Thursday, May 25, 2006

Promoting Iloilo City to the World

Local government and tourism officials are forever searching for ways to promote Iloilo City to investors and tourists. But while Aklan has Boracay, Palawan its El Nido, Albay its Mt. Mayon, and the Cordillera Region its Rice Terraces, Iloilo City sadly has no natural wonder to catch the attention of tourists. It has the Dinagyang Festival and the Paraw Regatta but both are seasonal, once-a-year events.

While vacationing in Boracay last January, I chanced upon a group of young Englishmen in one of the bars at Station 2. I was playing pool with a couple of my cousins when one of them approached our group to ask if they could play with us. At first, we played for fun and the pool match was punctuated with much laughter and tomfoolery (a British word) on their part. But eventually, we started playing for money. A best of 15, winner-take-all match. After 15 sets, the final score was: Philippines – 13, England – 2. We made money that night.

In between sets and glasses of beer, I would chat with some of them to find out more about their backgrounds and about life in England in general. It turns out that they are surfers, all 8 of them, and that they just came from La Union where apparently there are good surf sites. They heard about Boracay thru word of mouth - another group of surfers (Australians I think) who were also in La Union at that time told them about Boracay. Their group decided to check it out for themselves. Needless to say, they found Boracay a paradise and several promised to come back.

When I told them that I was from Iloilo City, I was met with blank stares. They have entirely no clue where it is. I tried explaining that Iloilo is in Panay but they also did not know where Panay is. Then it dawned on me: they did not have a faintest idea of Philippine geography. I then tried a different tack. I told them about their compatriot, Nicholas Loney, and how he “founded” Iloilo City by modernizing the local sugar industry. All their eyes lit up with patriotic pride. In the end, a couple of them even promised to visit Iloilo City.

I don’t know if they eventually made good their promise but that chance encounter with the group of British surfers pretty much gave me an insight on how Westerners think. It also gave me this idea: why not use Nicholas Loney, a westerner, as a visual peg to promote Iloilo City? Similar to what Singaporeans did during their early years as a fledgling island-state. They used a westerner, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (who founded Singapore to serve as a port for British ships in Asia) as their peg to promote their city-state as an investor-friendly haven to Western capitalists in Asia. And they succeeded despite the fact that Singapore has absolutely no natural resources (it even imports water from Malaysia). What it only had was its people. Singapore today is one of the most prosperous countries in Asia and is a favored destination of investors and tourists all over the world.

Nicholas Loney could be the city’s “image model” abroad; a familiar white face conveying a message that Iloilo City is a viable, investor-friendly destination for Western capitalists and a charming place to visit. Loney could be to Iloilo City what Raffles was to Singapore.

The adage “if you will build it, they will come” is no longer true. It is not enough to build a product. One also has to promote the product, be it thru advertising or thru word of mouth. It is not enough that food, health care and education are cheap, the road network and transportation system are excellent, and that the over-all quality of life in Iloilo City is okay. To attract tourists and investors, we actually have to find a way to communicate this to the world, be it thru advertising or word of mouth.

The Koreans discovered this not too long ago and are now flocking to Iloilo City by the hundreds. As I am not aware of any government promotions program specifically attracting Koreans, it is most likely that they learned about Iloilo City thru word of mouth. Undoubtedly, their arrival has been a boon to the local economy. If business is good now, imagine what would happen if we can multiply four times the number of tourist arrivals to the city.

One derives comfort from the fact that Iloilo City once was a cosmopolitan and very progressive city. Businessmen from all over the world migrated to Iloilo City to partake of the wealth generated by the then lucrative sugar trade. Since it had happened before, I do not see any reason why it cannot happen again.


Jay Tan said...

Dude, you know what, i think you hit the nail right on the head. Why not? we could try that. Its really possible that we can ride on Loney's deeds in promoting Iloilo. Also, one more thing, with regard to the koreans, they came to iloilo to study english right? Well, guess what, i read in the newspaper, sometime ago (i forgot the date though) that Chile in South America has embarked on a bilingual program, meaning, it has set a goal to become a bilingual nation by year 2020. The Chilean Government plans to make Chileans capable of speaking both in Spanish and English. What if the local government goes there and promote our already proven capacity in teaching english? i am sure we can handle the Chileans, after all, they speak Spanish, they used to be colonized by Spain and we Filipinos used to be colonized by Spain too. What is good is that Chile is also a Roman Catholic nation just like ours. Obviously, we can be comfortable with the chileans. Besides, they can save a lot, lot more in education than in the US or Canada because after all, prices here are lower. Unfortunately however, the local government seems intent on only beautifying the city...I strongly believe that it should be the private sector which should seize the initiative.

Iloilo City Boy said...

Our local English teachers, as it is, are being pirated by the Americans. I see many newspaper ads recruiting teachers to the US and I doubt if we can even meet the demand for English teachers in the U.S.let alone that of Chile. But yes, we can promote Iloilo as a pleasant city where you can learn English very cheap. Probably the DTI should assist in this venture.

Jay Tan said...

Well, i wasnt exactly referring to english teachers. Im referring to one-on-one those people teaching the koreans. I think its a bad thing for our tutors to be korean-centric, it is prone to abuse, as it is indeed. Why not bring over the Chileans over there in iloilo? Im sure they can act as a counterbalance to the korean influence there in iloilo. From what i heard, there are just so many koreans there that it seems iloilo has become a korean city. Asking the DTI to help is a good idea but then, there is the problem with the bureaucracy. Perhaps the private sector, specifcally the language centers there that are TRULY owned by filipinos should look this up. I think our language centers should not rely on koreans alone...or even japanese for that matter, the trend is, these markets are reaching their saturation points (reference: online articles of the korea times regarding the rise of english usage in korea). What if we market the city to other countries that have bilingual programs? Italy for one is known for that. So does Spain. We must counterbalance the influence of the koreans in Iloilo city. Their presence is just, just too much.

braggito said...

The only loney I can think of is the Muelle Loney, full of rats, dilapidated buildings, stinking sewage.