MANILA, Philippines - The tourism department belied reports the Philippines is becoming a haven for sex tourism.
"A lot of men go everywhere hoping to get sex, the question you have to ask is: do they get it?," Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said on ANC's "Headstart."
"If that's what they say they come for, the official message is we don't want you here...The official reason people come to the Philippines is to see the beautiful sights and to go shopping."
At the Human Trafficking Conference on Thursday, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas said despite the gains in the anti-trafficking campaign, he estimates four out of 10 male foreign tourists come to the Philippines for sex.
Jimenez caused a stir after saying marketing the country should be as easy as selling a popular fried chicken brand. He explained it was said in the context of the tall order that comes with marketing the country.
"If our country is so beautiful, why is it so difficult to sell. Hindi natin kinacareer ang tourism eh. There us a certain squeamishness about competing and there are lingering doubts as to our ability to accept visitors."
Admitting, the tourism campaign may be slacking because the Philippines hasn't been all too serious about tourism, Jimenez says, changing the unflattering image depends on Filipinos, especially netizens, having a stake in the country's tourism.
"Tourism is an optimistic business and therefore you're ability to welcome people begins, prescinds directly from your enthusiasm... You begin with Filipinos being agents of tourism everywhere they go."
"We have the most legible, readable people online in this part of the world. Filipinos are the only people online that can cause a trend on twitter because we do it very well... Filipinos are the only people online that can cause a trend on twitter. We have 25 million facebook subscribers, who are highly readable. Even if only 1/4th of them got one tourism to come next year we would triple the arrivals."
Jimenez said the country must focus on what's beautiful and unique to the country."We're still a "wow". Without naming names, Philippine beaches beat other beaches hands down."
Fresh tourism campaign
The department is in the middle of a pitch for the tourism campaign, Jimenez said.
"We're not using the 'WOW Philippines' ad campaign, we're looking at something fresher. The previous slogan has done its work and it did its work quite well. People were happy with the campaign."
Beyond the tourist spots, Jimenez said, the new tourism campaign should prominently feature Filipinos themselves.
"It's time for something new, something more competitive, the fresh insight that captures what were all about today. We hope to see more Filipinos and not just the Philippines in the new ad campaign because we are our own advantage."
"Good advertising is deceptively simple campaigns - 'Malaysia Truly Asia' was created at a time when there was a slackening in Thailand so Malaysia seized the opportunity to pick up on the exotica, the Asian theme and did that very well. 'Incredible India' is a very insightful description of a country, with incredible things going on, your appreciation of a country like India is where the scale of their problem is touristic. They're incredibly brilliant and they make no bones of the fact that almost everything about India will blow your mind."
Jimenez noted the Philippines' plans are sending jitters among its neighbors."Our competitors know we have a small budget, why are they worried about what the Philippines is about to do. The word is out the Philippines is going to compete in tourism."
He added Filipinos, who did landscaping for countries like Malaysia, could very well do the same for their own country.
Meanwhile, Jimenez said he supports the open skies policy in the airline industry.
"Open skies policy' was done for all Filipino people not for airlines but for total tourism. This will take time we're already seeing. It will bring more tourists to the Philippines to gain more income."
But he said the government must improve tourism facilities including the country's airports to spur tourist arrivals in the country.
"The direction is we have to improve the passenger experience from aircraft doorway to the driveway."
"This is not a business of just counting bodies coming out of the airplane, but of counting employment and business going into people's pockets. We have the smartest airlines in the world. They will not only survive open skies, I wager they will prevail."
He said the department is engaged in serious talks with the Department of Transportation and Communication and the Department of Public Works and Highways on projects that will help tourism. He says, improvements on the NAIA 1 will be completed by next year.