Friday, April 14, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
April 15, 2015 issue

No less than Conde Nast, the travel bible, called the Philippines as “the next great destination after the Mediterranean and Carribean.” In a recent island-hopping voyage to the Philippines, famous travel author Lindsay Talbot mentioned the Philippines as a prime destination most travelers have long been overlooked. 

She raved about the country and admittedly, was enticed by its historic cities and emerald islands. She highlighted that the Philippines, chosen as No. 1 in the World by the magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, lived up to its ranking.

Talbot, a seasoned traveler who has been to more than a dozen cruises, splendidly recalled how the archipelago of many tiny islands surprised her with “seas in shades of blue, so unreal that they could’ve been stolen from screen savers.” 

She then described Palawan’s Underground River as “a journey to a stygian darkness, past cathedral-like caverns, dripping with millennia-old stalagmites. She summarized the trip as full of surprises and recounted, “the thrill was in the voyage itself.”

Speaking of thrill, it was a different kind of thrilla Manila saw with the maiden voyage of Superstar Virgo to the city on the morning of March 19, 2017. The flagship of one of the world’s largest luxury cruise ships officially made Manila one of its homeports. 

In cruise industry term, "homeport" is often used in reference to a ship, which carries majority of passengers from its point of origin, passes through designated destinations and comes back to where it came from. 

This momentous event in Philippine tourism industry was a shared effort of the Philippines and China, aimed at boosting sea travel from Manila to Laoag-Kaohsiung,Taiwan-Hongkong and back to Manila. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Department of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and Manila city officials led the rousing welcoming rites.

“Manila, Boracay, Puerto Princesa and other port-ready destinations in the country are bound to experience unprecedented tourism traffic. And because of increasing number of cruise ships visiting Manila, it may yet become an international cruise hub,” says DOT Director Ma. Corazon Jorda-Apo who represented Secretary Teo on the initial voyage.

“As the first-ever cruise ship to dock in Manila, Superstar Virgo will etch a milestone in our tourism journey, as both ship and our shores will provide vacationers, including locals, the convenience of not having to fly to either Hong Kong or Singapore to take a cruise,” says Teo in her message read by Jorda-Apo.

The 13-storey, 935-cabin, 2,600-passenger capacity cruise ship boasts of many specialty restaurants, bars, game rooms, a shopping mall, gym, massage spa, and a roof-deck swimming pool. It is 268 meters in length and 32 meters in width, with an average of 24 knots cruising speed. It arrived in Hongkong on March 22, carrying 2,200 passengers.

Dubbed as the “Jewels of the South China Sea” voyage, the trip was a 6 Day/5 Night cruise covering the cities mentioned. 

“It is truly an honor for the Philippines to be part of this momentous occasion of Star Cruises’ homeporting in the Philippines. We are grateful for Star Cruises for believing in the Philippines and helping us get closer to our vision as a regional cruise center, and eventually as center for cruise crew training, maintenance services and ship building in the long term,” Jorda-Apo adds. 

Getting to know a cruise ship

A cruise ship is a big luxury recreation vessel with a modern design and equipped with the latest sea navigational technology. 

It is built like a 5-star hotel complete with luxurious amenities found in the same brand hotels. It travels to pre-destined resort cities and returns to its homeport.

Unlike an ocean liner, which only transports passengers across oceans, a cruise ship provides entertainment, recreation and relaxation by taking people on board - from a single day to a week and comes back to its originating port to pick up vacationers anew.

During its initial voyage to Manila, Superstar Virgo management toured this author and DOT people around its ultra modern facilities, from deluxe cabins to its palatial grand lobby, from its gourmet restaurants to jaw-dropping theatres and expensively designed dining halls. 

We were also accorded a sneak preview of the galley manned by multinational chefs, among them a number of Filipinos. 

On both ends of “The Piazza”, the nerve center of Superstar Virgo, one can find a casino, Broadway-like theatre and cinema with comfortable and upholstered seats, Duty-Free shops, and more specialty restaurants. 

On the uppermost deck are the following: a fitness center, beauty salon, spa, swimming pool, spiral tube ride that spits you out (not to the sea) but to another pool, hot tubs, lounges, library, and more clubs. In a nutshell, cruise ships like the Superstar Virgo pamper passengers with the best of hospitality set along the sea.

The global cruise tourism picture

Over the last decade, cruising has become an integral part of tourism, contributing over $25 billion yearly to the industry’s booming sector. The major bulk of the business comes from North American and European regions but other areas, like Asia, are also catching up.

In 2016, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the unified global organization of the cruise industry, released the State of the Cruise Outlook, revealing that global cruise travel is continuing to grow and evolving at a record pace. 

