Why WOW PHILIPPINES needs to change

I have been reading articles and blogs of people who are against DOT’s new campaign.  I, actually, support their idea of change.  * I, however, am against  the new-now-defunct slogan because it lacked originality and study.

Just to answer people’s questions on the WHYs – I wrote a Academic paper two years ago why WOW Philippines campaign needs a revamp. I hope this enlightens people who doesn’t believe a new image is good.

Wow-woooing tourists

Communication Issues

Final Paper

“Wow” is a common expression of the English language that shows surprise, admiration, wonder or pleasure. According to the English Oxford dictionary, wow was first seen in a book published in 1513 by DOUGLAS ÆNEIS VI. Prol. 19  with a statement saying: “Out on thir wanderand spiritis, wow! thow cryis.”  Because of the word expresses mainly awe, the Philippine Department of Tourism used the its expression for its slogan campaign called “Wow! Philippines.”

Promoting a country depends on the image the government wants to reflect. For instance, when we speak of countries such as France, we immediately know it’s a fashion hub, Japan as the electronic city, and the U.S. as the “super-size me” in food service.  Countries have taken a big leap in branding as it is essential to lure-in tourists.  And the important trend in tourism nowadays, often in competing interests to catch foreigners’ attention, is the use of slogans.

Efforts of promoting RP

Philippines has 7,100 islands, and foreigners are mainly attracted to our beaches.

The  “WOW! Philippines” tag was coined during Senator Richard Gordon’s term as Tourism secretary from January 2001 to 2004. The advertisement campaign video entitled “More than Usual” won the “Best International Video Advertising” award during the Internationale Tourismus Borse (ITB) in Berlin in 2003.  After Sec. Gordon’s term, his successors, Sec. Roberto M. Pagdanganan and Sec. Ace  Durano, have adopted the  slogan.

From 2001, the number of foreign tourists’ arrival dropped in the country even with the start of the “Wow! Philippines” campaign.  The drop stemmed from the emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) threat, as well as the travel advisory on Philippines when news broke-out on Abu Sayyaf kidnapping about 20 people, including foreigners, from Dos Palmas resort in Palawan.

The arrival of tourists improved in 2004, hitting the 2 million mark after four years. In 2005, tourists’ arrival reached 2.66 million. In 2006, an estimated 2.8 million tourists arrived. In 2007, foreign visitors in the country reached 3 million, with expenditures of US$ 4.89 billion.

In 2009, 5.22 million travelers  visited RP, overpassing the five million mark, a growth of 16.7% compared to 2008.

The top three foreign visitors in our country are South Koreans, Americans and Japanese.  There is still a niche in the European market especially its scuba diving enthusiasts.  In France alone, there are an estimated 50,000 scuba divers.  Most Europeans say that many of them have heard of Philippines, however, most were unaware of what the country offers.  Based on a survey made, most of the tourists in Boracay have not heard of “Wow! Philippines.”  Their visit to the island came from recommendations from friends or a travel agent.

According to surveys, many Koreans like coming to the Philippines because they enjoy Philippine hospitality. Their hosts also assure them that they will be met and taken care of by Korean speaking guides. Apart from this, most hotels and many restaurants provide Korean food, alcoholic beverages and Korean entertainment at night. Americans go to Philippines mainly because of the beaches while Japanese goes here to play golf.

Patrick, an American tourist says that he has never heard of the Wow! Philippines campaign.  “I heard of Boracay through friends.  Everyone knows Bora,” he says.

In 2006, arrivals from the United States were up 7.4 per cent to 567,355 while visitors from Japan increased 1.5 per cent to 421,808 and arrivals from China soared 24.3 per cent to 133,585. Other top origins of foreign tourists in the country were Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and Germany

DOT is currently strengthening the country’s promotion in Europe. In London, DOT launched the Taxi campaign in 2006 where a fleet of the famous black cabs display images of Philippine destinations.  This strategy proved to be successful and cost-effective on tourism measures ever undertaken by the Philippine government abroad, resulting to figures that show an increase in tourist arrivals in the Philippines from the United Kingdom, Ireland and other European countries.

For British tourist Andy Andrea, he has heard of Wow! Philippines.  “I have heard of Boracay before, I may have known about it through the ‘Wow! Philippines’ website…  I’m not sure.”

Elements of branding a country

Branding a country aims to lure-in tourists which results also to economic growth.  Using a slogan to brand the country as a main tourism destination should target a wide variety of people from different places.  The slogan should entice visitors by showing the uniqueness of what the country offers.

According to a report of www.brandchannel.com, Magne Supphellen, a professor at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, says “In principle, [product] and place branding is the same. It’s all about identifying, developing and communicating the parts of the identity that are favorable to some specified target groups.…”

Philip Kotler, a professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, acknowledges companies are free to make modifications in response to consumer demand. Countries, however, may be more limited in altering their place brands. Obviously a country can’t replace its beaches with mountains, or grow bananas if its climate favors snow.

The country should choose its main objective in luring-in tourists and focus on which tourism area they want to advertise.   There are common terms often heard these days when it comes to travel.  These terms are “Eco-Tourism”, “Adventure Travel” and “Cultural Tourism” to name a few.

Eco-tourism means a responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.  Adventure Travel would mean unusual experience including some level of “risk and uncertainty”  often times some unconventional means of transport  like riding the human carriage in China, or using a raft as transport to see Pagsanjan falls.

