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The moral challenge of responsible tourism


The Philippines is spending large amounts of money for a slogan that will summarize a new attractive tourism programme to promote the best aspects of the beautiful country and its people. It is not hard to love the Philippines once you visit here. The people in general are courteous, welcoming, friendly and hospitable. There are fantastic landscapes, beaches, islands and natural beauty; great food, improving infrastructure, and low-cost travel. It’s a very affordable tourist destination and safe and secure, away from the southern parts of Mindanao.

But the challenge for the recently appointed Secretary of Tourism, Ramon Jimenez, is to find a way to promote these positive aspects in the midst of many negatives. Some officials naively tell journalists not to publish bad news that will damage the country's image. The challenge is to change the negative realities that create bad news.

Secretary Jimenez will have a 1.3 billion pesos budget to encourage positive press coverage and entice the hoped-for 32 million Filipinos to become tourists in their own country and attract a targeted 4 million overseas tourists to these beautiful islands in 2012.

It is difficult to summarize these positive and attractive attributes into one simple slogan that will intrigue and attract the interest of the holiday maker. The public relation companies are being paid fabulous sums of money to come-up with a slogan to promote in a word these attractive attributes of the country. It has been suggested that a national competition be held so the people can decide the best slogan. It will help the people think positively about the Philippines as a tourist destination for themselves and others.

This can help change the low self-esteem that some Filipinos have of themselves due to a colonial mentality. They have been convinced that they are inferior to Caucasians whom they wrongly think are racially superior. Witness the deference given to foreign tourists even if they are sexually abusing our women and children. The judicial system rarely tries or convicts a foreign sex tourist. It’s time to assert the dignity of the Filipino and a true patriotic spirit through responsible tourism.

A marketing slogan has to be authentic. Here are some of my samples that are generalizations - "Fabulous Philippines", "Fantastic Philippines", "Beautiful Philippines". These can work but slogans with a specific focus can be a more difficult challenge.

A slogan such as "Nature's Glory - The Philippines", focuses on the natural beauty of the country. Beautiful it is indeed, but it’s a hard sell when the international media and the internet is chockablock with image crumbling news reports of the environmental damage caused by open pit-mining, coal-fired power plants, deforestation, coral damage, polluted coastal waters, untreated sewerage flows and other environmental man-made disasters.
A government and private investors that want a huge tourist industry have to address the environmental threats first. The unrestrained logging causes flooding and landslides and the loss for the last remaining patches of rain-forest leave precious little to attract the nature and forest-loving tourists. Also a slogan like "Precious Philippines" is out to call to mind the precious minerals being exploited at high cost to the environment.

"Beautiful Philippines" is an authentic tag-line .The country is magnificent when it is unspoilt and the people are generally good and friendly. But they have been damaged by poverty, people traffickers and exploiters. The tourist promoters of recent years equate "beauty" with beauty contests where young women in bikinis are on display and are vulnerable to being trafficked into the thousands of sex bars.

What needs to be done to win 4 million tourists is to close down the sex tourism industry and promote genuine dignified tourism where the true friendly nature of the people is not linked to sex bars and trafficked persons. "The Philippines - Friendly Faces, Warmest Hearts” will then be authentic invitations and not empty marketing tag-lines. The tourism industry must realize that the future is in a morally clean authentic tourism where the tourist can meet the real people and have a life-changing experience. Family tourism can then be promoted with slogans like "The Philippines - for Friends and Family". Likewise when the sex industry is closed down there will be no misunderstanding if we promote the country as “Adventure Islands -The Philippines”. The respect and admiration of the world will be ours.

By Father Shay Cullen

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