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Reinventing RP for the Taiwan tourist
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Ronald S. Lim
Date: 2008-01-05
Several years back, the Philippines — or at least its airwaves — was under Taiwanese rule.

Under the reign of Taiwanese pop group F4, it seemed like Filipinos were still discovering the existence of Taiwan, despite the fact that the two share a colonial past and are practically next-door neighbors.

The Department of Tourism (DoT) wants something similar to happen with Taiwanese tourists. In much the same way that Filipinos "discovered" Taiwan a few years back, DOT wants the Taiwanese tourist — from Kaoshiung all the way up north to Taipei — to "discover" our country’s 7,107 islands and all the wonders that it has to offer.

Wooing back Taiwan

The Department is pushing for this agenda in a big way. Last month, the DOT embarked on a weeklong sales blitz to promote the country to local travel agents from Kaoshiung, Taichung, and Taipei.

The DoT also participated in the 15-year- old Taipei International Travel Fair. The four-day event which gathered 861 tourism companies and leading travel organizations from 62 countries, showcased the best attractions, vacation destinations across the globe and a variety of travel packages.

"Taiwan is an important tourism market because it has always been an old partner ever since," says Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions Eduardo Jarque "Taiwan and Hong Kong have always been the markets that we can count on. Japan only started 20 years ago and Korea is a brand new thing."

The visitor figures certainly underscore Taiwan’s contribution to the Philippine’s robust tourism industry. Even with just 85,551 visitors last year and a negative 2.2 percent growth, Taiwan still ranked as the top five market for the country from January to September of 2007.

However, Jarque says that while the slump in tourist arrivals isn’t restricted to the Philippines, the DoT should take this as a sign to step up marketing efforts in Taiwan.

"We’re not the only one in this predicament. For example, Singapore also has negative growth as well as Thailand," he says. "But Taiwan is our closest neighbor. A flight from Manila to Kaoshiung takes one and a half hours. A flight to Davao takes two. This shows how close Taiwan is to us."

Flights from Taiwan to the Philippines are no problem either, as both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have flights from Taipei to Manila seven times a week. Just last month, Cebu Pacific introduced flights from Taipei to Cebu four times a week.

But in a way, Taiwan’s close proximity to the Philippines has proved to be a double-edged sword. The Philippines’ accessibility ensures a steady stream of Taiwanese tourists visiting our shores, but has also bred an overfamiliarity among Taiwanese tourists, especially the ones from the capital city of Taipei.

"The main complaint now is new products," explains Jarque. "Most of the Taiwanese have been to the Philippines more than once in the past so what has to be done now is to show them the new things that the country has to offer."

At the Taipei International Travel Fair, the DoT pulled out all the stops to showcase everything the Philippines has to offer. With Pahiyas decorations adorning the country’s circular booth and Masskara masks for the people, drawing crowds wasn’t difficult. A Taiwanese model tapped as celebrity endorser for the Philippines was even on hand to autograph a book she wrote about her week spent in Boracay. Meanwhile, DoT private partners including El Nido Resorts and Waterfront Hotels enticed potential customers with its travel packages.

Two-pronged strategy

All of this is part and parcel of the information drive the DoT is conducting in Taiwan. The strategy is going to be two–pronged to cater to two types of Taiwanese tourists.

"For our marketing strategy, we just need to divide Taiwan into two categories. In Taipei, they know the Philippines and have been frequent visitors. So they are searching for new destinations and new products to try. We will promote to them alternative places to visit like Palawan or Davao," he explains.

"But for the tourists in Taichung and Kaoshiung, it seems like we’re a new country to discover," Jarque continues.

He said the DOT will organize a lot of familiarization trips for tour operators in Kaoshiung and Taichung this year to do the job.

"There’s nothing like it," Jarque continues. "We’ve tried it in other countries and it works. If tour operators like the product we’re offering, they’ll sell it. We just need to let them know about it and capitalize on the fact that we are Taiwan’s closest neighbor," says Jarque.

New offerings

And new products are something that the country certainly isn’t lacking. There is the hop-on, hop-off tour vans similar to ones used in Singapore and other European coutnries. These convenient modes of transport take tourists on a tour of the city and can stop along the way at any place they like. The newly-opened Nayong Pilipino in Clark, Pampanga also offers a speedy alternative for those who want to have a taste of the many sights of the country but do not have the time to visit every island.

The DoT is also looking at specific niches that they can exploit when it comes to the Taipei tourist, such as scuba-diving and adventure tourism.

Educational tourism

To pique the interest of locals, the DoT is also looking at an education-slanted package based on a similar strategy used for the Koreans.

"The English as a Second Language industry is a revelation," remarks Jarque. "It’s something about the Taiwanese tourist that hit us right out of the blue. We’re looking at educational tourism as a potential service that we can grow. We plan to join travel education fairs and bring in representatives from our institutions."

Jarque is confident that all these measures along with the addition of more hotel rooms across the country and greater accessibility of inter-island destinations, will result in the rise in Taiwanese arrivals. For this year, the DOT is targeting some 130,000 tourists from Taiwan.

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