The outlook provides a snapshot of the cruise industry while also highlighting trends impacting cruise travel. It has a voice in each of the following location: Alaska, North America, Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Netherlands, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Northern Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The Facts: 

There are currently 62 cruise lines in the world. 275 are Executive Partners (key suppliers and cruise line affiliates in ports and destinations, ship development and business services. 20,000 are travel agencies, which include the largest, hosts, franchises and a consortia of 30,000 travel agents.

24 million passengers cruised in 2016, 23.2 million in 2015, 22 million in 2014 and 21 million in 2013. 33.7% passengers went to the Carribean, 18.7% to the Mediterannean, 13.8% to other cities in the world and only 9.2% went to Asia. The industry provided 939,232 jobs, paid $39.3 billion in wages and salaries from an average of $134.72 daily passenger spending.

In 2014, cruise ship tourists from Canada numbered 800,000, 840,000 were from Italy, 700,000 from China, 590,000 from France and 450,000 from Spain. Demand for cruising has increased by 68% in the last 10 years and Asia is slowly showing on the map

8 out 10 CLIA-member travel agents stated that they are expecting an increase in sales over the previous year (2015). Between 2008 and 2014, cruise travel outpaced general leisure travel in the US by 22%.

At a glance, here’s an example of how cruise tourism rewards Canada with substantial economic growth. Why are we making use of Canada as an example? The world’s biggest number of cruise ship passengers comes from the country.

. Canadian ports received nearly 2 million passengers on hundreds of cruise calls over the last three years

. Ports in Nanaimo, Prince Rupert, Victoria and Vancouver account for over half of all Canada’s cruise passenger traffic

. Cruise business in Canada generates over 440,000 hotel night stays and some 6,000 direct and indirect jobs. The arrival of each cruise ship in Vancouver, British Columbia stimulates more than $2 million in economy activity

. Canada’s New England ports collectively welcomed more than 1,300 ship calls from 25 different cruise lines and more than1.5m passengers in 2014. Cruises generated an economic impact in excess of $1bn for the region

. Ship turnarounds in St. John’s, Newfoundland led to an economic impact of approximately $1.36 million dollars for 2014. Annual overall impact of the cruise industry in Newfoundland and Labrador is estimated to be over $11 million.  

US cruise tourism industry

The annual cruise industry revenue for the US economy was valued at 37.85 billion dollars. The number of cruise industry jobs generated annualy 314,000. The yearly number of cruise ship passengers is 20,335,000. 

Below are other interesting facts about the cruise ship business in the US

Percent of cruise passengers that originated in North America
60 %
Average annual growth rate of the cruise industry since 1980
7.4 %
Number of children 18 and under that sailed with their families
Number of new cruise ships that debuted in 2009
Number of new cruise ships currently on order
Amount being spent on new ships
$15 billion
Percent of cruises that were in the Caribbean
37.02 %
Average length of a cruise
7.2 days
Number of North American embarkation ports
Number of embarkation ports around the world
Average ship capacity utilization
104 %
Number of cruise ships that have sank since 1979
Total number of passengers who died on a cruise ship since 1979
*Death count includes all causes of death
Cruise Passenger Demographic Statistics
Average age of a cruise passenger
50 +
Average household earnings
Percent of passengers who are college graduates
86 %
Percent who are married and work full time
62 %
Percent of people age 25+ with earnings of $40,000+ who have taken a cruise
44.6 %
Percent of the total US population who have taken a cruise
19.9 %
Average spent per person per week on their cruise
Average spent per person per week on a non-cruise vacation
Cruise Passenger Behaviors & Attitude Statistics
Percent of cruise passengers who think its a great way to sample destinations
80 %
Percent of would return to the Caribbean for a land based vacation
50 %

More revenues, more jobs for Filipinos

The Department of Tourism (DOT) expects to rake in more earnings from cruise tourism. Secretary Tulfo-Teo stressed that Genting’s flagship vessel will provide the government, private operators and host areas, a consistent stream of revenues and employment opportunities.

“We look forward to many years of fruitful, mutually-beneficial relationship with Star Cruises. Moreover, there is a bright future ahead for the cruise industry, as passengers in the future will want to travel more often,” she says.

For the 94,000 PDD (Passenger Destination Days in 2015, an estimated US$ 21.2M was spent by foreign tourists from 77 local port calls. This was direct contribution to the Philippine economy, the Philippine Department of Tourism says. The amount is expected to increase to 120,000 PDDs as it targets 117 fully operational local ports this year. 

According to DOT, the city government also earns additional revenues from pre-and post-cruise services, like provisioning, bunkering, garbage disposal and sludge removal.

It also mentions a most important aspect of the industry. Crewing. Whether in transit or homeporting, Filipinos comprise the bulk of the liners’ manpower and are regarded as the most sought-after among other nationalities. Filipinos comprise more than one third of Superstar Virgo’s crew, with a good number serving as supervisors. 

