Best way for overseas Filipinos to become tourism ambassadors
The Bring Home A Friend (BHAF) promotion launched last October 14 by the Philippine Department of Tourism (PDOT) represents one of the best ways for overseas Filipinos to help their homeland. This was emphasized by Assistant Secretary Frederick Monsod Alegre during an interview with the Asian Journal recently while on a brief visit to San Francisco.
Assistant Secretary Alegre, who is the official spokesperson for the Office of Public Affairs, Communications and Special Projects (OPACSP) of the PDOT, said that the BHAF promo “is actually a way for Filipinos to become, individually, tourism ambassadors of the country, especially now that the Department of Tourism and the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte is pushing for tourism. We are aggressively reaching out all over the world, and Filipinos residing abroad and working abroad are definitely at the forefront of promoting the country.”
According to Asst. Secretary Alegre, there is no better person than the Filipino himself or herself who could better promote the Philippines and carry their message of “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” to both foreigners and Filipinos who have not gone back home in a long while. And what makes it more exciting is that both the sponsors and the invitees get a chance to win prizes in the current BHAF cycle that runs from October 2017 to April 2018.
The Bring Home A Friend program gives away prizes from sponsors like Megaworld, Toyota, Philippine Airlines and Duty Free Philippines. Sponsors have a chance to win the following: 1st prize, Megaworld’s Eastwood Le Grand condominium unit; 2nd prize, brand new Toyota Vios; 3rd prize, Duty Free gift certificate worth P200,000. Invitees, meanwhile, have a chance to win from the following: 1st prize – two roundtrip international business class tickets, two roundtrip domestic tickets to Palawan, 6day/5night stay at El Nido Hotel & Resort; 2nd prize – two roundtrip premium economy class tickets, two roundtrip domestic tickets to Cebu, 5day/4night stay at Jpark Island Resort & Waterpark; 3rd prize – two roundtrip international economy class tickets, two roundtrip domestic tickets to Davao, 5day/4night stay at Pearl Farm Beach Resort.
“Mas appropriate ngayon ang prizes,” remarked Asst. Sec. Alegre. “Noong araw kasi ang ipinangako eh bahay at lupa. Ngayon, ang millenials eh condo living, di ba? So, who is at the forefront of development of condominiums? Megaworld. [And the] Toyota [Vios], kung di mo man gamitin, puwede mo ipa-Uber. So we also had to think of prizes na ma-e-engganyo ang tao.”
He continued: “Somebody commented why there was a need for prizes, and that shouldn’t it be incumbent on Filipinos to help. DOT Secretary Wanda Teo said, ‘Of course, everybody wants to help. But it is also nice to have a prize for their efforts made.’”
The Assistant Secretary also revealed that since they launched the program in October, they have had an overwhelming and positive response. BHAF program rollouts have taken place overseas, including in some cities in the United States, London (United Kingdom), Sydney (Australia), Ottawa (Canada), and the Middle East, as well as locally in many provinces, most recently Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
“We have actual events taking place in the Philippines… they do it in the mall,” Asst. Sec. Alegre related. “London was pretty strong. I was there for the launch of BHAF in London, which has about 300,000 to 350,000 Filipinos. Very strong ang naging dating ng BHAF doon kasi malamig din dun kaya tama rin yung strategy ni Secretary Wanda na i-launch [yung program] ng October to April, kasi ito yung winter season eh.”
The Bring Home A Friend program will also be launched soon in Paris (France) and other Asian cities. It is expected to contribute to the PDOT goal of 7 million tourist arrivals in 2017, although a more significant contribution is expected for the PDOT’s 2018 goal.
According to Alegre, “the advantage really we have is that there are so many Filipinos who reside abroad. It makes it easier to do a promo like this because of the on-the-ground presence of Filipinos abroad.”
The Assistant Secretary also told the Asian Journal that Filipinos overseas can be confident that the Philippines will be able to take care of tourists visiting the Philippines due to the efforts of the government and what the country has experienced this past year starting with the Miss Universe Pageant in January and up to the ASEAN Summit in November.
“We proudly declare to the whole world, ‘We are able to host an event like ASEAN for the whole year and have the world leaders there for a leaders’ summit.’ It just shows our capability to secure world leaders and their citizens when they are in our country,” Asst. Sec. Alegre, who sits on the ASEAN working group for DOT, said.
