Tourism Secretary: 'It's More Fun in the Philippines' campaign to be 'upscaled'

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Davao City (CNN Philippines) — Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

That’s what sums up reactions to plans earlier announced by the Department of Tourism to replace the "It’s More Fun In the Philippines" slogan.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo recounted a comment she received from an international tourism official who felt that "It’s More Fun in the Philippines," launched in 2012 under her predecessor Ramon Jimenez, Jr., was good enough, and just needed an "upscale."

"When I was in Madrid, the UN WTO told me ’yung ‘It's More Fun in the Philippines’ is a good slogan. Why change it," Teo said in remarks to reporters on Saturday on the sidelines of a media familiarization trip here.

"I told him the reason, and he said, ‘Probably you can just... upscale mo na lang,’" she said without naming the official from the United Nations World Tourism Organization. The Madrid-based UN WTO is a specialized agency of the UN that serves as the global forum for tourism policies and issues.

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Teo was recently in Spain where she signed an agreement with the UN WTO for the Philippines to host an international conference on tourism statistics in June 2017.

However, in her remarks on Saturday, Teo felt that the existing “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, which has spawned thousands of creative memes across social media platforms, just needed a little more focus.

Dadagdag mo pa (Add to it): ‘Why is it more fun in the Philippines?’ Just answer the question,” Teo said.

“So we might consider on doing ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines,’…Dagdagan na lang natin parang gan’on,” she added. (Translation: “Let’s just add something more to it.”)

Tourism officials hope to launch the revitalized campaign soon, around the time of the Miss Universe pageant to be held in Manila on January 30, 2017.

Campaign not translating into visitor arrivals

In October, Teo said the tourism department planned to replace the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan, despite its virality and popularity ever since it kicked off in 2012.

The reasons for the shift, tourism officials said, were attributed to a Nielsen study which found that the slogan, no matter how catchy, failed to encourage tourists to visit the Philippines.

“OK ’yung slogan. Everybody likes it, But when it comes to tourist arrivals, hindi nag-generate ng tourist arrivals,” Teo said Saturday. (Translation: “The slogan is OK….it did not generate tourist arrivals.”)

“Honestly, I'd like to tell you, frankly everybody is saying, ‘Bakit palitan?’ But then ito ’yung nakita namin na reason why,” she added, referring to the Nielsen study. (Translation: “…’Why change it?’ But then this is the reason we saw why.”)

The study conducted from March to April 2016 showed that in Europe, nearly two in three survey respondents like the slogan, but that only one in four said they would travel to the Philippines.

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It further added that in North America, three in four respondents favored the popular tagline, but less than two of the respondents said they were enticed to visit the country.

The Philippines had five million international arrivals in 2015. By the end of 2016, Teo said they hope to hit their target of six million international arrivals, and double this figure to 12 million by 2022.

Compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, international tourist arrivals to the country are very few. In its 2016 World Tourism Highlights report, the UN WTO recorded 29.8 million international visitor arrivals in Thailand, 25 million in Malaysia, and 12 million in the tiny island-state of Singapore in 2015.

The earlier plan to launch a new tourism campaign was also touted as a response to the theme of “change” brought about by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who won the presidency by majority vote in the May elections.

Budget cuts?

Ramping up the tourism campaign, which is to be created by McCann Worldgroup Philippines, is expected to cost P650 million, Teo said, adding that this amount is to be sourced from the previous budget under former secretary Jimenez.

Jimenez was also well-regarded as a prominent advertising executive.

Tourism Undersecretary Kat De Castro clarified that the P650 million pesos also included global media placements for the campaign.

'Yung ₱650-M budget, hindi lang iyan for the tagline itself; kasi baka isipin niyo conceptualization lang ng tagline," De Castro said. (Translation: “The ₱650 million budget isn't just for the tagline; you might think that it’s only for conceptualization.”)

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"It is inclusive of all the media placements from all over the world," she added.

In a Senate hearing in mid-September for the 2017 tourism budget, lawmakers expressed shock that the Department of Budget and Management had cut the Department of Tourism’s budget to P2.5 billion in 2017, from P3.6 billion (US$ 75 million) in 2016.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said he would support an increase in the tourism department’s budget for 2017, since this was vital to restoring a positive view of the Philippines in the wake of a deadly blast in this southern city that killed 14 and injured dozens on September 2. The suspects were arrested in October.

Teo was in Davao this past weekend to show reporters preparations underway for the Miss Universe pageant. Davao is among the Philippine destinations the pageant’s candidates will visit.

Tourism contributes to over eight percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product.

The Philippines’ budget for tourism at US$75 million in 2016, is dwarfed by the spending of Asian neighbors. China allocated $292 billion and South Korea $25 billion for international tourism expenditure in 2015, according to the UN WTO Tourism Highlights 2016 report.

CNN Philippines correspondent Isabella Montano contributed to this report.