Confidence in the Philippine market

Star Cruises President Ang Moo Lim said, the new itinerary was in support of the Asia Cruise Cooperation (ACC) to help promote Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Hainan and Xiamen.

In an exclusive interview, Jorda-Apo puts it succinctly: “With the completion of our National Cruise Tourism Strategy, this will serve as a roadmap for the country and its players in achieving our long-term goal of being, not only as a destination or port of call, but as a homeport that can generate more jobs for Filipinos. We hope to see the Philippines as a preferred market, see the economy improve and boost the Filipinos’ capacity to spend for recreation.” 

Development of soft and hard facilities is crucial, according to the infrastructure-savvy Jorda-Apo. She foresees that by the end of the Duterte administration, Filipinos will see the realization of the Philippines’ first dedicated cruise terminal, including the parallel building and upgrading of other harbors. 

“This would increase our capacity to serve more and bigger ships, which can bring in as much as 5,000 passengers. Our ultimate goal is to be as seamless as possible, and to gain competitiveness as a major cruise hub in Asia,” she says.

DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon thanked Star Cruises and its parent company Genting, for including Manila a part of the cruise. He said, Star Cruises also plans to add more Philippine destinations, like Boracay and Cebu in its future cruise itinerary.

Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) Deputy Director Dr. Wayne Liu and Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lau also gave their congratulatory speeches to Star Cruises.

Vital for the economy

When tourist comes in, whether by ship or air travel, the country without a doubt, benefits from the top to the bottom of the food chain. The entry of Superstar Virgo, thus, ignites a new interest for cruise tourism. 

Low-wage earners like Aling Esang, for example, a souvenir item worker for a supplier in Laoag, will get more pesos for her trinkets and bracelets. Seasonal tourist guides will be busy adjusting to fully booked schedules. 

Ana Tonogbanua, who used to treat the job as ‘raket’, will become a full-pledged tourism specialist. As tourists start to pour, college teacher Macopa Lacio and her students will be more proud of their community’s history and cultural heritage. The chain reaction goes on and on.

Eateries, dining areas, cafes, restaurants, transportation, what-have-you, all thrive when tourism flourishes. Standards become upgraded, roads and infrastructure improve, forex money rings merrily at the cash register. In the end, the economy grows from the revenues that flow in.

Picture the multiplier effect. Businessmen will source goods locally, giving the local industry and supporting industries a big boost. Income is felt quickly, triggerring local spending. The multiplier effect steamrolls and the tourist dollar earned, cycled back to the economy.

Stylish travel minus the hassle

Why cruise? Cruising takes the stress out of travelling. You need not pack and repack your luggage and encounter long queues at the immigration counter. With a cruise ship, you don’t arrive at your hotel exhausted, suffer jetlag and starve.  You stay in the ship built like a hotel and everything is arranged for you.

Cruising is now the fastest growing part of the travel industry. Around 24% of Americans have cruised at least once before and more and more people are now realizing the value-for-money cruising offers.

Like what Filipino tourist Maria Nelly Apostol said: “It was well-worth the money we paid for. Our bags were taken cared of, we were treated to different shows every night, food great, the crewmembers and staff were friendly, and there’s no time to get bored. You just relax, because that exactly what you came for,” she said.

Cecille Autajay and her husband travelled all the way from Antique to catch Virgo’s inaugural tour in Manila. She praises the ship’s efficiency, from the moment she stepped onboard. “The trip was smooth as silk, although there were hiccups (like immigration passport clearances), we enjoyed the food, amenities, city tours, not to mention the nightly entertainment presentations that were just a super as the ship’s name,” she said.

“With a library, world-class Filipino singers and entertainers, cinema, spa, pubs and nightclubs, cafes, internet access, medical facilities, and plenty of stores for shopping, I will definitely go back and cruise again,” says businessman Jake Pantaleon of a real estate company.

The world’s largest cruise ships

In his “Now Boarding” website, author Les Shu mentions that thirty of the world’s largest cruise ships measure more than 1,000 feet in length (roughly the length of four Boeing 747s or nearly three football fields. 

“Allure of the Seas”, for instance, the largest ship ever built, can carry up to 6,296 passengers, making it more of a floating town (filled with stores, restaurants, museums, and plazas) rather than simply an ocean vessel. It’s even longer than the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier,” he says.
Some experts think the “Allure of the Seas” (and a similar-sized sister ship (“Oasis of the Seas”) could be the biggest ships the world will ever see.

Here are five of the world’s largest cruise ships.

Allure of the Seas: At 1,187 feet, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and sister ship “Oasis of the Seas” are the world’s largest, weighing 225,286 gross tons. It has a skating rink, theater featuring Broadway musicals, carousel, zip line, casino, park with real trees, shops, and 25 restaurants (including a Starbucks), and is divided into seven neighborhoods. The ships are also equipped with solar panels to generate energy for various areas.

