget of the DOT in 2011, would not go to C&G alone, as alleged by several quarters. “That [amount] includes production and media placements, and that’s the costliest expense. And you know, we were not really going to join in the bidding [for that]. If anyone [approved] the concept, then we would have created a storyboard, and then they would call for a bid for production houses, to execute the storyboard that we made. We’re not part of that. Then the media portion, which is 85% of the budget, is again to be bidded out among media agencies. We’re not a media agency! Our only part is the concept,” which isn’t part of the P200-million budget.

People might think all this is already moot and academic. In fact, I was thinking twice of even publishing this interview, as the issue is already considered yesterday's news. But I suppose, everyone who was involved in the controversy deserves to be heard. I doubt it would change the critics’ view on the PKG slogan. I still don't think it's the best, but I now appreciate the creative process that usually goes into thinking up of a new brand. Unfortunately, the entire branding process was fast-tracked, and you had DOT execs claiming that there was much research put into making the PKG brand. In fact, there was barely any.

The good thing that's come out of controversy, if any, is that the DOT will probably be more careful and not waver from accepted methology in coming up with a new PH tourism brand. Also, it's great how netizens tried to come to DOT's aid to help them improve its web site and propose more concepts for the brand.

It’s just unfortunate that in his eagerness to put out a brand campaign by 2011 aimed at boosting tourist arrivals, Romano made too many shortcuts, went overboard in launching a brand that should've first been tested, and caused a lot of negative feedback, thus imperilling the reputation of the gov't agency he worked for. And for that, rightly so, he had to quit. It was the honorable thing to do.

*The transcript of this interview will be published on Monday, Nov. 29, in the Marketing section of the BusinessMirror.

November 25, 2010

What's that song from Sesame Street again?

Manila's Best Kept Restaurant Secrets Awards 2010
(For details, click MBKRS 2010)

Generally agree w/ most of the winners, although there were mismatches in some categories. And definitely the term "secret" is used loosely here, as many of the restaurants have actually been around for ages, and quite known to the local and foreign dining public.

Nevertheless, the winners' list appears to be more objectively chosen this time, except that...

...or two or three winners which made me go hmmm...

Suffice to say, in Manila, mountaineering is considered an Olympic sport, and the 'most athletic' will certainly get to the top! (wink!)

November 23, 2010

DOT's Romano quits over branding flak (updated)

TOURISM Undersecretary Vicente Romano III tendered his irrevocable resignation Tuesday, taking full responsibility for the ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ branding concept, even as he didn’t dismiss the possibility that camps who were against the "open skies policy" pushed by the department could be responsible for blowing up the issue into a controversy.

In a press briefing at the Department of Tourism following a meeting with President Aquino, DOT Secretary Alberto A. Lim said he accepted Romano’s resignation, and “hope[d] this put an end to the issue.” In Romano’s stead, the office of tourism planning and promotions would be temporarily headed by an officer-in-charge, assistant secretary for international tourism promotions Benito Bengzon, Jr. Bengzon is currently spokesman of the DOT as well.

Lim also added that the DOT would undertake “brand consultations with all stakeholders” and appoint a panel that would short list all recommendations. These, in turn, will be “subjected to market tests and focus group discussions.”

(Resigned DOT Usec. Vicente "Enteng" Romano III)

For his part, a somber Romano, said he tendered his resignation voluntarily, adding that no one pressured him to resign. “Nung pumutok ito nasa Amerika ako (when this blew up, I was in the U.S.), the first thing I did was to offer my resignation to Secretary Lim. I thought it was unfair that he was fielding all these questions [on my behalf].” His family and friends from the Black and White Movement were on hand to lend him support during the press briefing. He said he still had “no plans” what do after his resignation. “I just want to rest and try to reflect.”

Asked if there were sectors out to take advantage of the controversy, including those who were against the open skies policy being espoused by the government, Romano said in Filipino: “I suppose there are some sectors and some personalities who don't agree with the leadership at the DOT so maybe they wanted to blow up this issue.” Asked directly if Philippine Airlines owner Lucio Tan could be behind it, the resigned DOT official said: "I will reserve my comment on that if you don't mind."

Romano also absolved President Aquino and Secretary Lim from any involvement in the branding project, saying that both men had actually impressed on him to do a market study, and to postpone the preview, respectively. “When I presented the brand to the President, he had his own misgivings about the brand and specifically instructed me to do a comprehensive market research before launching it. I assured him it was just a preview event and we will do research after.” He added that Lim trusted him to go ahead with the preview despite personal misgivings that the event would be held on said date.

The PKG brand was previewed in a large-scale affair at the Oceana, San Miguel by the Bay, Mall of Asia on Nov. 15, complete with 3D video, dancing girls, fireworks and catered food. Tourism stakeholders who attended the event have said they were “stunned and disappointed” to see the new brand/slogan, especially since this was done in Filipino. Most felt the slogan should be in English, which is understood globally.

A disbursement voucher as well as other documents published by Malaya columnist and blogger Ellen Tordesillas indicated that the “approved budget for the Launching of the New DOT Philippines Branding…” cost P3.77 million. A Land Bank of the Philippines check was issued on Oct. 18, 2010, to the Tourism Promotions Board, an attached agency of the DOT, which hired the services of the event producer, sent out the invites, paid for pyrotechnics, hired the audio-visual producers, the caterers, and entertainment.

The largest cost, at P995,000 went to the production of a “one minute 3D animation of Philippine brand logo” to Animation 1 Inc. headed by one Edward Travis. Sources in the advertising industry expressed shock over the amount spent saying that “it already costs as much as a 30-sec. TV commercial.” A typical 30-sec. spot is priced about P1 million. (See documents below)

Romano also admitted to this blogger that it was his daughter Denese Romano who directed the event, but he said her services were for free. “I asked my daughter to direct it, but it was pro-bono. We only had 2-3 weeks to prepare for this. So I wanted to use a tried and tested director. In all the meetings, I brought her and introduced her. Sana wag lagyan ng kulay itong ginawa nya.

Romano denied that the PKG logo was “plagiarized” from Poland’s logo, as asserted by many quarters. He said “getting inspiration from existing designs is not an uncommon practice. In fact in one of the definitions of plagiarism, it is stated that, “While plagiarism is condemned in academia and journalism, in the arts it is often a major part of the creative process.’ “

He added that while the use of the Filipino language was used in the slogan was also hit, “I am still convinced it is a matter of execution. I honestly think a Manny Pacquiao saying ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ will make a world curious and try to find out what it means.”

