Promoting Philippine Tourism Despite the Stigma

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hi Sole Sisters,

I would like to ask for advice: How can we promote Philippine tourism in a country like Italy, where sadly, Filipinos are commonly known as domestic helpers? What can I do to encourage others to come to the Philippines? Why should they go to our country?


This is my response:

Dear Dannilyn,

Thank you for your message. First, let me share a recent encounter I had while traveling in South Korea. I had been invited by an American couchsurfer, who was teaching English in Korea, to attend a party of expats and locals in a posh, high-rise condo in the heart of Seoul. After a few hours of mingling with people from all over the world, I saw a guy in a shirt that had a map of the Philippines. So I thought of starting a conversation and asked “When was the last time you were in the Philippines?”

With a drink in his hand and without so much as a glance in my direction, he replied, “I just borrowed this shirt from that guy. I’m not some sex tourist!”

I was shocked at first, then appalled, then just downright angry. It took a lot of restraint for me not to walk away or do worse. But I was on vacation in a new country and chose not to take things personally. Then he asked, “Wait- how did you know it was a map of the Philippines?”

“Because it’s my country.”

That sobered him up in seconds. Then and only then did he take a good look at my skin tone, my face and my expression. “Oh I’m so sorry,” he stammered. “Let’s start over. I actually love the Philippines! I’ve been there 5 times and my favorite place is Bantayan Island in Cebu.”

I nearly laughed at his feeble attempt to redeem himself and salvage our conversation. Too little, too late. But I managed to keep a straight face as his verbal diarrhea continued.

“Look, I’m being honest. My favorite Philippine dish is adobo. I even learned how to make it! You put garlic in a pan then mix it with onions. Then you put the meat and what’s that brown- oh soy sauce! Plus a hint of sugar! I love that stuff!”

Chicken Adobo
Photo Credit: fritish

I started to actually feel sorry for the guy. But I couldn’t let him go so easily because of his earlier comment. So I gave him a cold look and said “Let me guess. You learned how to make adobo from a woman named Maria who just so happens to be your cleaning lady and she comes in every other day. Am I right?”

His eyes widened in fear. “Cris- Criselda- that’s her name. But how in the world did you know that?!”

I nearly fell off my seat. I was starting to enjoy this.

He tried to save himself by calling out to a guy who walked past. The shirt owner. “Hey, can you believe it? This girl is from the Philippines!”

Shirt Owner looks at me for a few seconds. “Wow! Imagine that! I was just there a week ago. What are you doing in Korea? What kind of job are you in?”

I decided to play the game a bit longer and replied “I work here. I’m cleaning this place up after your party. So try not to spill your beer, will you?”

Bantayan Lover grimaced while Shirt Owner raised an eyebrow. They would never believe me if I told them the truth: I was traveling in South Korea and only yesterday, I was at a ski resort learning how to snowboard. Albeit, flying on cheap tickets.

Snowboarding in Yong Pyong, South Korea

The Filipino traveler is as anomalous as sand on a snow capped mountain.

So Dannilyn, what was my point in sharing this story? I guess the first thing to do is accept certain truths. There are a lot of Filipino domestic helpers in countries like Italy or South Korea and it’s not something we should be ashamed of. Despite our country’s wonderful culture, amazing landscapes and rich natural resources, some of our countrymen still have to leave and seek greener pastures elsewhere. And sometimes they don’t have a choice in the matter.

But we need not be known only as a source of cheap labor.

And that’s where our part comes in. All of us, especially while traveling or meeting people from other parts of the world, should be ambassadors of the Philippines. Ambassadors in a sense that we have so much pride in our country and want the whole world to know. Think about your hometown, the places of your childhood and tell them what you love. More so, travel around your home country so that you can marvel in its wonders and experience things to be proud of and talk about.

Filipino brothers
Photo Credit: Ted Abbott

And don’t forget to talk about the people. The people whose smiles just tear at your insides because you know they are real. That despite the vast majority of Filipinos subsisting on so little,

We are the happiest, most resilient people we know.

To finish my story, Shirt Owner told me how he had been spending time in the Philippines hanging out with Efren “Bata” Reyes, just one of the world’s best billiard players. We spent the rest of the evening exchanging phrases in Tagalog, talking about the mysteries of lambanog (coconut liquor) and laughing at how the conversation had started.

There was some redemption in the end, after all.

Lastly, I don’t think we can change what the world thinks of us. What we can change, however, is the way we see ourselves and our country. Let’s hold ourselves in such high esteem that the world will have no choice but to take notice and see us Filipinos in a whole different light.

Sole Sister Lois

Here are more answers from our Facebook Page. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and ideas!

Be proud and be passionate about our country! If you are already, I bet everything will follow. I always talk about the Philippines when I meet foreigners for the first time. I ask them if they know our country and if they have visited already. I talk about the local places I have been to and describe it with enthusiasm (because come on, our places are a-ma-zing!). Acknowledge the flaws but highlight the good things of our beautiful country!

Carla from the Philippines

Mt. Pinatubo Puning Hot Springs and Spa
Photo Credit: mayrpamintuan

I think in order for other people to be inspired to visit our country is to show them a good example of how grateful we are to be citizens of our nation and strive to live each day to show that. I've seen many Pinoys who do nothing but complain about our country thus discouraging foreigners to be interested in it. We are from a country of hardworking, courteous and romantic people.

Johna from the Philippines

I stayed in Italy for 2 months and was hosted by an old rich Italian family for a couple weeks. They employ 3 Pinoy (Filipino) household help who have been with them for more than 10 years. I asked them why Pinoys and they said they are the most hard working and trustworthy people. So they would rather employ Filipinos than any other nationalities. They are not JUST domestic helpers because they earn almost as much as teachers in Italy.  And to top it off they can influence the minds of Italian people more than the other immigrants! 