Quantum of the Seas: Also from Royal Carribbean, the newest of the fleet – is a bit smaller than Allure and Oasis, measuring 1,139 feet and weighing 168,666 gross tons. With a max capacity of 4,905 passengers, what Quantum lacks in size, it makes up for with crazy amenities, such as a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, open-air park, and 360-degree views from a hinged capsule that floats over the water. 

The ship is also one of the most high-tech: there’s the Bionic Bar with a robotic bartender that mixes drinks, mobile check-in and boarding, RFID used for purchases (via wristband) and luggage tracking, virtual concierge, iPad photo gallery, USB charging, virtual theater, and satellite-based Internet that’s robust enough for streaming videos and multiplayer games.

The Epic: Measures 1,081 feet and weighs 155,873 gross tons, claims the largest bowl slide in its water park. For sports buffs, there’s a center equipped with rock climbing and basketball court, and a bowling alley. 

If you’re into off-Broadway productions, you can partake in a Blue Man Group performance. There are dedicated rooms and a lounge for solo travelers, and an Internet café if you must check your e-mail. Royal Caribbean must have an obsession with building big ships, because the company also owns these three (all measuring 1,112 feet and weighing 154,407 gross tons). 

Freedom of the Seas: From 2006 to 2009, it was the world’s largest, and as one of the Royal Caribbean’s “older” ships. Its amenities may not sound as impressive but the ship boasts of 10 pools and whirlpools, a surfing simulator, skating rink, mini golf course, and 3D theater.

Queen Mary 2: When it made its maiden voyage in 2004, it was not only the world’s largest (1,132 feet, 148,528 gross tons), but was arguably the most luxurious. Its size pales in comparison to Royal Caribbean’s big ships, but its unique livery and services make it still one of the grandest. 

It was also the first to have a planetarium, as well as a library and live-performance theater. Inside its stately exterior are desalination plants for providing fresh water and a sophisticated engine system.

Friday, April 7, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
April 8, 2017

“Blessed are the weird people, the poets and the misfits, the artists and the writers, the music makers, dreamers and outsiders. They force us to see the world differently,” goes an often-quoted line. Steve Jobs used it and so did Dennis Garcia, bassist and writer of many, if not all, iconic “Hotdog” songs.

At age 17, Garcia was already a non-conformist, an outsider of the status quo. He worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency while most of his age group would still be in school trying to finish accountancy, or the usual college course.

Coming from a family of art lovers, he re-engineered musical arrangements of traditional Filipino songs, mixed English with the vernacular and changed some words like a man on the street would pronounce them.

Followers of modern Filipino music, regardless of age, would, of course, remember “Pers Lab”, the pop music that made Manila swoon, and eventually, mass conquered the Philippines. Did it sweep off your parents’ young and nimble feet? For sure, it did, and Garcia’s foray into the music world led original and homegrown Filipino music to become legit.

Garcia’s “Hotdog” band dished out hits after hits after “Manila, Manila” and “Panaginip”. Who would not prance and romp with “Annie Batungbakal” and “Badaf Forever”? Gambol and rock with “Bongga Ka ‘Day”? Feel hopelessly romantic with “Ikaw Ang Miss Universe Ng Buhay Ko“, foxtrot with “Behhh, Buti Nga”, swoon with “Bitin Sa Iyo“, flirt with “O, Lumapit Ka”?

Who would not fall in love with “Ikaw Pa Rin”, “Sa Isip Ko”, “Langit Na Naman”, “Pusong Mamon”, “Sana’y Maganda Ako,”, “You Make Me Blush (Parang Pulang Kamatis)” and more?

The “Manila Sound” genre of Garcia’s Hotdog band eventually became part of Sunshine label, owned by music industry tycoon Vic del Rosario. It was also home to the best and the brightest proponents of original Pinoy music: Rico Puno, Circus Band, Cinderella, VST&Co. and many other Filipino artists.

Garcia’s “Manila Sound” was destined to become the Golden Age of Philippine Music. Today, a couple of decades later, a Hotdog reunion concert can still pack a big auditorium, with some of the most scintillating names in the Philippine social strata guaranteed to attend. What does that tell you? Gold is gold. Regardless of what year it happens.

What is Garcia up to these days? He is still writing songs out of his comfort zone but on a different platform. His words and lyrics are now colors and hues. His emotions and lullabyes are now objects and shapes. His vernacular and English verbs are now vibrant crimsons and purples. His thoughts and colorful language are now graphic forms and multiple shades of the rainbow - on the big canvas.

Yes, he paints, and buoyed up by the thought that an untrained artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Dustheads” sold at an auction for 43.5 million US dollars. “Art can be more rewarding than plunder (and you need not have a diploma from some fancy art school to be rewarded for your work,” he blurts out.