Contrary to rumors circulating in social networks, he told this blogger the slogan was never outrightly rejected by DOT’s tourism attaches. “That’s not true. We had a planning conference in Palawan which involved the tourism attaches. Pinakita kung gagamitin ang Pilipinas. Ang ibang markets sabi, 'baka mahirapn tayo pakilala yan dahil sanay sila sa Philippines.' 'Yung ibang markets naman sabi ‘pwede’ kasi sa ibang countries like Germany we’re known as Philippinen. So meron silang mixed inputs."

Romano admitted that he rushed the branding and its preview, and apologized to President Aquino and Secretary Lim for putting them in a spot, as well as to the Filipino public for causing the controversy.

"Before I joined government, I was in the streets clamoring for change. And when I joined, I wanted to spend every waking hour effecting that change.

“I’m in a hurry to have an advertising campaign going on by the first quarter of 2011, because I am fully convinced that every day we do not run a campaign is a lost opportunity to boost our tourism arrivals. It is a lost opportunity to generate jobs and alleviate proverty.

“I now realize that an idea as big as a new country brand needs time to germinate and blossom. There are no shortcuts.”

(Read Romano's full press statement here. Romano photo from his Facebook page)

'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' disbursement voucher
Documents courtesy of Ellen Tordesillas. Also available here

November 22, 2010

More than the usual

THE recent fiasco involving the Dept. of Tourism's 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' branding/slogan has made many people in the tourism industry yearn for the good old days of sleek and elegant DOT TV ads.

I especially remember this one because it was shown on CNN and BBC although it was just for a short period. I suppose this was because of the lack of a budget for sustained promotions. But it was gorgeous, it made the point about the Philippines, and it was fun. If I'm not mistaken, this also won a tourism ad award in Europe.

Cebu in 48 hours

(Beachfront of BE Resort, Mactan.)

I’VE been going to Cebu since the late ‘80s and have been amazed by how much it has changed in terms of infrastructure, the increasing number of hospitality and food establishments, and gasp…the traffic! Of course, the traffic situation there still pales in comparison to Metro Manila, but gone are the days when one could virtually drive to any destination within Metro Cebu in less than 10 minutes.

One thing stands out in Cebu, however—and this has never changed in all the years I’ve visited—is the über-friendliness of the people. I swear, Cebuanos are really among the most hospitable among us Filipinos; almost everyone will go out of his or her way to make sure a guest will always have the best experience to take back home. (I notice that it’s actually the Metro Manilans who move to Cebu who are not as welcoming, which is unfortunate.)

(Fort San Pedro in Metro Cebu's port area.)

In case you haven’t been to Cebu yet, I suggest the next holiday you have, hop on a plane and go there. All major local airlines have daily flights to Cebu, leaving Manila almost every hour from as early as 5:30 am until 9 pm. (There are flights as well from Clark, Boracay, Palawan, and Davao, although on certain scheduled days.)

There are so many hotels to choose from—from budget deals and mid-range steals to swanky five-star accommodations. The same goes for food and shopping; bars, restaurants and malls are just everywhere! Name it, you have it - the Gaisano malls, SM, Robinsons and Ayala Center.

Transportation is not a problem since there are metered taxi cabs which can drive you anywhere, aside from the jeepneys. Buses ply many routes from Metro Cebu to the outlying districts. There are also a handful of trusty rent-a-car options to choose from.

(Magellan's cross is housed in a shrine protected by candle-wielding women.)

Here are a few suggestions of places to check out if you’re staying at least 48 hours in Cebu. Do the touristy route or check out places off the beaten track, it makes no difference, because you will have a great time, especially if you meet the right people.

* Casa Gorordo—an old house with furniture, paintings and other décor from 1860 to 1920. Located along Lopez Jaena Street, it was owned by the first Filipino bishop of Cebu, Juan Gorordo. Entrance fee P40. (Sorry, no photos of interiors as no cameras are allowed inside.)

* Fort San Pedro—the oldest and smallest fort in the Philippines which was built in 1565 after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi sailed into the country. Its present structure was only finished in 1738. The fort was meant to protect the Spanish conquistadors from local natives and supposedly marauding Muslim pirates. Located in Metro Cebu’s port area, it was later used as a Spanish garrison during the Philippine revolution.

* Shrine of Magellan’s Cross—said to be the cross planted by Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s men upon his arrival in Cebu in 1521. The original is supposed to be encased in the present one now installed in this chapel in a plaza beside the Basilica Minore in downtown Cebu. Do watch out for the poor beggar kids who will try to harass you for loose change. The uniformed manangs who supposedly guard the Shrine may also sweet-talk you into buying all their candles.

(The Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño is always packed w/ devotees to the Sto. Niño petitioning him for miracles.)

* Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño—the oldest Catholic Church in Cebu established on the site where supposedly a Sto. Niño was found intact in a burned box purportedly left behind by Magellan and his crew. Sunday Mass is actually held at the courtyard across, as the main church can no longer accommodate the crowds that gather. Pilgrims inside the main church pray to the Sto. Niño and other saintly images.

* BE Resort—a hip and mid-priced hotel in Mactan with spacious rooms that have views that look out to the sea, as well as the beachfront below where you can lounge about and get a tan. For inquiries, visit

* Islands Banca Cruises—island hopping with a cool vibe. Chill out on the deck while sipping a cold drink, or get a massage while traveling to your next destination. You can go to Olango Island for bird-watching or a round of snorkeling at the marine sanctuaries of Gilutungan or Nilusuan. It also offers sunset cruises, barbeque picnics, and scuba diving. These bancas are especially built to accommodate anywhere from 10 to 15 persons, to as many as 30 to 35 persons depending on the size of the boats you are renting. For particulars, call (+63917) 630-0736, (032) 236-4896 or 516-1903.

(A burst of color and flavors in this antipasti platter from Chef Luca at Acqua, Shangri-La Mactan.)

* Acqua at Shangri-La Mactan—the best Italian restaurant in Cebu with northern specialties prepared by the jolly and talented Chef Luca Visiglia. Best treats from his kitchen are his antipasti sampler, ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese, almond-encrusted lamb chops marinated in red wine, the thin crust pizzas, just to name a few. The restaurant also has an excellent array of wines. For reservations, call (032) 231-8224.