For Cultural tourism, it aims to interact, observe, and learn unique cultures to broaden ones perspective.  Predominantly found in Thailand, monks walk about in their traditional clothes and would perform prayer rituals.

According to Professor Nicolas Papadopoulos of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, governments should consult their citizens when putting together national branding campaigns. He pointed out that “widespread buy-in by the population is a critical precondition of the success of any branding program.… To deliver, everyone in the ‘organization’ must believe in the brand.” Papadopoulos also foresees “a lot of soul-searching” as nations attempt to come to grips with their national images. By soliciting the trust of consumers, it is essential that country branding should behave transparently and accountably, in order to maintain credible reputations.

Competing with Asian neighbors

Competition has become intense in Southeast Asia. Branding of regional destinations like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and even India has intensified by aggressively positioning themselves in niche markets like medical tourism, long stay and retirement programs.

In Malaysia, industry sources said that Tourism Malaysia has allocated US$ 150 million for advertising of “Malaysia, Truly Asia” promotions, including overhead costs.  Another separate budget of US$31 million will also be given to promote Visit Malaysia Year. In 2006, they had 17.5 million tourists arrival in their country.

The Singapore Tourism Board has been driven by strong initiatives by making their country a powerful tourism hub for drawing visitors and businesses across the world.  It has upgraded its online services, making the campaign website more interactive and user-friendly.  The number of tourists visiting Singapore in 2006 reached a record number of 9.7 million as compared to 8.9 million in 2005.  Visitors spent an estimated US $ 12.4 billion compared to 10.8 billion in 2005, resulting in a 14% increase the next year.  The country also used a strategy of providing tourists the Singapore Tourist Pass, where foreign visitors can have an unlimited number of bus rides within the city.

Singapore also believes in updating their slogan which is essential for a fresher view point on their country.  In 1996, their campaign was known as “Smile Singapore.” In 2003, the slogan changed to  “Make it Singapore.” In 2006, the slogan launched “Uniquely Singapore” whose campaign strategy involves tying up with Discovery Channel to promote their 45-minute advertisement.  Recently, a television commercial put on a new slogan which says “Sincerely Singapore”. Perhaps, the tourism board is experimenting on a newer brand which corresponds to signing a letter.

By comparison, Thailand accommodates approximately 5 million tourists per year. Thailand’s Tourism Authority has an industry that earns US $ 257 million before the tsunami happened.  After the disaster, the government has allocated US$ 110 million to restore tourist confidence. From the tag of “Land of Smiles”, Thailand adopted in 2007 the campaign tag of “Amazing, Thailand.”

Having an average of 5 million foreign tourists previously arriving yearly with visit duration of 9-12 days, Indonesia gains US$ 4.6 billion of foreign exchange income annually. Most of its visitors come from Asia Pacific region, with Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Japan and South Korea among the top five markets. United Kingdom, France Germany and the Netherlands are the largest sources of European visitors seeking the tropical weather at the beaches in Bali.

The campaign slogan, inaugurated by Indonesian Tourism Minister Jero Wacik in December 2007 aims to revive its flagging tourism industry which recorded a drop of 2.3 percent, or about four million foreign tourist arrivals, in 2006. The drop is due to the tsunami disaster, bird flu scare and government’s security issues.

Grammar critics, however, pointed out that the Indonesia’s new tourism tagline, “Celebrating 100 years of Nation’s Awakening,” should instead read “national” or be preceded by a definite article. The campaign was aborted at the start of 2008

According to www.diplomatic.com, Philippines’ tourism budget in 2004 is only US$600,000, compared to the millions spent by countries like Thailand and Malaysia, the country has a modest amount allocated for marketing.

According to the Philippine Convention Visitors Corporation, a marketing arm of the Department of Tourism,  non-English speaking overseas market is  not familiar with the expression “WOW!” thus, the country’s slogan defeats the purpose of brand recall.

Japan is the only market which does not adopt the “Wow! Philippines” campaign.  In 2005, DOT’s  team japan, did the “Koko doko?” (where is this?) campaign which changed to the “Firipin wa karada nii” (wellness from the inside out) in 2006.  They are currently using this campaign.

DOT’s Team Korea has adopted the “Wow! Philippines” slogan in their campaign but recently created another slogan which Koreans are more likely to identify. They are using “More than you can imagine” slogan.

Since the slogan kicked-off in 2001, the government has no plans of changing it mainly because it has established its brand recall already.  However, DOT is adding “sub-slogans” to add value to the already recognized “Wow! Philippines” campaign.

According to Japanese tourists Atski  and Natsko, they have never heard of the “Wow! Philippines” campaign.  “We have heard of Boracay through a travel agency,” said Atski.


The country’s citizens play an important role in building a successful nation branding campaign. Just as corporate branding campaigns can raise the morale, team spirit, and sense of purpose of a company’s employees, national branding campaigns can provide a country with a common sense of purpose and national pride.

The “Wow! Philippines” campaign has been in use for the past eight years.  However, based from this report, the slogan may have been successful in the early years but there is also a lack of brand recall at present.  Thus, there is a need for a fresher slogan.  What may have worked years ago should have catered to the market at the time.  People can take for granted what is common. Trends change, and it’s best to ride along with it…..

* Recommendation omitted by author due to privacy.


2 responses to “Why WOW PHILIPPINES needs to change

  1. Ms Imee,

    Hi, I’d love to read the full content of your academic paper if you permit to give me a copy. I study tourism in UP and I’m really interested in broadening my perspective on the PH’s destination branding.

    My email is paolo.abellanosa@gmail.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s