Open Sky Won’t Solve RP Tourism Woes

by Rodel Rodis
December 3, 2010
Philippine Tourism Secre tary Alberto Lim dodged the bullet last week when his undersecretary, Vicente Romano, gallantly accepted full responsibility for the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” fiasco and resigned, absolving his boss of any blame.  
But Secretary Lim knew of this gimmick for at least three months before unveiling it to the world in a flashy reception at the Mall of Asia on November 15 with no less than Vice President Jojo Binay as the special guest. Lim cited Kay Ganda as “the centerpiece of our tourism promotional programs and advertising campaigns in the years to come. It is in keeping up with the President’s philosophy of public-private partnership.”  
The Department of Tourism reportedly spent P4M on the Kay Ganda promotion but the brand was universally panned with critics pointing to the plagiarism of the Poland logo and to the confusion of its website with a porno site. Within a day, the website was shut down and within a week, the brand which Lim hailed as “reflective of the optimism being represented by the new administration” was canned. It was back to square one.
But not back to “WOW Philippines” which Lim rejected because he believed the country needed a new gimmick that was “more daring in expressing our brand, if we are to rise above the clutter.”
“Wow Philippines’ is an eight-year-old brand, and you have to refresh it. It was successful for a while. During the time of (GMA Tourism Sec. Ace) Durano it became diffused. It worked in some areas, not across the board, and not consistently,” Lim said.
In the draft of his book about former Secretary of Tourism Richard Gordon, columnist Butch Dalisay described the time when Gordon came up with ‘WOW Philippines’ to compete with ‘Malaysia, Truly,’ ‘Incredible India,’ and ‘Amazing Thailand’:
“Gordon wanted the country to have a nickname that was both grand and happy….But again, and typically, ‘Nobody liked “WOW Philippines” at first,’ recalls Rosvi Gaetos. It seemed too flat, too plain, and dead in the water at least, until Gordon began walking them through its possibilities. ‘WOW’ could mean a plethora of things, beyond a simple exclamation: Wealth of Wonders, Wear Our Wares, Warm Over Winter, Wacko Over Wildlife, Watch Our Whales, Walk Our Walls, Walls of Worship, Women of Wonder, etc. The variations were endless. The idea caught on.”
Gordon succeeded in obtaining an additional P200M pesos added to his budget of P800M for a total of P1B pesos (about $22M), which was still a fraction of the tourism budgets of Malaysia and Thailand, to sell WOW Philippines to the world.
According to Wikipedia, in 2000, Philippine tourist arrivals reached 2.2M, up from 1M in 1980. In 2003 it increased to 2.8M and grew to 3.4 million in 2007.
With a budget of only P100M pesos ($2.5M) with which to “turn things around”, Lim set the more modest goal of attracting 3.5M tourists to the Philippines this year, 3.6M in 2011 and in 5 years to reach 6 million tourists.
For Secretary Lim, the key to attaining this goal with limited resources is by adopting Open Sky civil aviation policy reform which he believes is what boosted tourist arrivals in Bali, Indonesia.
When I interviewed Secretary Lim at his office in Manila on September 3, he elaborated on the Bali example by pointing out that the Indonesian government had built massive roads in Bali to attract tourists but tourists did not start pouring in until Bali adopted an open sky policy. Bali last year attracted 5.75 million foreign and domestic tourists, which is almost twice the island’s population of 3.9 million.
Pres. Aquino supports Lim’s open sky advocacy and declared it to be the government’s policy in a speech before the Public Private Partnership and Infrastructure Conference on November 17. “Our national development requires promoting an open and competitive international aviation sector that enables Philippine and foreign air carriers to expand their operations, maintain a strong Philippine-based aviation industry, and ensure international connectivity in order to allow Philippine and foreign air carriers to plan and make long-term investments in the Philippine market,” he said.
In December 2008, the Philippines signed an agreement with the nine other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to implement the ASEAN Open Sky Policy in 2015 allowing airlines in the region to fly freely, carrying passengers and goods without restrictions.
Since Bali is the favored Open Sky example of Secretary Lim, it may be instructive for him to learn that in an article which appeared in the Jakarta Post on Sept. 7, 2010, Indonesians openly expressed doubts about whether their country was ready to implement the policy.
According to aviation expert Dudi Sudibyo, Indonesia still has to improve its infrastructure and deal with airport management issues. “The Open Sky Policy is imminent but our airports are still facing many unnecessary problems like blackouts and radar failures. We are not ready for this agreement. Now we have to work hard on our airports, otherwise, aviation players will look down on Indonesia,” he said.
Another aviation observer, Alvin Lie, told the Jakarta Post that there are five international airport standards that had to be reviewed: comfort for passengers, infrastructure and service for the airlines, navigation services, safety and security.  “Sadly, we are still lacking in all these standards. Airports in Indonesia are crowded, failing to give comfortable service for travelers visiting the airports,” he said.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila has 3 terminals serving 38 airline carriers with just 2 airport runways, a primary one that is 3,737 meters long and a secondary one that measures 2,258 meters. About 40 planes take off every two hours at NAIA, with some spaced at 18 second intervals at its highest point.
When a Boeing 747 lands at NAIA carrying over 400 passengers, this means at least 800 passengers would be at the airport for that plane, the other 400 being those that would leave within the hour when it takes off. When you add all the passengers arriving and departing and all the vehicles that carry them to and from the airport, you can appreciate the heavy congestion that tourists experience when they visit Manila. And that’s just at the current level of 3M tourists a year. Imagine the scene at the airport in 2016 when Lim projects foreign tourists will reach the 6M level.
Can the Philippines handle the massive influx of new tourists promised by Open Sky? The answer can be found in the very example used by Sec. Lim when he cited Bali. He said the Indonesian government built the infrastructure to the airport but he wrongly concluded that it did no good until Bali adopted an Open Sky policy. 
The Open Sky policy worked in Bali precisely because the Indonesian government invested in infrastructure to accommodate future tourist arrivals. Without the massive infrastructure improvement, Bali’s Open Sky policy would have flopped.
Coming up with a new slogan like “Fiesta Filipinas!” or “Naturally, the Philippines” to replace “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” or adopting Open Sky won’t attract more tourists. The problems are much deeper and more complex.
(Send comments to or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).