* Zubuchon at the Banilad Town Center—simply the best lechon in Cebu, bar none. Crispy-bubbly skin and herb-flavored, tender pork meat—sagad-sa-laman goodness. Even chef and food-show host Anthony Bourdain gave his stamp of approval on the pig. You get it boxed free for every kilo bought at P450 each, or order an entire pig for your parties. Recommended size is 16 to 18 kilos cooked weight at P5,500. To order, just call (032) 236-5264 or 0917-6274761.

(A plate of Zubuchon, the best Cebu lechon for me.)

* Taoist Temple – is an area of worship by the local Filipino-Chinese population. Located in Beverly Hills, the posh enclave of some of Cebu’s richest families, the temple has three praying rooms, two on the ground level, while one on is located at its highest peak, accessible by winding stairs. It is designed in the usual Chinese green and red colors, with images and sculptures of fierce dragons strategically located at the upper entrance, and on the pagoda-style rooftops. The main entrance is downhill where fervent devotees make the 99-steps-climb to the 38-year-old temple. Catch your breath while gazing at the wide expanse of the city in the distance.

(The Taoist Temple is the center of the religious life of Cebu's Filipino-Chinese community.)

* Carcar heritage town—a visit to Cebu isn’t complete if you don’t drop by Carcar, just a 45-minute drive down south of the metro. Aside from the tasty pork chicharon with laman the town is famous for and which are sold in many stalls in the public market, there are a number of lovely ancestral homes that are still standing and still used by local residents. There are quite a few, however, that have been turned into hardware stores and other commercial endeavors which kind of disrupts the old-town look, but I suppose one can’t stop progress.

Also, one of the best features of Carcar is the centuries-old St. Catherine’s Church which sits on a hill overlooking the rest of the heritage town. The present structure is actually its third incarnation after being first built in 1859. On the way back to the metro, you can drop by the many stores and booths by the street selling reasonably priced leather shoes and sandals. I wasn’t able to purchase a pair but I’m told the footwear is very durable and can last for years.

(Many of the ancestral houses in Carcar, have been turned into stores at the first floor.)

* Islands Pasalubong Center—on the way to Mactan International Airport, you can drop by the center which offers a wide array of Cebuano delicacies already packed and ready-to-go, such as the favorite breakfast treat danggit, mango juices and dried mango chips, otap and the like. The center carries the Islands Souvenirs clothing brand well-known for its trendy souvenir T-shirts which are witty and on the cutting edge of art. You can usually buy Brazil-made flip-flops which are marked down at even friendlier prices.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list. There is so much more to see and do in Cebu and its outskirts. But first-time travelers there will at least have an idea what to expect from the province via this short list. Have a great time! ;p

(Originally published in the BusinessMirror, Nov. 21, 2010. All photos copyrighted Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo. More photos of Carcar and Cebu here.)

November 21, 2010

A Symphony of Parols

Check out my first-ever uploaded video on YouTube (history in the making itoh!) ;p

Seriously, I felt like a kid watching this show on Saturday. Go bring your entire family and watch it. It's on every evening at the Ayala Triangle, corner of Makati Ave. and Ayala Ave.

Btw, there's a whole row of new restaurants there including Singapore's own Wee Nam Kee (famous for its luscious tender Hainanese Chicken Rice...mmm) and the Chicken Bon Chon, the Korean phenomenon. Love it! ;p

Everyone knows I've had my differences with the Ayala Group in the past, but this was a really lovely, exhilirating experience. Thumbs up, guys!

Pilipinas Kay Ganda 'shelved'

DOT Press Statement - 21 November

'Shelved' can either mean putting the project on hold temporarily, or dropping it altogether. I wish the DOT would be more precise in its language.

Btw, I hope that next time, the DOT would release its press statements before deadline time of newspapers, and not after, and especially not six hours after its Secretary already spoke with a major network identified with his sister about it. It's not as if the other media organizations have not been following this up, and have been trying to contact its officials since yesterday. Tsk, tsk.

In the thick of controversy*

TOURISM Secretary Alberto “Bertie” A. Lim likes to joke that his “claim to fame” is really being the younger brother of award-winning broadcast journalist Che-Che Lazaro. But it was their mother, Estefania Aldaba Lim, who was really the first “rock star” in the family. Fanny to her friends, she was the first female psychologist in the Philippines, the first woman appointed Cabinet Secretary, and the first woman to become special ambassador to the United Nations. (Her husband Luis Lim Sr., a San Miguel Corp. executive, passed away when Bertie was only 12.)

Now 61, Secretary Lim says his mother “was able to balance a busy career and being both mother and father to six children. She traveled a lot yet she was able to more than adequately meet our emotional and physical needs. Whenever she was abroad, she would write long letters to us. There was no Internet then so her letters were written longhand and sent by mail. She encouraged us to write her so that she had her finger on our collective pulse all the time. She was very firm but not overbearing. She was a strong woman but we never resented her brand of discipline. Her advantage was that she was a trained clinical psychologist so she knew human behavior quite well.”

I ask what his mother taught him about working for the government. Lim recalls: “My mom did not bring home her work. She did not talk about the rigors of public service. Perhaps we were too young to have been able to appreciate such a conversation anyway, but she did instill in us the value of hard work. At a young age, she sent me to the municipio to acquire a municipal permit. I had to go back several times before I got it right. From her, I learned to deal with people with politeness, and to be very meticulous in my work.”

Smarting from the critics

Patience and politeness are traits Lim certainly needs these days. Less than a day after the Department of Tourism (DOT) launched its new marketing slogan, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda!,” a hail of negative feedback rained on him and his other officials. (See “DOT launches new campaign” in the November 17 issue of BusinessMirror.)

(Botolan beach, Zambales)

Lim admitted in a radio interview on Wednesday that the criticisms hurt (“Masakit ang batikos.”), many of which ridiculed the slogan as being “too showbiz” or “lacking oomph!” Although he did tell me earlier that it was still in its conceptualization stage and was, by no means, final, I asked Lim if he was still open to changing the slogan itself. He texted back, saying: “PKG (Pilipinas Kay Ganda!) will undergo focus group discussions and other market tests before we spend money on its execution. If there are better ideas out there, we are open to them. But if there are only criticisms, then we hope there will be support for the superior idea of PKG.” (See BusinessMirror, Nov. 18, 2010.)+

Controversy is nothing new to Lim. When he was a director of the Civil Aviation Board (CAB), he was unceremoniously booted out by Malacañang after his statements supporting an open-skies policy reportedly ruffled the feathers of Lucio Tan, owner of Philippine Airlines, an ally of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (PGMA).

