‘Selling’ the Philippines overseas | Inquirer Business

‘Selling’ the Philippines overseas

10:19 PM February 06, 2014

BENITO “Bong” Bengzon, Jr. photo By Amadís Ma. Guerrero, Contributor

Our objective is to develop new tourism markets for the Philippines, geographic, specific markets; and to achieve optimum balance between tourism as an economic activity and protection of natural resources.”

The speaker was Assistant Secretary Benito (Bong) Bengzon Jr. of the Department of Tourism (www.tourism.gov.ph) and head of the DOT’S Market Development Group. He spoke in an interview with national media during the recent Asia-Pacific “Drive Tourism” Conference at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

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“There are specific markets,” Bengzon says. “Diving, cruising, wellness, medical tourism, and English as a second language. There are tourists who come to the Philippines to learn English and combine this with leisure. The Philippines is a perfect choice because of its range of tourist attractions.”

He adds, “What’s important at the end of the day is to provide economic livelihood, jobs, opportunities for jeepney drivers, boatmen, sellers of souvenirs, masahistas (masseurs), not just the big hotels. Part of the plan is to promote Philippine products, bags, pearls, necklaces, brand names.”

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Thus, the DOT official says, “we want the economic benefits to cascade…it is the commitment of DOT to open up as many destinations as possible while protecting the environment.”

P300 million

The budget for the Market Development Group is P300 million which, as Bengzon indicates, is not much compared to the “humongous budgets” of others.

“So this compels us to be innovative, to let the creative juices flow,” he says. “We have become focused on how we spend our money. In the past two years, there have been caucuses on the Philippines as a destination, the entire country. We have created a buzz, so to speak.”

Being nonprofit, the DOT generates income through tourism. Bengzon cites figures: “We estimate that on the average, each tourist spends $1,000 during his stay here. If, say, there are 4.5 million tourists and with $1,000 per visit, you have earnings of $4.3 billion. There are package tours and there are those who make their own itineraries.”

Leads

During the interview, the word “leads” cropped up and Bengzon perks up: “That word ‘leads’ says it all. There are markets with huge potential, demonstrating very rapid growth, huge spending capacity. There are tourists who stay longer.”

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The marketing official observes: “You have to ‘battle’ first. These are fast-growing markets. With competition (from other Asian countries), you are on the lookout for these variable leads. Ultimately, the objective is to enlarge our market share.”

When it comes to the program known as MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions), Manila leads, while Boracay dominates when it comes to incentives.

“Low-hanging fruits”

The top geographic markets are South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Then “there are the opportunity markets,” Bengzon says. “We are already present in Russia, the Middle East, Thailand and Indonesia. Southeast Asia is like a low-hanging fruit (‘ready to be plucked,’ as one wit put it).” Southeast Asia accounted for 10 percent of tourist arrivals, and the DOT wants to enlarge these markets.

Bengzon is “very optimistic” this year as far as the tourism market is concerned. Despite the calamities late last year?

“Of course we sympathize with all the victims,” he hastens to add. “But our contribution, as Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. points out, is to help restore tourism there. That’s what we want, to help speed up the recovery process and bring tourism back to its feet. Our role is to help them through tourism.”

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