THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is targeting to increase tourist arrivals by 8 percent to 3.6 million in 2011 by attracting more balikbayan, especially those from the United States, through a reinvigorated visitor program.
Dubbed “Pinoy Homecoming 2011”, the program is being presented by tourism attaches to key Filipino communities in Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and other US cities with large concentrations of Filipinos.
Department spokesman and Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr. in an interview with the BusinessMirror said, “It’s basically a renewed campaign to reach out to Filipinos in the US, because it’s home to the largest Filipino overseas community.”
According to DOT data, there were 3.02 million tourist arrivals last year, 197,921 of which were Philippine passport holders permanently living abroad—but excluding contract workers.
Visitors from the United States, which include Filipino-Americans, accounted for 19.31 percent of total arrivals, or 582,537, making it the top source of tourist arrivals for the Philippines.
Based on the arrival/departure cards of the Bureau of Immigration, 688,855 Filipinos who arrived in 2009 came from the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, Japan and others, including 197,921 vacationing overseas Filipino workers.
Bengzon, currently officer in charge of tourism planning and promotions following the resignation of Vicente Romano III as undersecretary, said among the significant events in 2011 would be the 25th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution. “The anniversary strikes at the heart of the Filipinos, considering many of them joined that historic event.”
The Pinoy Homecoming 2011 project was bid out by the DOT and won by BCD Pinpoint with an offer of P2.9 million. The project “covers developing the concept, audio-visual production [five- minute and two-minute versions], and web-site development and content, design of collaterals and a few more,” according to Romano.
The company has set up a web site for the project at www.pinoyhomecoming.com. The site will provide news and updates on travel to the Philippines. "Apart from helping balikbayan plan a fun and memorable visit to the Philippines by providing itineraries, activity calendars and travel guides, it also aims to make travel more attractive to budget-conscious balikbayan with exclusive year-round promos, special offers and discounts,” the web site said.
BCD Pinpoint was the same company responsible for the www.beautifulpilipinas.com web site, introduced in conjunction with the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” brand launching on November 15, but was later shut down due to negative feedback on content and the URL address.
Asked for more details of the BCD project, Bengzon said his office “will have a look at that separate group. As Secretary [Alberto] Lim has mentioned, we will go through the right process, go through soliciting the bids, and studying the proposals.”
Under the term of Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, the DOT mounted an annual “Ambassador [to Washington, D.C.] and Consuls General Tour of the Philippines” that brought Fil-Ams from the US, Canada and other US territories to the country for a four-day visit, usually including an audience with President Arroyo.
The program was launched in 2005 but was later scrapped in 2008 and 2009 after the American financial meltdown that brought its economy to a standstill.
Bengzon said “all marketing initiatives” started under Romano will be continued. Among these are promotions to attract the overseas Filipinos, “organizing road shows, travel fairs, continued familiarization tours for foreign travel agents and media,” which he said were “effective in communicating with the outside world” the desirability of the Philippines as a tourist destination.
At present, he said, the department has ongoing travel missions to South Korea, Jakarta, as well as India in anticipation of the start of flights to the latter by Philippine Airlines in March 2011.
Bengzon, who leads the high-level delegation to India, said the travel industry players in India will put together and produce their tour packages for the April–June Indian travel season. “With more than a 50-percent increase in target arrivals from India, the mission will help ensure the Philippines will be in the Indian tour operators’ 2011 tour offerings.”
(DOT Asst. Sec. Benito Bengzon Jr.)
The DOT also said a tour group from India recently completed a four-day incentive tour in the Philippines. The group, composed of 224 key people of Nerolac Paints such as chemists, engineers and other paint-technology professionals, visited Manila, Tagaytay and Pagsanjan from December 2 to 5 for sightseeing, casino gaming, nightlife entertainment and shopping.
In a press statement, DOT Marketing Team India head Raymund Glen Agustin said this is the largest incentive group from India this year, made possible through Cutting Edge, an Indian-based tour operator in partnership with its local associate Shroff International Travel Care. Cutting Edge participated in the familiarization tour for the Indian travel agents in 2009 and has committed to send in 2011 incentive groups covering more than a thousand visitors on a staggered basis.
“The arrival of such a huge group is a direct result of our familiarization trip program for travel agents and media as one of our marketing and promotional efforts for the Indian market,” added Agustin.
Bengzon said since the department budget had come under scrutiny by legislators, the agency is now more focused in its marketing initiatives. “We’ve seen over the last few months that there is a larger stake for the private sector and it has seen the value of participating in trade fairs. We have to include the practicability of having dance groups [perform Filipino dances during the fairs to promote the country], but the centerpiece is the business-matching where Filipino travel agents meet with their counterparts.”
Asked about the initial branding effort that was recently scrapped, the DOT spokesman said there is “no deadline” to come up with a new brand or slogan. “The process will be more deliberate and more thorough. But we hope to have a corresponding TOR [terms of reference] by December. This [process] will take time.”
(My story, originally published in the BusinessMirror on Dec. 10, 2010.)