“I never got to talk to PGMA nor to her Executive Secretary about the decision to relieve me of my position at the CAB. I was merely told by a Palace functionary that ‘we all serve at the pleasure of the President.’ Then he made me guess what that meant. Since it was an election year, I knew what he meant. I was not surprised.”

That was a learning experience, he says. “The enemies of reform used heavy-handed tactics to force me out of office. I was bloodied, figuratively speaking, but unbowed. That experience taught me that what does not kill you makes you a better person,” Lim stresses.

Under the new administration of President Aquino, his policy push may soon come to fruition. In a speech at the launching of a new hotel in Cebu on November 10, Aquino hinted that he could be leaning toward a “pocket-sized” open-skies policy, where certain provinces would give liberal flying rights to foreign carriers.

If you build it they will come

Of course, Lim recognizes that more than a marketing plan and a liberalized aviation policy, a country first has to have the correct infrastructure to allow tourists to move freely about, from one destination to another.

(Our Lady of the Gate Parish Church, Daraga, Albay)

Fortunately, President Aquino has already made tourism a priority in his administration and has directed the Department of Public Works and Highways to work with the DOT to identify the infrastructure projects in tourism areas that need to be completed.

“The previous DOT administration has identified the Central Philippines as the focus for tourism infrastructure—this includes Palawan, Cebu, Sorsogon, Negros Occidental, Iloilo, etc. But that doesn’t mean we are to neglect the others. We can still push our medical tourism in Luzon…and we are thinking of developing a good destination in Manila. The Jesuits want to rebuild its old San Ignacio Church in Intramuros, so we can showcase all our ecclesiastical art there. We have so many of them just stored in the church bodegas. Then we can open the ground floor of some structures to cafés.”

But it isn’t merely a numbers game for the tourism chief. He would rather go for value than volume. “My philosophy is that if we keep the tourists here longer, it’s better because it will mean more revenues. So it’s important that we connect the destinations via better roads and airports.” So he envisions tourists spending a few days swimming in Boracay, then perhaps move on to Iloilo City to visit its old churches, then on to Guimaras for more beach time. Hopefully, these longer-term activities will help double the country’s tourism receipts which average only $2.5 billion a year, according to DOT statistics.

“We tend to spread the infrastructure across many places, we never complete the infrastructure in one place. For example, we build an airport, but there’s no road to the airport. How can you develop the product (tourist destination) and promote it if infrastructure isn’t complete?” Lim asks.

This has been essentially the template of Thailand, which has similar natural attractions as the Philippines, but has been able to attract the tourist numbers. In 2009, there were 14.15 million visitors to Thailand, compared to the Philippines’ three million. “Ninety-five percent of Thai roads are well-paved compared to our 20 percent. Their main gateway in Bangkok has several times the capacity of ours in Manila. They have pursued a more liberal civil aviation policy. There is three times the number of flights from Tokyo to Thai airports than there are from Tokyo to Philippine airports. So airfares from Tokyo to the Philippines are higher than airfares from Tokyo to Thailand due to greater competition. The Thais do not impose the common carriers tax (3 percent of the foreign carriers gross receipts here) that we do, and their airport officials do not charge the airlines for overtime as they are on three shifts, 24/7. We have to overcome these barriers to be more competitive,” Lim stresses.

Lifting of aviation taxes eyed

He also says it is imperative that the Aquino administration “work overtime to get an upgrade” from the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency and the European Union. In 2007, the FAA downgraded the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to category 2, because of its failure to meet safety standards, while in April 2010, the EU banned Philippine carriers from operating in the region. “The FAA downgrade has prevented one of our carriers (Philippine Airlines) from utilizing their new aircraft from flying into their originally intended destination. As a result, the airline has to continue to use their old and less fuel-efficient aircraft which are not as passenger-friendly. The European downgrade means that travelers from Europe are not covered by their insurance policies when taking domestic flights in the Philippines. Since tourists have lots of choices in their destination, they will pass over the Philippines to avoid all these hassles.”

(Songsong Ruins in Batanes)

But even if the government does manage to get the Naia upgraded, it is already too congested, what with its limiting runways. So the solution goes back to one already hatched during the administration of former President Fidel V. Ramos, that is, to move the international traffic to Clark, Pampanga. “While Naia has two runways, they are perpendicular to each other. Hence, the two are as good as one since both cannot be used simultaneously. Since [the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark] has the space to expand to a third parallel runway, it is the logical gateway to the country's main port of entry,” he explains.

He adds that he is also working with the Bureau of Internal Revenue to see if certain taxes imposed on foreign carriers could be lifted, such as the carriers tax and the gross billings tax. "If we remove this tax, the revenue to be generated for the increase in tourists will more than compensate for that loss of that common carriers tax (3% of the international carrier’s gross receipts),” he said. This tax isn’t imposed by any other country.

The gross billings tax, meanwhile, imposes a 2.5% tax on the gross revenues earned by the international carrier in the country. “Each tourist spends about $750 directly in this country. This, in turn, creates jobs in other allied sectors like transportation, agriculture, so you will need only 200,000 extra tourists to make up for the loss of the common carriers tax alone.”

Lim is also batting for the professionalization of tour guides. Having been president of Ten Knots Development Corp., former owner and operator of El Nido Resorts, he helped set up the El Nido Foundation which aims to improve the quality of life of the residents, as well as preserve the destination’s natural beauty and resources. He says they could use the same template in El Nido where “we got local guides who could give local color to the tourists. It was easier to keep them because they already resided there. We want those who have been trained already to, in turn, train the local guides in the provinces and regions, because they are the ones who know the history, the culture and the stories behind those local landmarks.”

When Lim is not busy rushing to yet another meeting, battling the mounting paperwork on his desk, or fending off his critics, he tries to keep fit by swatting at tennis balls every morning. He is married to the former Carla Campos Abreu, and they have been married for 38 years. “We lived one block apart from each other. I was studying in Ateneo, she in Maryknoll, so we were also neighbors in school. We met in a group date watching a movie.” The couple has three accomplished children—Lorenzo, 34; Laszlo, 32; and Liana, 23—and two grandchildren.

*This is an expanded version of my column, Something Like Life, originally published in the Nov. 19, 2010 issue of the BusinessMirror. Due to space constraints, I wasn't able to include Secretary Lim's position on other tourism-related issues for the paper. Let me add that this feature was planned a long time ago, even before the PKG controversy blew up, and was updated to reflect Lim's views on the matter. Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo of Lim courtesy DOT. Tourism images copyright Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo, 2010.

+(UPDATE) Govt drops ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ slogan. Read it here.

(UPDATE 2): 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' officially dead, according to Sec. Lim. However, I think DOT still owes the public a more detailed explanation about what really happened especially in the light of the Campaigns & Grey press release. Was C&G actually paid or not? The taxpayers have a right to know. Abangan!

November 19, 2010

Luv ya Phil! (A statement from Campaigns and Grey)


Apparently, that was one of the other slogans proposed by Campaigns & Grey to the Department of Tourism for its new marketing campaign/branding for the Philippines. The others, aside from the much-ballyhooed, "Pilipinas Kay Ganda!" was "Visit Philippines", and "Wonder full Philippines" -- not very creative and exciting either. I guess if you look at the choices, PKG does sound better than all the others the advertising agency proposed.

In a statement from C&G distributed to select media, the agency said they were wary of actually proposing anything for the branding project because they were aware of how complicated the gov't bidding process is, and as yet, it still hasn't been paid by the past administration for work done. But "our love of country prevailed." Hang a sec and let me get a tissue...the waterworks just got turned on. (The full press statement here courtesy of Harvey Keh/Ellen Tordesillas.)

As I pointed out in my earlier story in BusinessMirror, the same agency was contracted also by the DOT's attached agency Phil. Convention and Visitors Corp. for a medical tourism campaign in 2009. I'm assuming that that's the project the press statement is referring to as still being unpaid.

Even then, because this current DOT project was so poorly made, and so unimaginative - it's like the creative assigned to this didn't put his or her heart (brain?) in it - I think C&G shouldn't be paid for it all, even if there is a "less than a million pesos" budget for it, as DOT U/Sec Enteng Romano told me earlier. As a taxpayer, I'm outraged that this kind of mediocre work is even being considered for payment.

To be fair, one of its proposed slogans makes use of our boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, jogging in what looks like the Saranggani port, with the light of the early morning in the background. Maganda na sana, until you see the line in the middle: "No wonder the inspiration comes easy". Then at the bottom right, the slogan: "Wonder full Philippines." WTF?!?!

Nalaglag ba IQ ko kaya di ko ma-gets? When you see a photo of Pacquiao, the first words that usually come to mind are "champion" or "strength" or "victory". I'm sure the ad man behind that wanted to say that Pacquiao inspires people, which is true. But sorry, there was really a disconnect in that slogan.

So that's the conundrum C&G now finds itself in. And it wants to blame the DOT for it. The agency says DOT started taking "too many shortcuts", rushing them to come up with concepts "to be shown in some travel industry events." So instead of putting its foot down and telling DOT it shouldn't be done, it turns in mediocre work instead. "Luv ya Phil"? what is that? a new TV show? And their excuse for plagiarizing Poland's own tourism logo? Because DOT told them to look at it "for inspiration". Inspiration, my ass, that was clearly copying, period.

I also don't buy C&G's excuse that it was surprised at the magnitude of the launch. The grapevine has been buzzing that C&G chair Yoly Ong knew exactly how grand the event was going to be, which is why, she wisely stayed away from it.

(UPDATE): Had an interview w/ Ms. Ong on Nov. 23, and she clarified that she was there at the launch (or as the DOT likes to call it, 'preview'). Apologies to Ms. Ong and our readers. She also said she had no inkling about the 'grandness' of the affair.

What's even worse, after blaming DOT, the advertising agency even pats itself on the back : "We shall take this experience as a cautionary tale against giving in to the client and allowing their over-enthusiasm to override our better judgment. It was a reminder that the road to perdition is paved with good intentions." Tsk, tsk.

I have much respect for advertising greats like Yoly Ong, and the work she has done over the years. But the bottom line is, if C&G was uncomfortable doing the project, it should've just passed up on it. And if the agency's owners really loved this country, they wouldn't have forwarded those insipid ideas.

(Images from ANC Tony Velasquez's posts here and here)

(UPDATE): A friend of mine who used to be the highest paid copywriter in the country also calls C&G's proposed slogan as "mediocre copy at best. So uninspired." If you know copywriters the way I do, and the way I know how this friend of mine thinks, you can bet that C&G could've come up w/ more exciting proposals than it forwarded.
* * * *

HOW TRUE? According to journalist Inday Espina Varona's source, "straight and hot from Vegas," U/Sec Romano is there attending a travel fair. Her source added that "there was a Pilipinas kay Ganda banner but they didn't hang it :) BUT tourism staff worldwide [were] asked to vote on [the] new slogan. They voted NO and so were surprised when DOT still pushed through with it."

Tsk, tsk. Good Lord, will wonders never cease?

(UPDATE): I emailed U/Sec Romano to seek his comments regarding Campaigns & Grey's claims in its press statement and to check the veracity of the above tidbit from Inday, but he held off from answering most of my questions, until he arrives in Manila. Part of his email reads:

Just to let you know, I was in Las Vegas as head of the Philippine delegation to the DEMA dive show, and after that to introduce the 2011 Pinoy Homecoming program to the Filam communities. It is not about PKG. You may look at to get an idea (it's still under construction, but defines what the program will be like).

And so we wait...

Help build DOT's web site!

THOSE who were appalled at the "interim" web site the Department of Tourism put out in a rush on Nov. 15, now have a chance to help in cleaning it up and providing original content to the new one that will be set up.

According to this Facebook note from DOT Usec. for Plannning and Promotions Enteng Romano, all you have to do is email the agency's tourism information officer, Evelyn Macayayong at this address: "and express your desire to volunteer." The rest of the steps are there.

(This is the current web site of the DOT. I'm batting for the retention of its URL, primarily bec. it's one of the first few sites that shows up in search results when one googles, "Philippines tourism" or "Philippines travel." No one googles for "beautiful philippines" or "beautiful pilipinas" unless you're searching for a porn site.)

My own suggestion to DOT Sec. Alberto Lim is that perhaps we could just keep the old "" address because when a traveler googles about a country he wants to visit, what are the first words he uses? It's usually "tourism" and "the country's name". When you put "Philippines tourism" or "Philippines travel", DOT's current web site pops up. If it isn't the first on the search results list, it's the fifth or sixth result.

