Sun or sex? Philippines’ botched tourism campaign
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Sun or sex? Philippines’ botched tourism campaign

Vicente Romano III is considered one of the – if not the – most technologically savvy officials of the administration of President Noynoy Aquino. He is an undersecretary – the second in command —  at the Department of Tourism, in charge of planning and promotion. Prior to his DOT gig, he was a big part of the online campaign that exposed the shenanigans of former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, even helped to launch an online petition calling for the ouster of Estrada in 2000.

It goes without saying that promoting the Philippines online would keep Romano and his gang very busy. That’s precisely why, I think, he was chosen for the job because as undersecretary for planning and promotion of the DOT, a key part of his responsibilities is online and social media promotion. This is important given that those who would want to visit the Philippines would naturally check out first whatever material on the country is available online.

Up until recently the address to go to was www.beautifulpilipinas.com (which has now been taken down). But guess what happens when you visit www.beautifulfilipinas.com?

You will be redirected to another website showing Filipinas having sexual intercourse and performing fellatio on men. As they say on Twitter, WTF???

You see, Romano and his gang launched a new promotional campaign for the Philippines worth P100 million pesos. They changed the Philippines’s tagline from “Wow Philippines,” which the previous Arroyo administration used, to “Pilipinas Kay Ganda.” No, I won’t provide translation – you go figure that out.

They also launched a new website called www.beautifulpilipinas.com.

Here’s why I’m convinced that Romano, despite all his supposed tech-savvy credential, is an amateur.  (That or he allowed amateurs to develop this campaign.) Because, to be honest, I can’t fathom how they could have violated a cardinal rule in creating websites – never use a domain name that is identical in sound, or have a spelling that is almost similar, with another existing domain name. (Unless you intend to steal traffic from that other website.) The fact that the only difference between beautifulpilipinas.com and the porn site is the first ‘P’ in “Pilipinas” makes this mistake even more mind-boggling.

Does the DOT  want to promote sex tourism in the Philippines, as many have pointed out? Which brings me to the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” tagline.

This has been the butt of jokes, not to mention outrage, on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Firstly, it is in Tagalog. If you’re a European, American, Chinese or even Thai who wants to visit the Philipinas, would you be able to remember this tagline, as you would, for example, “Incredible India” or “Malaysia Truly Asia” or even the deceased “Wow Philippines”? If the government is targeting foreign tourists for this new campaign, why on earth would it use Tagalog? And if they say that the target market is domestic — Why, Filipinos can’t understand English?

Officials have said that they want to promote the national language. That’s cool, but not in a campaign like this. You don’t want foreigners to learn Tagalog – you want them to visit our shores, spend their money here, and #$%@ our women!

That last bit in the preceding paragraph – let’s not kid ourselves. Tourists do come here to #$%@ our women. I supposed that brings in money. But must the government promote it?  Because that’s what “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” coupled with that egregious website name, sounds like — a promotion for sex tourism, as has been pointed out on Twitter. Maybe we are in denial here or perhaps the DOT people know something that we don’t. Such as, perhaps more money is being made in sex tourism than tours in Boracay or Sagada?

I understand that the DOT has taken down its porn site and that it’s going to make changes in the new tagline. Fine, although I think that does not erase the fact that Romano and his gang committed a crime here. Romano and his supposedly techie gang cannot use an important industry like tourism as their sandbox for stupid ideas.

I think Romano ought to be punished for this. He should be fired or he should resign and Secretary Alberto Lim should give the job of planning and promotion to someone who is actually good at it, not someone who pretends to be good at it.

I think the DOT should rescind or at least rethink its contract with the advertising agency, reportedly Campaigns & Grey, for the amateurish campaign. I’m pretty sure other agencies can do a better job with a 100-million-peso budget.

Sheesh. How many more faux pas would these amateurs commit before the president realizes how dumb the idea was to appoint people to key government positions just because they joined in the campaign against Arroyo? There’s Ricky Carandang and Edwin Lacierda. Then there’s Mai Mislang. Now this.

Then again, what does this president know, right?