Rafael from the Philippines

Calaguas Island, Philippines
Calaguas Island

I think it should start by giving them an understanding of our culture. So perhaps organize an open house in a place like the Philippine Embassy. There could be art exhibits, film showing, historical lectures etc. Make it an interesting, informative event showcasing Filipinos that exhibit talent in different fields. Also, breaking the stereotype of us being only domestic helpers. Not that there is anything wrong with that, these OFWs contribute a lot to our Philippine Economy so we should be proud of their hard work. Maybe there should be a more direct campaign to honestly bring that to light and give them a different perspective on how their domestic helper (DH) oftentimes have a professional background back home and are well-educated. 

Grace from the Philippines

I recommend highlighting the main career paths of Filipinos outside of the country. One being domestic helper and two being nurses. Both highlight the truest sense of what the Pinoy spirit is about. Hospitality and care. Two things Filipinos are very warm and passionate about. And most importantly naturally very good at so that's why they are employed. Because of trust and knowledge that a house will be looked after, patients' health will be cared for.

Unfortunately though there are cultural reasons why no matter how glorious you make Philippines appear with pictures and videos, some culture will just not like the country. So don't look at this in vain but acknowledge that some people are not as open and as curious to discover beyond personal resumes of a hired help.

Get friends and family to send an occasional postcard through. Google pictures are one thing but a postcard through the letter box will bring it home for them. I am not Pinoy and see how much I love the country and people to write so proudly!

Zak Million from London

Boracay Island, Philippines
Boracay, Philippines

Simply promote the beauty of the Philippines, the many islands, the friendly people, the gorgeous beaches with pictures and ads in Italian. I live in Madrid, with many Philippine domestic workers as well and I have not seen a single ad, ever, in Spanish, with information or pictures about your beautiful country. A huge billboard in Sol, the most central place in Madrid, with beautiful pictures, will be a good start. Millions of people go through that place every month. I think it will be very interesting for people from Madrid to know that there is a place called Legazpi in the Philippines. There is a famous neighborhood in Madrid with its own metro station called Legazpi. For Italy, do something similar, put up ads in major cities like Rome and Milan.

Marinma from Spain

I have been traveling to the Philippines for several years and spent many weeks there. Still barely scratched the surface on tourism because it was always for business. #1 thing that intrigues me was that Lonely Planet cited a survey that people in the Philippines are the happiest on the planet. I'd figure out a way to combine this with the country's natural beauty. Taal volcano and Tagaytay always take my breath away! 

Donna from the USA

taal volcano
Photo Credit: therealbrute
And if those are not enough, here are 10 Reasons Why You Should Travel to the Philippines from a non-Filipino! And a video from the Philippine Department of Tourism to show to your Italian friends:

What are your ideas on how to promote Philippine Tourism despite the stigma? We'd love to hear them! Do share in the comments section below.

Main photo credit:
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  1. Talk about an awkward start of conversation. I agree that Filipinos need to have a change in perspective. I believe that beyond that social stigma, our culture as a friendly and hospitable country will be our biggest asset in promoting our country. I also love the way you wrote it down "All of us, especially while traveling or meeting people from other parts of the world, should be ambassadors of the Philippines.".

  2. I totally agree! We should be ambassadors of our own country.

    I was in a gradeschool class when I visited Germany last September. I just want to share my experience with them. Talk about being proud of our country :-)

  3. @Cez Prieto Awkward didn't even begin to describe the start of our conversation haha.I agree, Filipinos are proud of where they are from. We just don't know how to actively express it yet. Glad that there's social media now and it's much easier to show our Pinoy Pride.

  4. @carlajune What an awesome post and experience! I'm sure those kids will want to visit the Philippines as soon as they can! Thanks so much for sharing this Carlajune and may you continue to be one of the Philippines' finest ambassadors!

  5. Im impressed that you were able to keep your cool at that party. I've gone from being polite, dismissive, defensive, then sarcastic towards the equivalent of the "shirt guys" in my life. you're right though first thing we have to do is to be aware of the truths / facts behind why the impression of the Philippines is so. Then through conversations or everyday situations, I try to show them that there's more to the Philippines than the generalisations. In some ways, I have used those kinds of awkward situations (like the party you were in) , to gauge the people I meet - if they still hold the old, tired, negative ideas of our country, then my impression is that they are not well travelled or don't have a wide variety of social circles as their only exposure to the Philippines and Filipinos are what the stereotype is made of. I really hope this year will see a boost in tourism in the Philippines (not the sex tours kind) with the It's More Fun campaign!

  6. "The Filipino traveler is as anomalous as sand on a snow capped mountain." Spot on Lois! Fellow travelers get interested once they find out I'm Filipino though. Siguro kasi di sila masyadong nakakakilala ng Pinoy na nagbabackpack din. Anyway, anywhere and everywhere, let's just promote how beautiful our country is and how genuinely friendly people are.

  7. Nice story you got there! I think we should all continue promoting our amazing country to the rest of the world in our own simple and yet imaginative way. Tell a hundred people who will each share to a hundred more, so on and so forth, and pretty soon we won't be the only ones saying that it really is more fun in the Philippines. =)

  8. Like you I pity the guy for despite his travels still have a brain the size of a pea. I cannot fathom anyone who would, in the middle of a multicultural gathering, casually insult a nationality. I commend you for keeping your composure! He'll for sure receive some serious lashing from me. Haha. I've been lucky that I've not encountered stupid character like that in my travels.

  9. After hearing the news on this and reading through these inputs, I will forever be grateful of the Philippines as a destination I have to explore and see beyond the borders of my own home. Promoting it is our own responsibility and obligation as a Filipino no matter how other countries' see your unsung heroes.

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