All DOT has to do, is to spruce it up - remove that photo and brief remarks of Sec. Lim, no offense, then put all the great touristy photos it has in its file, and of course, serve up well-written stories. I am actually thinking of contributing some of my past travel stories which they can use to point to major destinations.

My own beef w/ the current web site is it asks for passwords when you want to get more tourism statistics. If you are like me, who works for a business paper, statistics count a lot in our stories. And we can hardly complete our pieces, unless we have updated data onhand. So I've requested travel blogger Ivan Henares - who has already personally volunteered to help DOT fill up content on its new web site – to kindly remind the DOT execs to update their official data periodically.

(This is the rest of the bleah stuff on the first page of DOT's current site, which was put up by the former dispensation. Not even one single photo of a tourist destination. While I love the former officials of the DOT - you know who you are - their website developer certainly lacks imagination and creativity.)

While many of us are disappointed with the decision of the DOT about the choice of its new marketing slogan "Pilipinas Kay Ganda", I appreciate Romano's owning up to his mistake re: the choice of the URL and apologizing for it. I find that he is more open to criticism, unlike other DOT execs, which I think is the key in helping the agency move forward from this bungling.

Let's just all be reminded by that age-old adage: "Haste makes waste."

Read more of Romano's note:

I am responsible for the choice of We were about to give a preview of “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” as the tourism country brand, and I was looking for an appropriate URL that would be associated with the new brand.

I searched and looked at all possible permutations of “beautiful”, “philippines”, “pilipinas”, “is beautiful”, and this was the best name that was still available.

Now, if you were the one tasked to do this and you finally chose, will you automatically check what was, especially since it was not even one of your candidate choices? Honestly? I didn't and am sorry for it. (The rest at Vicente Romano III.)

Oh and btw, if you are tourism stakeholder – a hotel owner, marketing or sales person, general manager of a tourism establishment, travel agency owner, etc. - pls. don't hide behind your Facebook account and just keep on criticizing the DOT. Why not get together w/ your own colleagues, write down your concerns, and actually present these to Sec. Lim or U/Sec. Romano?

I love my friends in the tourism industry, but I wish that sometimes, you would really put your money where your mouth is. Stop hiding behind anonymous comments on blogs; just come right out and say what you mean and stick your name on it. After all, you are the guys who are most affected by all these changes in the DOT marketing campaign. Maybe it's time you speak up publicly or bring your concerns directly to the DOT leadership.

November 18, 2010

I leave the house and all hell breaks loose!

I WAS out the entire day covering a story and was virtually shut off from the world bec. the building I was in was super cyber-secure. It was so secure, I couldn't even use the free wifi next door at the Robinsons Cybergate nor use the Internet access on my own cellphone. So imagine when I got home and found this!

(Someone sent me this w/o any credit, but I think this image was made by Spanky Hizon. )

Too tired to blog about it. Just read this:

A check with the official travel website of Poland showed that indeed, their logo has a striking similarity to "Pilipinas Kay Ganda," from the font, the colors, and even the use of a tree (well, granted, that of the Philippines is a coconut tree, while that of Poland is, well, a generic tree).

Blogger Spanky Hizon in his blog "Manila Boy", has put the two logos side by side and called on someone from the Department of Tourism to resign over the alleged plagiarism committed. (Click ABS-CBN News for the rest.)

DOT open to changes in its slogan but...

(Vice President Jejomar Binay, along with Tourism secretary Albert, far left, and Tourism Undersecretary Vicente Romano III toast the newly-unveiled marketing slogan of the agency, "Pilipinas Kay Ganda!", Monday evening at the Oceana, San Miguel by the Bay, Mall of Asia. The slogan has come under fire from tourism stakeholders, travel bloggers, politicians, and tweeters, dubbing it as too showbiz, or uninspired. The P1-million rebranding effort was undertaken by Campaigns & Grey, an advertising firm, and took four months to conceive.)

THE recently launched “Pilipinas Kay Ganda!” marketing slogan by the Department of Tourism (DOT) can still be changed—if there is a better alternative, that is.

Smarting from the negative feedback hurled by travel bloggers, tweeters and Facebook members, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim again pointed out that the branding is “not final. PKG [Pilipinas Kay Ganda] will undergo focus-group discussions and other market tests before we spend money on its execution.”

In a text message to the BusinessMirror, he added: “If there are better ideas out there, we are open to them. But if there are only criticisms but no well-considered alternatives, then we hope there will be support for the superior idea of ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda!’”

During a morning radio show on dzMM, Lim admitted, “masakit ang batikos [the criticisms hurt].”

The PKG branding was launched on Monday night by the DOT, showing it to an audience mostly composed of travel-industry members, hoteliers and the media.

The branding effort, according to the DOT, cost “less than a million pesos,” and was undertaken by advertising giant Campaigns & Grey.

Lim also said besides the rebranding, the DOT’s new marketing effort would include ad placements on cable TV, print ads in foreign countries, more familiarization tours for foreign travel agents, to name a few.

“And more will be done. I am dismayed that the markets we would like to attract do not really know the Philippines. We really need to expose the good things happening in our country to other countries, most especially our tourism markets.”

He also sniped at local media for not publishing human-interest stories more often.

“Advertising is expensive and we are not competitive, budget-support wise. I believe we need to allocate more of our marketing budget for public relations, i.e.,human-interest stories on the ordinary but heroic Filipinos or unusual but not violent events in the Philippines, of which there are many. But why will the foreign press publish such stories if our own press does not?”

President Aquino last week also blamed the local media for publishing only negative news about the Philippines.

(Kaboom! Fireworks to celebrate the Pilipinas Kay Ganda marketing slogan.)

The Philippines’ image abroad has suffered a setback due to the botched hostage rescue of Hong Kong tourists on August 23, as well as successive travel advisories by developed countries.

Meanwhile, one hotelier who was at Monday’s launch said there was only “polite applause” after the unveiling of the new slogan.

“It wasn’t very good,” she said. “I think they should’ve consulted tourism stakeholders first like travel agencies, hoteliers, etc., before they showed it to us. Why are we using Filipino when you have to translate it pa? Other countries use the English language.”

