Press Release

Making tourism the people’s business with Ramon R Jimenez Jr
January 26, 2014, Sunday

SECRETARY Jimenez sets a bold target of 10 million tourist arrivals to the Philippines before his term ends in 2016. Last year, the country recorded 4.7 million visitors. — Photos by Chimon Upon.

ADVERTISING GURU: Jimenez’s primary objective is to promote the Philippines as a premier destination and make tourism the people’s business.
He introduced his country’s highly successful tourism branding — It’s more fun in the Philippines. He also set the bold target of 10 million tourist arrivals before his term ends in 2016 — up more than 200 per cent from about three million when he was appointed tourism chief in September 2011.

The Philippines Secretary of Tourism Ramon R Jimenez Jr is a man on a mission. His primary objective was — and remains — to promote the Philippines as a premier destination and make tourism the people’s business.

“This is the most beautiful country in the world. Or you can say we are among the top 10 most beautiful countries in the world.
“There is no reason we will not succeed,” Jimenez told the media after his appointment by President Benigno Aquino III.

The 58-year-old has always stressed the Philippines’ biggest selling point is the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people.

A top advertising gurus in the Philippines, he has embarked on a campaign to boost the archipelago’s tourism industry, based on the core principle that marketing is the most important aspect in promoting a country.

“To create demand, let people hear about the Philippines. Every Filipino must raise awareness and let the world know it’s more fun in the Philippines,” Jimenez, with an illustrious advertising career spanning three decades, once said.

thesundaypost had a Q and A with Secretary Jimenez at the Asean Tourism Forum 2014 in Kuching from Jan 16 to 23.

Q: You were a top advertising expert before your appointment as Secretary of Tourism. How has this helped you strategise to improve the sector’s performance over the past two years?
A: The most important aspect of tourism is marketing, and marketing always begins with a product.

In the case of the Philippines, the most fundamental offering is not so much the place but a combination of the place and the people. From here, we start by focusing on what is the most true about the Philippines and how it is different from other experiences in the world.

When we you look at the environment, the crucial differences will be the Filipinos themselves because of their unique ability to turn strangers into friends. This (factor) has made them highly popular worldwide.

When we first began, the first order of business was to convince the people. Our marketting communications campaign initiated a programme to convince Filipinos this is the right image for them. They have to play the part. I had to go and tell everyone they will be marketted as the “front desk” of the tourism sector.

Our marketting communications programme has brought us from about three million in tourist arrivals to near five million. This is considered a phenomenal growth.

In 2013, the Philippines recorded 4.7 million tourist arrivals and 98 per cent arrived by air. In this regards, connectivity is very important, including air agreements and airport infrastructures.

Q: You’re targetting 10 million tourist arrivals before your term ends. You introduced the It’s more fun in the Philippines branding which has proven a successful marketting and promotional tool. What can Sarawak learn from this campaign?
A: Sarawak is blessed with beautiful landscapes, gorgeous rivers and most importantly, friendly people. If I may be so bold as to suggest to everyone, especially the people of Sarawak, the first rule is to be true to yourself. Don’t wear a suit that doesn’t fit you as that ultimately will spell the difference.

If you have anything less than a genuine proposition that the people of Sarawak can deliver, not tomorrow but today, that is what you deliver right now, then you know you have something worth selling.

Success in tourism is not about infrastructure. If infrastructure is the measure, some of the most boring countries in the world will be the top tourist destinations but that’s not what tourism is all about. People don’t travel because you have a brand new airport or you have shiny new escalators. People go to you because you offer a life’s adventure they have not experienced before.

People travel because they want to reconnect themselves with family, friends and the things that really matter in life. People travel because they want to become human again. In our working life, we sometimes lose contact with what we love.

Sarawak has tremendous opportunities to reconnect for a lot people. We shouldn’t focus much on infrastructure development to boost tourism but direct their attention to enhance existing and available products.

Infrastructure is simply the support idea, not the offer. Never was and never will be.

Q: How has the tourism market growth been in the Philippines since 2011, particularly tourist arrivals from Malaysia?
A: The most significant growth from Asian countries would be tourist arrivals from Malaysia and this is a very recent phenomenon, of which we are very proud. The growth rate of Malaysian visitors is about 48 per cent, a phenomenal record.

Our main arrivals are still the North Asian market. We get about one million tourists annually from Korea. The second most valuable market is the US with about 700,000 visits annually. A close third and fourth would be Japan and China.

Q: Any plans for future collaboration to enhance the tourism sector in the BIMP-Eaga area, with Sarawak in particular?
A: It’s still early days but there is an agreement not only in principle but also as a matter of honour and commitment to accelerate the exchange between Asean countries. We must be each other’s best sources of business.

If we want to invite the rest of the world to Southeast Asia, we can’t do it ourselves. If you look at the statistics, the growth rate is not an accident. It’s a result of our cooperation. We are still in a process of putting together a twinning programme allowing each country to market not only its own destinations but also a companion’s destinations in other countries.

As for setting up ties with Sarawak to promote tourism destinations, Sarawak provides a good bearing for many cities in the Philippines. Our country declared a “pocket” open sky policy in 2011, so it is still early days. But in theory, we would be able to fly direct to Cebu from Sarawak or vice-versa within the next three years.

The same can be said of cruise tourism. Eventually, Southeast Asian countries will all be connected by cruise tourism. Increasing connectivity is among the factors that the Philippines is looking into to boost tourism with Sarawak and other Southeast Asian countries.

Q: Can you describe the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions) market in the Philippines? Every country in Asia is looking towards promoting MICE. How do we complement each other?

A: In the same way that there is an explosion of travels around the world, so is it true of conventions and meetings. It’s growing again.

People are determined to get out of major cities and go to more exotic environments for their meetings. They are determined to get out of their home countries and explore other areas. This new trend has a lot to do with inclusiveness, no matter what the discipline, sustainability, environment or communities.

MICE is potentially one of the largest sources of business for tourism. Delegates and participants of conferences and meetings are dubbed quality tourists. When you think about it, locals make more money from MICE tourists than conventional tourists.

When visiting a country, MICE tourists are programmed to spend. Half of them is not there to spend their own money but the company’s money. We allow more liberation with that kind of fund source. These visitors tend to stay longer because most of them are likely to stay behind after their conference.

As for MICE competition between Asian countries, we are talking about high returns competition, meaning we can compete and cooperate at the same time. The more we compete, the more people will come to Asia.

Look at this way — we are banking on the idea that everytime tourists come to Malaysia (for instance), they might want to go to the Philippines, Brunei or Laos (since they are already in the region). When you discovered one part of Asia, you would want to discover the rest of it. We are going by that principle.

Asian countries recorded only 92 million tourist arrivals per year. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), about one billion people crossed borders in 2012.
Should we be quarrelling over this 92 million? I don’t think so. Any smart marketer knows you should engage in the expansion game and not market share. 2015 is Visit the Philippines Year.

Source: Borneo Post Online


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