Roots

Phl is no chicken

By Marifi Jara 

“CHICKEN!”

That is Filipino slang for ‘easy’, typically spoken with a tone of confidence or arrogance or both. It sends the message that something is achievable without needing much effort. “Chicken yan, pare!”  would be a sample response if for instance someone asks you to do something that you think is in no way a mission:impossible.

A new twist to “chicken”, not altered from its original slang connotation, just came up when new Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said that the Philippines is as “easy to sell as Chickenjoy” during his first press conference on September 1 soon after his appointment was announced. Every Filipino, of course, readily understood that he was referring to the popular fried chicken product of the successful Filipino fastfood chain Jollibee (a client of Jimenez’ equally successful advertising agency).

Jimenez later clarified in a one-on-one television interview that what he actually said (or meant) was “Dapat sing-dali ng pag-benta ng fried chicken“. Well, Filipinos do love chicken – fried, lechon-ed, or in the many other ways we cook it – and so selling a chicken product would be no-sweat.

In any case, what our new tourism captain is saying is that marketing the Philippines as a destination of choice is or should be “chicken!”

Jimenez is unquestionably one of the most accomplished and respected advertising personalities in the country. But I beg to disagree with him that promoting our country would be easy. “Hindi chicken yan, pare.

I am sure that Jimenez and his team, given their track record, will come up with a fabulous marketing campaign for the Philippines (no silly “Pilipinas Kay Ganda”-with-an-unoriginal-logo sort of idea that his predecessor came up with).  But whether a memorable campaign will eventually translate to an economy- banging increase in the number of tourists – foreign, homecoming Filipinos and locals – eager to travel to the Philippines, that is the questionable part.

The problem is, the Philippines is not to tourists, especially the foreign travellers, what Chickenjoy or fried chicken or any chicken is to Filipinos.

It is not because we are not a delicious, er, beautiful country. The Philippines does have a lot to offer to visitors.

But, but, but. First of all, we are an archipelago that is not attached to mainland Asia. Coming to the Philippines requires an intense determination to be here. Travellers wanting to see, smell, taste, feel, enjoy and understand Asia could more easily plan a trip to one of our southeast Asian neighbours, say Malaysia (the only SEA country in the top ten destinations in the world), and from there have plenty of sensible options to go gallivanting in other countries to expand their experience of tropical beaches, underwater wonders, mountains, food, culture, bargain shopping , and many other things Asia. Including the Philippines in the itinerary, or choosing the Philippines as the priority destination, would need a very special reason. That is what we have got to give tourists.

Based on the 2010 data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, this is how SEA countries fared last year in terms of tourist arrivals: Malaysia, 24.5 million; Hong Kong 20.1 million; Thailand, 15.8 million; Singapore, 9.1 million; Indonesia, 7 million; Vietnam, 5 million; Philippines, 3.5 million.

Come to think of it, Hong Kong is also not in the mainland, it is tiny and does not even have natural attractions. But tourists, including lots of Filipinos, do find compelling reasons to go there – and it is very accessible with so many flight options from practically anywhere in the world in and out of its huge, efficient airport.

The Philippines needs a big bowl of chicken soup for tourism.

 (to be continued)

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