When Garcia mounts his first major one-man show, his acerbic wit, sensual (sometimes sexually explicit) and whole gamut of emotions will be ‘heard’ and seen in glass-encased frames.

He will be exhibiting 25 all-new pieces, all based on songs he has written for Hotdog. The venue will be Ricco Renzo Gallery, second floor of LRI Design Plaza, Reposo in Makati City on June 7, 2017, which will run until June 18.

He will bring back all your favorite OPM songs, but this time, on canvas using acrylic and oil paints. No formal art education, no rules, no formulas, no pretensions, Garcia will take this rare opportunity to introduce you to the phenomenon that the world is now embracing with gusto - Outsider Art (naive, self-taught art from simple inspired people, “aimed at your heart, not your wallet,” he says.

Garcia dabbles in freewheeling painting style, the non-classical way, outside of the avenues art schools in the world would expectedly lead art students. He uses the alphabet of his heart and expresses what his mind tells him on a usual 3 by 3 feet canvas.

His creations pulsate like his songs. Like an artist who does not conform, there lies what’s new in Garcia, the ever revolutionary, and now a compleat artist.

Garcia wants to champion the genre, a Matisse like expressionism movement. “There are no rules here, my art unchains myself. I am not who will be confined in a box. I have also invited fellow outsider artists to motivate them into working on their own exhibit,” he says.

The pieces will all be affordable, according to Garcia. He emphasizes that if art lovers would hold on to what they purchase, “they may be holding to truly appreciating pieces of art, since it is a rare instance when a songwriter translates his work into canvas,” a totally surprising fresh idea that might catch fire.

“I want to propagate a style largely made up by the artist as he goes along, just following his instincts as to what color to use, when and where, and not bound by any school of isms,” he adds.

Garcia makes reference to the style as full of symbolic value, largely determined by the individual artist, and not governed by a rigid set of pre-existing rules.

What is Outsider Art?

The Huffington Post describes Outsider art as “often obsessive, visceral and autonomous — dissociated from the artistic norms and trends that define the zeitgeist for those not impervious to it.”

Outsider Art is the stripping away of cultural conventions and the impending shadow of the artistic establishment. Here, the artists’ deeper inspirations and messages come to the surface.

Words commonly associated with Outsider Art are “naive,” “pure,” “raw,” “visionary” and “fanatic, untouched by the pettiness of everyday life and mainstream culture. It unveils the unadulterated act of creation, outside of trends and the desire for commercial success. It can convey the power of the unbridled imagination to create order and beauty from basically nothing.

It is also associated with the work of the mentally challenged.

A doctor once documented the work of his patient, Adolf Wolfli, a genius who produced countless thousands of works from a small cell in a Swiss asylum.

Dr Hans Prinzhorn collected thousands of creations by psychiatric patients and his book “Bildernerei der Geisteskranken” (Artistry of the Mentally Ill), published in 1922, became an influential work amongst Surrealists and other artists of the time.

One such artist was Jean Dubuffet. Together with others, including Andre Breton, he formed the Compagnie de l’Art Brut in 1948 and strove to seek out and collect works of extreme individuality and inventiveness by creators who were not only untrained artists but often had little concept of an art gallery or even any other forms of art other than their own.

Dubuffet’s concept of Art Brut, or Raw Art, was of the genre that was in their “raw” state, uncooked by cultural and artistic influences. He eventually built up a vast collection of thousands of art pieces, which bore no relation to developments in contemporary art and yet were innovative and powerful expressions of creativity.

What to see

“Art is one of the few things left worth doing,” says Garcia. “I paint my feelings, not decorations,” he says. Among his creations that are already hanging on the walls of notable people’s homes are “Pisbol” (a charming portrayal of a society matron “making tusok-tusok the fishball”; “Manang”, a naïf-like painting of an innocent woman staring at you from a distance; “Careful” a tribute to Inday Badiday’s famous line in an iconic 80s show with the same title.

Also included in the exhibit are must have pieces painted from Garcia’s prolific mind. Among them is a finger-painting of Stevie Wonder done from memory, a refreshing portrait of the wonder musician exploding with colors red and green accents.

Go, pick a Garcia painting and bring it home. When his songs have stopped playing in the windmills of your mind, they will be forever in the privacy of your own castle.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


 by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
March 9, 2017 issue

Picture-pretty. Picture-laden. That’s all. Back in the 90s, our tourism commercials had that kind of formula. The usual mandatory slogan was also all over, as if mentioning it at the end shot was not enough. It was always a menu of the usual, like going to a bookstore’s postcard section and you see the same pictures over and over again. You leaf through the pages of a tourism book or a magazine for expats, and you see the same batch.

You pick up a two-fold leaflet in the airport and you immediately recognize them. You look around you and you see big bold lighted billboards of the same. Oh, they are also on the inflight magazine’s cover.

What happened to the rest? We’re supposed to have seven thousand six hundred forty-one islands, to be exact, some of them more spectacular and jawdropping. Why are they not being promoted?

On January 25, 2017, the much-awaited Department of Tourism tv commercial had its soft launch, aired without much fanfare. It was coming from the heels of an era where tourism advertising in the region was being eagerly watched and global advertising award shows have elevated it as a mainstream category.

Tourism advertising in the Philippines has leapfrogged, from a probono exercise to a legit business in the last seven years, the acquisition of which, gives the winning ad agency some kind of a prestige and a halo of being important, far from the age of yore when it could be had without having to pitch.

People were also itching to see what a less award-conscious agency would come up with. Would it fall short of the standard that has been set like those on the Cannes reel? Would it raise the ante and escort its predecessor to the archives of the 90s?

When “Anak” broke on traditional and social media, Filipino viewers, as well as global audiences of the 2016 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant saw something different. Not the usual fare but something that touches on one of the most important components of Filipino society. Family.

The ad was simple, not presumptuous and told a heartwarming story why “it’s more fun in the Philippines”. Finally, the campaign was strategically tighter and did not just resort to word pun to escape scrutiny. It presented a universal truth about Filipinos and that made it doubly endearing.

The commercial shows foreign traveler Jack Ellis being offered a local food by a Filipina mother who addresses him as her own "Anak” (child). Curious, he nonchalantly asks his tourist guide the meaning of the word. He looks back with a sense of wonder. The ad got good reviews on social media and even top advertising creative directors publicly announced their positive sentiments for the spot.

"Anak" is said to be part of a series of video campaigns that will be shown locally and internationally. At a press briefing before production of the material began, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said that while they stuck with the current "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan, they deemed it more appropriate to focus on the traits of the Filipino people, as suggested by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

Rifai said, the slogan should answer and define “why it's more fun in the country” and stressed that most countries have already beaches, malls and restaurants. But being Filipinos make you different, you are Filipinos”. There lies the unique selling proposition.

Previously, DOT Undersecretary Kat de Castro also said the new campaign would be more specific in terms of the destinations and activities tourists can do in the country.

The Advertising Agency

Having said that, McCann WorldGroup Philippines, once famous for its “Truth Well Told” dictum, rolled up its sleeves and buckled down to work.

The agency recently rebranded to be more relevant to the industry’s climate change. On the wall of its posh Bonifacio Global City office, boldly stands its raison d’etre: “Transforming Brands and Growing Businesses”, as if trying to say that it is putting sense back to the ad industry.

The brief given to the agency was clear. Teo had given McCann a single-minded task: Focus on people to give answer and meaning to the slogan and make the beauty of the place as just a backdrop.

“The agency embraced it, it also confirmed our research that it is the people that tourists remember when they travel abroad, including their warmth, hospitality and generosity,” Sydney Samodio, McCann Executive Creative Director opens during the interview.

How well did the agency put its creativity principle into use? “We utilized our global strategic and communication plan. We asked: “What’s the best way to tell the story?” We worked as a lens to come up with something like this, a perfect case study zeroing on a general truth,” McCann Managing Partner Gerald Gonzalez says matter-of-factly.
To squeeze more truth and leave no stone unturned, the agency treated the Filipino as “a client from Day One,” a brilliant probing statement from Samodio. The agency gathered as much culturally rich insights as it could, profusely inspired and very vocal about working with a government account that it described as refreshing, and its people, pleasant, supportive, and appreciative.

How does it feel to have done an ad for the country, personally, and on a larger perspective? Gonzalez says is proud to have worked on the new DOT campaign. “When I was tapped to do this, I thought to myself that this maybe the only time in my career that I would be able to directly contribute to the country. Personally, it is rewarding to see that people are reacting positively, to what we’ve created and have featured unique places that only Philippines can offer. I hope that tourism becomes a strong pillar of our economy moving forward,” he says.

He mentions, however, that the logistics of tourism are some of the major challenges our tourism industry is facing. “Transportation and accommodations for travellers, especially in remote areas, the infrastructure that would allow easier access and stay would be our biggest opportunities to further boost tourism in the country,” he says.

The agency worked on an extremely tight timetable. It was in the middle of 2016 Christmas break, made tougher by a strong typhoon that visited the production locale in far Mindanao.

But at the end of trying circumstances, the result was a material truthfully and beautifully told, set in a place many people call an enchanted river in Hinatuan, Surigao province on the southeastern board of the Philippines.

The Director

There was a lot of pressure for Franco Marinelli, the Australian film director (of Italian descent), to deliver a wonderful ad. To do that, he stuck to the brief and executed the film intuitively.

Marinelli’s biggest challenge was the weather. “There was a big typhoon when we arrived in the location area. We barely checked the location but found ourselves retreating back to Manila to avoid it,” he recalls.

When Marinelli and everyone else returned, it again rained every day of the shoot except for the last day. In one of the finished scenes (traveler and mother) there were actual raindrops in the finished shots they had to remove them during post-editing.

Marinelli is all praises in working with the Filipino crew. He particularly mentions Aaron Farrugia, a half-Filipino, half-Australian cinematographer who gave life to his masterpiece. Although born in Australia, Aaron’s mother is a Filipina who was originally from Baguio.

“It was also nice working again with Ross Misa of Abracadabra after a long break, a guy who always supported my ideas 100%,” he says.

Marinelli worked with several foreign government tourism projects and local commercials prior to his DOT assignment. He gushes at the support given to him by DOT, McCann and the production staff, describing them as world-class.

“I created a very thorough shooting board that covered many facets of the story. I kind of saw it as a travel and adventure story, with an emotional twist,” he says. He is thankful for having a supportive McCann team for his creative development of the story.

“The emotion essence was already very clearly evident in the agency’s script and the storyboard was very clearly thought out,” he says. The film started with refreshing visuals of adventure and ended with an emotional connection between a young foreigner and the Filipino mom.

He relates his shooting experience as unforgettable, waxing nostalgia about the ‘enchanting’ river.“ “The river itself is really enchanted. It exudes its own natural positive energy that seems to come directly from the bowels of the earth. It’s hard to explain but it seems to be a very feminine type of energy. I always felt as though the river was allowing us to show its most beautiful faces. It’s amazing and a very special place,” he fondly explains.

Before he flew to Manila, Marinelli made “City of Inspiration”, a tourism spot for Shanghai city government. The Information Office of Shanghai was his client, the film is showcased on its website at He also recently made a new tourism film for Dalat City, Vietnam, which will be released shortly and a series of 6 commercials for Perth, Western Australia.

What are his thoughts on the country’s film production capabilities?

Marinelli says that after shooting for many years in the Philippines, he believes that it is extremely high because it has an established local film industry, with very experienced production staff and top of the line equipment and facilities.

“The fact that I have shot so many successful foreign productions in the Philippines is testament to this. I plan to shoot more in the future,” he says with deep conviction.

With a Masters Degree in fine arts, majoring in painting and photography, Franco Marinelli achieved considerable recognition as a painter who had mounted a number of stand-alone exhibitions. He then decided to further utilize his artistic talents by working as a film director.

In 1992, he began directing music videos before focusing on commercials. Since then, Marinelli has directed hundreds of commercials in almost every region of the world.

"My commercial directing style has evolved from my background as an artist. There is a strong link between my painting style and directing style. Hence, I approach a commercial production with the same discipline as I would on an oil painting," he says.

Despite his roots in traditional art forms, Marinelli is not averse to advances in digital post-production. In fact, he believes that technology has allowed his work to be more 'painterly'. He is highly experienced in digital visual effects and computer animation.

Marinelli started doing commercials by accident. After graduating from a Sydney University Art School, he opened a café in the city to make ends meet.

One of his customers was a cinematographer and knowing he could draw, asked his help to do a storyboard project. A few months later, he was chatting with a café supplier and mentioned about it. He told him he needed to shoot a commercial for one of his wine brands and asked if he could help.

With a small budget and working with the same cinematographer and a producer friend, they shot the film. When they presented it, the client was so amazed by the result he had tears in his eyes. They all made a 50% profit on the project and the rest is history.

A great commercial for Marinelli is one with a very simple idea, executed in an amazing way. A good example for him is the old British Airways commercial “Face” done by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1989.

What does he think about Filipino creativity in the ad industry? “There is a new generation with fresh approaches and philosophies. They seem to be more independent and locally focused in their thinking – which is good to see, both in Film and Advertising disciplines,” he says.

The Production House

Because of Marinelli's film style and the ad was to be shot in Mindanao, Abracadabra went into preparation way ahead to avoid logistical nightmares.

The production house also tapped “Actors Prime”, a unit within its vast technical capabilities with expertise on remote, far-flung communities. The outfit drew simultaneous, parallel approach to the normal preparation being done by the ad agency at the onset.

For one, James Gaines, the American guy who was part of Francis Ford Coppola’s shooting crew when “Apocalypse Now” was shot in the Philippines years ago, made it a lot easier.

“This is where you separate the men from the boys,” Gaines says. He picked three battle-tested Pinoys whom he had worked on foreign productions in the Philippines in the past.

They were award-winning cinematographer Jun Periera, seasoned Art Director Andy Andico (he last worked on Hollywood’s “Borne Legacy”) and Production Manager Manix Leonardo, three musketeers whom he had a reunion of sort in doing this commercial.

