More love in the Philippines
By Boo Chanco
November 12, 2018

BAGUIO CITY —In a world filled with hatred, will love be a good selling point for Philippine tourism? Marie Venus Tan, the new COO of the Tourism Promotions Board sure hopes so. In fact, she thinks so.

I just met Ms Tan last Friday. She seems like a bundle of energy and ideas. She travelled directly to Baguio after a long flight from London where she attended the World Travel Market. She was even interviewed by CNN’s Richard Quest on what makes the Philippines a compelling place to visit.

We traditionally anchor our tourism pitches on our white sand beaches, majestic sunsets and refreshing forests. But Venus told us, we can do more.  These are the same reasons why we are a top destination for weddings.

Love is in our air. Why not exploit this advantage in a forthcoming promotions program? They analyzed their data and couples topped the list of visitors to the country.

Destination weddings are on the rise. Boracay, among other dreamy islands in the country, is the favorite place lovers from all over the world choose to tie the knot. There’s more love in the Philippines, I joked.

Targetting young couples to have their weddings here is part of the new thrust of the tourism department. This focuses on interests and experiences rather than just the natural beauty of our tourist spots.

Venus believes experiences motivate people to travel to a place for more than just sightseeing and being idle on a beach.

For example, Venus explained, people go to Argentina to tango; to Peru for a taste of their cuisine and to South Korea to get a dose of K-Pop. Siargao is selling because of its surfing. For Baguio, visitors can get married or learn how to weave those colorful fabrics in the manner of traditional weavers.

For Venus, this focus on soft power or the attraction that the culture of the place exudes can sell tourism. She cited a recent festival in the Mountain Province where people (and potentially tourists) go out and celebrate a good harvest through a very joyful and noisy tug of war.

Ms. Tan’s emphasis on the soft power of culture as a visitor draw came out of her decades of experience promoting tourism as an attache in Europe. People, she said, want something out of the ordinary that they can experience.

The new TPB head, with almost 40 years of service at DOT, also spent time heading the DOT regional office in Baguio. She was the one who thought of harnessing community effort in painting the houses of informal settlers in La Trinidad to look like Brazilian favelas.

Having grown up in Baguio, she is familiar with the culture there that has a strong artistic bent. So she organized efforts to have Baguio declared a Unesco Creative City  for crafts and folk arts last year.

In line with its UNESCO designation, the nation’s summer capital inaugurated a creative festival over the weekend called Entacool. It is just one of a series of events to celebrate its having been declared a Unesco Creative City.

Also featured is a Cordillera weave fashion show, an art exhibit, a photographic exhibition, street art, silver and metals crafts, tie dye exhibits and workshop, entrepreneurial mentoring for creatives and many more.

But it goes deeper than arts. It is all about a creative economy and how the creative city attracts creative people who will prefer to live in such creative enclaves.

Baguio has always been a haven for artists and native craftsmen. Under the creative city concept, local artists and craftsmen will be helped to level up their design and business practices. The goal is to make them innovators and entrepreneurs that help boost the city’s economy.

It isn’t just Baguio. There is also a plan to use the Maestranza in Intramuros as a creative and innovation hub to serve the entire country. The Intramuros Administration under Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat has given initial approval of the design concept for creating this hub.

Going back to that idea of selling our islands as wedding destinations, I think it will work. I was once at Mactan Shangri-La when they hosted a grand Indian wedding.

The wedding party booked all the rooms in an entire building. I asked a guest why so many rooms and she told me relatives of the couple from all over the world would be in Mactan for the wedding. The wedding celebration took days.

More love in the Philippines sounds good. It also gives us a good reason to work harder to make this catch line true in other ways too.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco