It’s more fun in the Philippines

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on January 12, 2012

The Philippines became the only Southeast Asian country last week to primarily crowdsource a nation branding campaign. The long-awaited campaign is intended to increase visibility internationally for the Philippines as an attractive tourist destination, and boost tourist arrivals. The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” tagline is meant to communicate “what the Philippines (truly) is” according to Tourism secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr.

The Philippines may also be “Amazing (Thailand), Truly Asia (Malaysia),” and “Yours” (Your Singapore, a typically stressed slogan.). But it is primarily fun compared to its neighbors competing for the hearts and minds of tourists in search for exotic Asian vacations. “The truth is,” Mr. Jimenez said when the campaign became public, “that the Philippines is more than a bunch of islands and old churches.

“It’s the fun Filipino people that complete the Philippine tourism experience. It’s the people that differentiate us from other destinations,” he explained.

Crowdsourcing involves taking a job traditionally performed by an individual or employee and outsourcing it to an “undefined, generally large group of people” according to Wired Magazine contributing editor Jeff Howe. Distributing the brand over social networks was necessary for at least two reasons, popularity and cost. According to comScore, the Philippines is the sixth top user of Twitter. And it is Facebook’s eight largest market according to SocialBakers.

Globally, three out of four Internet users access these and other social sites every month. In the Philippines, there are 27 million Facebook users and approximately four million Twitter users. Theoretically, these numbers equate to 31 million communication channels. In reality, the strategy appears to have paid off. By last Friday afternoon, January 6—the day the campaign was “leaked” to social media users—#itsmorefuninthephilippines was trending number one worldwide.

The hashtag enables Twitter users to identify and follow posts on specific topics. A Facebook fan page for the campaign quickly attracted several thousand followers, and continues to grow. The Tweets have slowed, but continue to distribute a constant stream of information.

“What the social media has allowed us to do in such a short time is allow the most number of people to help build the brand by participating in the effort to define it more sharply,” Mr. Jimenez told me earlier this week. “The more they talk to each other about it, the more it becomes equity. Fun = The Philippines. The Philippines = Fun.”

The Philippines is counting on the new campaign to increase visitors to 4.2 million in 2012 from 3.7 million last year and to as many as 10 million in 2016, entirely reasonable goals considering the success of the Philippines’ competitors. At 10 million, that’s three million fewer than the more than 13 million visitors to Hong Kong last year, not including another 28 million from the mainland. Tiny Singapore welcomed 12 million.

If each of 10 million visitors spends on average of $1,000 during his or her visit to the Philippines, that would provide $10 billion in revenue, about the same as the IT-BPO industry and more than half of 18 billion in remittances from overseas Filipino workers. Families arriving as tourists are likely to spend considerably more than $1,000 during their stay. Delegates to meetings, exhibitions, and conferences are the biggest spenders.

In 2010, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) visitors from mainland China spent more than $2,000 per visit in Thailand according to the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau. Taiwan’s MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) Project Office expects delegates to spend about $750 per visit. More than just attracting visitors to the Philippines, it’s important to attract the right kind of visitors. Those with money. Those that want to have fun spending it.

Seventy-nine percent of Facebook’s estimated 600 million users are of productive age, 18 years old or older. For Twitter, that statistic is even more encouraging: 96%. Women slightly outnumber men on Facebook, while men use Twitter a bit more than women. These demographics are important because the Philippines hopes to attract roughly the same number of visitors as Singapore by 2016 with a fraction of Singapore’s promotions budget.

It’s estimated that Singapore invests in the vicinity of $250 million annually to promote tourism, as do the Philippines’ other regional competitors. The Philippines will invest less than 10% of that amount, around $20 million.

Mr. Jimenez and his colleagues at the Department of Tourism are leveraging the benefits of social marketing mainly because they work. But also because they are working under such severe financial constraints. The Philippines must be many times more efficient in generating a return on brand marketing strategy than its biggest competitors in the region, all of which have years of experience and success to build on.

The logic is sound. So is the concept, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.” Despite some snarky criticism, Filipinos on social networks are overwhelmingly happy with it. And global media coverage of the campaign’s social impact suggests potential visitors will be impressed.

I’m betting they will be, too.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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