She added that many of those in the audience felt PKG fell short of the old slogan “WOW Philippines,” which was conceptualized during the term of Richard Gordon as DOT chief.

“If they didn’t have a lot of budget, as DOT always claims, they should’ve just reworked ‘WOW Philippines’, which I think is still a very, very good campaign. It takes time for branding to click. And if you look at other countries, some of their slogans have been used for years. Sana, they could’ve just used whatever little funds they have for ad placements in CNN or other cable-TV channels.”

The hotelier said after the new slogan was unveiled, there was no message from the DOT that suggestions from the industry would be welcome.

A general manager of a five-star hotel also said: “Everyone was stunned, shocked and so disappointed. Some did not say a word to be diplomatic, but were visibly disappointed. A big disaster!”

Food blogger Anton Diaz ( noted that the new Philippines branding failed to mention “our awesome Filipino food…and this is something that is really key in promoting the Philippines.”

After the unveiling of the new slogan, a group called Pretty Young Things “performed a sexy number for the representatives of the international community. It was not appropriate and it gave a totally wrong mental image about the campaign,” Diaz added.

In his IvanAboutTown Facebook page, travel blogger Ivan Henares pointed out that the “multiawarded Malaysia Truly Asia campaign” was launched in 1999, and continues to be used by the country despite five changes in tourism heads.

“Amazing Thailand”, was launched in 1997, and “despite political instability and several changes in government, it remains as Thailand’s tourism brand.”

“So I, thus, can’t understand why the current execs of the Department of Tourism want to get rid of a brand [WOW Philippines] our country has worked so hard to build and invested so much money on. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Henares has offered the DOT his help “pro-bono” to put more original content on the DOT’s interim web site, according to Tourism Undersecretary Vicente Romano III, for planning and promotions.

“I accepted his offer,” Romano said.

(Only the three gentlemen from the government seem to be actually celebrating the new slogan. The audience looks stunned, or in other words, di ma-ispelling ang mukha.)

On Tuesday, the web site ( was shut down by the agency due to complaints of poorly written content, and the URL address being similar to a porn site’s URL.

The web site was created by BCD Pinpoint, founded by one J. Richard “Dickie” Soriano, and which has received a number of awards for its direct-marketing projects. According to BCD’s web site, its clients include Lufthansa, San Miguel Foods, Ateneo de Manila, to name a few.

Considering all the comments and suggestions about the new Philippines marketing slogan, Romano said in a text message: “We will receive their inputs [meaning the suggested slogans] and process them with many other suggestions. We will leave the processing to the branding professionals. That’s what agencies do.”

He added: “Please keep in mind that the main customer would be foreigners whom we want to attract.”

A marketing head of a hotel who was also at Monday night’s launch said, “if they were not ready, they shouldn’t have launched it. Now they’re saying it’s not yet final.”

She added: “If Secretary Lim had asked our [tourism stakeholders] help, we would have gladly sat down with him.”

She stressed that there are many hoteliers and travel agency heads willing to help the DOT.

(Originally published in the BusinessMirror, Nov. 18, 2010. Photos courtesy DOT)

November 17, 2010

DOT's new campaign slogan is uninspired

(Image courtesy of Anton Diaz)

EVERYONE by now has probably heard of the new branding of the Department of Tourism for its marketing campaign. I can't say I am all that pleased with the "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" slogan, although the colors of the letter are pretty, and it does encapsulate what the Philippines is all about - the sun, the sea, the coconut trees swaying in the wind, the tarsier in Bohol.

The DOT has been using Wow Philippines for the longest time, a brand that was conceptualized under the term of the Sec. Richard Gordon so it must be around nine years old by now. I agree with the DOT, that maybe after all these years (and especially after all the tourism challenges we've had - the hostage crisis, the travel advisories) maybe it was time for a change.

I guess what everyone's feeling right now is that the slogan just falls short of everyone's expectations. You have money to spend on research, focus group discussions, and surveys, might as well come up with something really catchy, that could really make tourists stand up and notice the Philippines from the rest of Asian nations vying for their attention ("Incredibly India", "Amazing Thailand", "Malaysia Truly Asia"). Well using Filipino, instead of English, sorry to say, just doesn't make sense. Generally, no one, outside of the Philippines, knows Filipino (the language) or Tagalog (the dialect) on which the language was based on.

I personally feel that it sounds like a morning show. Ayan, na-free advertising pa tuloy ang Umagang Kay Ganda sa marketing slogan na yan! haha. Seriously, it sounds show-bizzy, if there is such a word. It's just so uninspiring (or uninspired?).

I understand that there was considerable research poured into this branding, and Sec. Lim says when they tested it w/ some foreigners, the latter liked it. I am open-minded enough to accept that there may be truth to that, bec. foreigners just have different taste from us. I mean this is why despite many people carping about how outdated DOT's marketing efforts are bec. they still showcase our native dances during marketing efforts abroad, well the foreigners just love it. We might think it's baduy or unsophisticated to use this tack, but well, so far it's still been working. Well, the jury is still out that slogan.

Although Sec. Lim is correct in saying that even countries like Spain uses its own language for its logo i.e. "España" (created by the late Joan Miro, btw), I'd like to point out that its marketing campaign is in English. This year, it just launched its "I need Spain" campaign.

And of course, there was the brouhaha over the new web site ( that opened up wonderfully to the images of the activities one could engage in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the content was poorly written, with run-on sentences that didn't make any sense, an overly romanticized description of some destinations, and just really grammatically-challenged sentences. According to Usec. Enteng Romano, who was in charge of the project, they just basically gave a "facelift" to the old tourism web site, but didn't change the content w/c came from various DOT-administered sites, in answer to charges of plagiarism.

Also, the URL address was discovered as being quite similar to a porn site, Tut-tut people, let's not go there. Stay with me first ;p

But it was disheartening to hear his explanation bec. Romano was hired specifically for his new media skills. During the election period, it was his group which came out with all those clever online campaigns for Noynoy Aquino. What happened? Well it was a rush job pure and simple. To be fair, at least DOT took down the site immediately. But the damage has been done. Did I hear someone out there say, "Haste makes waste".

Look, I have no doubt that Sec. Lim and U/Sec Romano's hearts are in the right place. Based on the few interviews I've had with them since they assumed office, I know they mean well and have put the country's interest before their own. But this slogan just leaves much to be desired. I hope they consider improving it.

Check out Ivan Henares' views on the rebranding effort here and also that of Anton Diaz here.