A couple of years ago, Gaines worked with Andico for a Japanese film in Subic. Midway into the production, a typhoon struck and the whole production staff, including the Japanese director, was marooned in the jungle. But he said to himself: “We can do this realizing that making a film is like doing a long form versus short one or like night and day.”

So when typhoon lashed through Surigao during the DOT shoot, the case was nothing new for Gaines.

“Inspite of bad weather, the fear of a rebel ambush along the highway that we traversed everyday, the Director’s boat that also served as our camera boat, (that almost sank, and God forbid, if it did, I am sure all the women would grieve, not for Marinelli, but for Faruggia, our good-looking cinematographer who could give any actor a run for his money). I could just imagine the agency and our female staff if the banca did sink, their reaction would be worse than seeing Titanic sink with Leonardo de Carpio”, Gaines laughingly reminisces.

Abracadabra is a 10-year old Filipino production house, which debuted with an Anchor Beer tv commercial shot in China, in collaboration with ad agency Leo Burnett Guangzhou. It won gold awards from the local industry’s Oscars: Ad Congress, Kidlat Awards and in regional and international award shows like Spike Asia, Cannes, and One Show. It even made a full-length movie entry for Sundance Film Festival.

"We evolve with the times and equip Abracadabra with up-to-the-minute equipment to be competitive in the digital landscape. From content concepts to storyboard production to pre-production to the finished material, we put our years of experience and expertise on each of them,” Ross Misa, founding chairman and CEO proudly says.

Tourism slogans through the years

The Philippine Department of Tourism was created by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1973, splitting the Department of Trade and Tourism into separate departments. Along side the new department were the Philippine Tourism Authority and Philippine Convention Bureau.

There are no recorded official advertising campaign slogans from that period but unofficially, the country referred to it as “Pearl of the Orient.” Under Secretary Gordon in 2003, DOT initiated one of its most successful tourism promotion projects, Visit Philippines 2003.

It then made a nationwide effort to launch “Fiesta Islands Philippines” and “Wow, Philippines”. As its neighboring Asean countries were experiencing unprecedented tourism boom, the Philippines launched “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” in 2010, a short-lived catchphrase that received huge criticisms from the public for its uncanny similarities to Poland’s tourism logo and slogan. So controversial it was, it led to the resignation of then DOT Secretary Alberto Lim,

The “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” plagiarism brouhaha bordered on the following issues: The fonts of Polska and “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” were similar. Both slogans have their letter “L” stylized into trees. The only difference was the latter’s letter "L" was stylized into a coconut tree as against the former’s "L" which was stylized into generic tree.
Lim acknowledged that the Philippine slogan had some similarities with the Polska logo but commented that it was more colorful.

After a much-publicized pitch among high-profile Philippine ad agencies, a new slogan was launched: “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”, a tagline that also was not spared of copycatting issues. Netizens flooded social media arguing that it was a rip off of “It’s More Fun In Switzerland”.

DOT was preparing to say goodbye to “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” slogan until it had a change of heart towards the last quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, DOT Secretary Teo recently reactivated the tourism council this week to spur team effort among sectoral stakeholders in the tourism industry.

“It is imperative that we collaborate as a team of stakeholders in the implementation of the NTDP and realize the government’s vision of Ambisyon Natin 2040 for the benefit of all sectors, at the same time, deliver the best tourism packages to the world market,” Teo said.

The tourism chief said the TCC, which had not convened in the last two years, is mandated by the Tourism Act of 2009 to help set the direction for the country’s tourism program and address urgent issues confronting the country’s tourism industry.

Government agencies lauded the DOT for succinctly capturing the social development agenda of the President in the NTDP. However, issues and concerns such as high hotel rates, insufficient infrastructure, poor access roads, lack of direct flights to tourist destinations, and adverse travel advisories over security threats were also raised during the TCC forum.

Traffic congestion, destruction of historical sites, massive number of street dwellers and “colorum” tour guides and taxi services were also mentioned in the open forum.

“We cannot sweep these issues under the rug. It is the mandate of the Tourism Coordinating Council to address such concerns,” Teo stressed.

A long-time travel professional herself, Secretary Teo also brought up the issue on pricing of travel packages, which has been a stumbling block in the Philippines’ global tourism competitiveness.

She went on to say, “Our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and even Japan, sell reasonably priced packages, especially after a natural calamity or political upheaval so foreign travelers would still be enticed to visit after a crisis.”

Leni Fabul of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association (PHOA) added, “Due to the supply-demand factor we have to keep our room rates high and allow us to keep up with high cost of energy here.”  Fabul also said there is also the need to encourage more hotel investors to correct the room gap of about 75,000 more rooms for the next five years.