He explained further: “The effort to become tourism ambassadors also starts with our local government units, our police, our military… it’s the overall view of the tourist that is important. And when you do a big hosting like ASEAN, suddenly the policeman who’s deployed suddenly realizes he has a role to pay to man that area where he’s in because dadaan yung tourist, in this case world leader. Airport personnel, this whole year of 2017, they’ve been exposed now to meeting ministers and delegates in the hundreds of thousands. Taxi and transport operators… we hear stories they [tourists] were able to take an Uber or a Grab and very good ang experience. When you see people reacting that way, the overall effect is that we become a tourism-friendly nation.”
“The ones that sell souvenir items, they have seen in this past year of 2017, their products have moved so much kasi ang delegates when they come, they bring home souvenir items. The food industry had to make some adjustments. ‘Yung Halal… marami tayong neighbors sa ASEAN na ang requirement is Halal. Hotels had to hire, step up service kasi you’re not just hosting them in your hotel but you are representing the country. So when we go out we always say, ‘If everybody is conscious that the tourism boom is really happening, you will learn to clean your surroundings better, dress up better, learn a few languages, know how to treat the tourists when they arrive.’ And the ASEAN hosting was all forced upon us to learn it and embrace it, which is now happening.
“Secretary Teo is very happy to note that Filipinos now approach her and tell her that, ‘We are going to help, we’re going to secure them, we’re going to clean our surroundings.’ When you hit 12 million tourists a year, you’re definitely going to cross paths with a tourists wherever you are in the country. So, this is like an instant training for the Filipinos, itong ASEAN Summit. It came at a good time because we see a lot of improvements. Dati kasi ang mga turista eh binibiktima. Ang turista dapat ay hindi biktima, ang turista dapat ay alagaan.”
According to Alegre, they have gotten some feedback for future editions of the BHAF program, including one suggesting a competition amongst Philippine provinces as to who can bring the most tourists into the country.
“We’re very much open to suggestions. It shows that people are very interested to help. We’re taking note of the comments so that when we continue to launch, we find ways to improve it. We don’t have any claims that this program is fool-proof so I am sure there will be adjustments in the years to come. The original Bring Home A Friend program lasted three or four years. So far, because of the digital age, people are engaging. We’re seeing reactions from areas which we did not see before,” the Assistant Secretary said.
As for other projects in the PDOT pipeline, Asst. Sec. Alegre mentioned both the Ironman competition and a leg of the European Golf Tour taking place in 2018, the Philippines hosting the Southeast Asian Games in 2018, and a proposal for the country to host “The World’s Strongest Man” competition. This if course is in addition to its efforts in promoting the Philippines at both large-scale and small market events, which DOT Secretary Wanda Teo has directed her team to also concentrate on.
According to Tourism Director Pura Molintas, who accompanied Asst. Sec. Alegre, the Philippines has become a member in some organizations that have given it access to more information and the opportunity to market the Philippines to different segments and areas. They have, she added, given the DOT the opportunity cater the message of the tourism department to the prospective event.
“There are certain sections, like, for example, in the border of the U.S. and Canada, who enjoy an affinity for certain activities like outdoor and adventure. ‘Yung Northwestern Pacific like Colorado, Salt Lake, Idaho, Seattle, pati yung Vancouver, magkakasama sila. They work as a team. The presentors or the participants are usually the same people who go within that area because they have the same clients, and they’re all into outdoor adventure. And there is diving interest in Colorado,” Director Molintas said. “And then if you go the East, ‘yung Toronto, Canada has the same pattern if you go down to New York, it’s for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions). These areas are good for MICE marketing strategies kasi they are accessible to each other.”
Director Molintas also cited their experience in travel and outdoor shows in Canada, specifically the French-speaking areas. “Making use of these existing travel shows gives us access across the different markets and going into the mainstream as well kasi we’re also trying to target the mainstream which we cannot just do on our own. In Canada, usually you’ll have these shows in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal. There are areas that are French-speaking so we also have to target the French-speaking. You need very specific French brochures and we usually get translators in the booth. Plus, you have to be ready with purely French brochures in that particular area, like Quebec and Montreal,” she revealed.
With a busy calendar for the Department of Tourism, Asst. Sec. Alegre is clear on who he sees as the most valuable assets of the country, the Filipinos overseas, and he has this message: “Believe that the change is happening for best. The president has said that tourism should be very inclusive so we want every sector of society to benefit from this boom and in your own little way, wherever you are in the world, especially in the U.S., please help us promote. Bring Home A Friend is one of the ways you can, inyour way, do a promotion of the country. Of course the Department will not stop in going out and telling the message of the changes happening in the country. But it’s different when you’re here and you’re able to convince your friends that it’s a really beautiful place and ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’.”