Btw, I just want to point out that the branding project didn't cost P100 million as some have alleged, and will not go all to Campaigns & Grey. Apparently, this story in GMA.TV caused the confusion (no fault of the GMA guys), which talks about the budget earmarked for social marketing next year. The PKG branding effort itself cost "less than a million pesos," according to U/Sec. Romano. (Pls read my BusinessMirror story below on the issue.) DOT is still open to suggestions about the rebranding, so if I were you, send them your great ideas now.

* * * *

DOT launches new campaign

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) launched its new marketing slogan Monday night, anchored on the beautiful destinations of the Philippines, and the many activities tourists can engage in when visiting the country.

However, less than the 24 hours after the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” brand was launched, its accompanying web site ( was shut down by the DOT due to accusations of publishing plagiarized content.

On the #helpDOT discussion on Twitter, it was also pointed out that the web site’s URL was similar to a porn site’s URL (

(Screen grab courtesy of Carlo Ople)

The new logo uses splashy tropical colors in red, green, blue and aqua for the word “Pilipinas,” with the photo of a tarsier to represent the first “i.” The letter “L” is shaped like the trunk of a coconut, and the dot above the third letter “i” is a playful yellow sun. Underneath the “kay ganda!” phrase are two aqua squiggly lines representing the waves on a sea. Beside it in tiny letters is an instruction of how to pronounce “ganda” and what it means in English.

In an e-mail to the BusinessMirror, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said the new slogan wants to convey “what else, the beauty of the Philippines! In surveys conducted among visitors from different nationalities, the top choice of visitors of what attracts them to the Philippines is the warmth of the people and the beauty of our land and sea. So instead of doing the same as the [other countries] by use of an adjective like ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’ or ‘your’ before the name of the country, we chose to make an exclamatory remark ‘Kay ganda!’ after Pilipinas. Then in smaller print we give a pronunciation code and an explanation (So beautiful! or Kirei desu!) in the language of the target market.”

Prior to Monday evening’s official launch of the new marketing slogan/branding at the Oceana, San Miguel by the Bay, at the Mall of Asia before tourism stakeholders, bloggers and some members of the hotel and restaurant industry already questioned why the new slogan was in the Filipino language.

President Aquino in a statement last week in Yokohama already announced the new slogan would “reinvigorate” the country’s tourism campaign, replacing the WOW Philippines slogan. That branding was adopted some nine years ago under the term of then Tourism secretary Richard Gordon.

The Philippines’ image abroad suffered a setback after the botched rescue attempt of Hong Kong tourists on August 23, as well as the recent travel advisories by the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand warning its citizens not to travel to the Philippines due to terrorist threats.

Lim explained: “Some countries use their own language in promoting their country, e.g., España, Polska, etc. Moreover, in Europe, the Philippines is known as Filipinas, or Philippinen or something else. So why not use Pilipinas? The driving reason for using Filipino is that we are compelled to do it differently than our neighbors because they can outspend us by 15 to 20 times. If we do not differentiate, we will be drowned out by their greater ability to repeat their messages. Besides, in some interviews I recently had with a few English tour operators, they said using our own language appeals to their high-value market, which wants to learn about the culture of the places they visit. When they come here, they want to greet or thank us in our language.”

Lim stressed that the branding was still in its “conceptualization stage” and was shown to tourism stakeholders. “It is not yet final but we would appreciate support for it. The actual execution will still be bidded out where ad agencies can participate. We will go throughout the regular government procurement processes.”

The Philippines’ branding—logo, slogan and research—cost “less than a million pesos, a friendly rate,” according to Tourism Undersecretary Vicente Romano III, who handles planning and promotions.

Advertising giant Campaigns & Grey undertook the branding project.

“[The branding] underwent a rigorous process, it was not only us at the DOT which conceptualized that,” he pointed out partly in English.

Yolanda Ong, a supporter of President Aquino’s electoral campaign, heads Campaigns & Grey, which produced the pre-campaign TV commercials called “30 seconds with Noynoy.”

This is not the first project of the advertising firm with the DOT, however. In March 2009 it snagged the medical tourism campaign undertaken by DOT agency Philippine Convention and Visitors Corp.

On the new web site, Romano admitted that the deluge of negative feedback and comments forced the DOT to close it down in the meantime. A few hours after the launch, #helpDOT on Twitter engaged various tweeters in a discussion on how to improve the slogan and the web site. Some felt that the new slogan sounded too “showbiz,” while some accused the site creator of publishing content “copy and pasted” from other sources, and that its URL address was similar to a porn site’s web address.

Several tabs on new site also linked to the old DOT web site whose first page carries a photo of Secretary Lim and a brief message to the industry about his plans.

“We decided to put it down first due to the comments we received. Basically, it was just a face-lift of the old [DOT] site,” Romano said. He added that a new URL address will be chosen, the content would be cleaned up and a new site should be up in three weeks.

He explained that the content in the new site “came from the different tourism web sites the DOT had been administering. This is still a work in progress, and it was just an interim site that we rushed in time for [Tuesday] night’s launch of the new slogan. We just wanted to change the look first but not the content [which was sourced from DOT’s other sites].”

Other sites administered by the DOT are Experience Philippines, Visit My Philippines and WOW Philippines. There are other sites as well administered by the DOT’s tourism attachés in their host countries.

Romano said it was the hope of the DOT to just fuse all these web sites into one general web site, which will be helpful to tourists.

Internet marketing consultant Carlo Ople said he was also puzzled by the use of the Filipino language.

“This is a bit weird, since the target market is obviously the segment that can’t understand our language. Also it might put off all the other local dialects being used here like Cebuano, etc.”

But Ople said he liked how the first images seen when visitors clicked the site which “is the vibrant and fun images showcasing what the Philippines is all about.”

On his web site, Ople also pointed out, though, that the logo was too small to be seen and that the DOT needed to get a “language consultant” because of the content’s wrong grammar.

Romano said the interim web site was made by BCD Pinpoint, a company “doing our Pinoy homecoming campaign, which includes video production and several balikbayan sites. I just requested them to give a face-lift to our old web site. We are humble enough to accept the comments and we’ve taken the site down.”

(UPDATE) : According to its web site, BCD Pinpoint was founded by one Dickie Soriano and has received a number of awards of its direct marketing projects. Its clients include Lufthansa, San Miguel Foods, Ateneo de Manila, to name a few.