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Philippines' tourism campaign hopes for boost from social media

By Pamela Boykoff, CNN
May 3, 2012 -- Updated 0459 GMT (1259 HKT)
The underground river on the island of Palawan was recently named one of the new 'seven wonders of nature'
The underground river on the island of Palawan was recently named one of the new 'seven wonders of nature'
  • The Philippines attracted around 4 million tourists last year
  • Thailand attracted 19 million visitors during the same period
  • Social media a huge help to promoting the Philippines as holiday destination

Editor's note: CNN International's Eye On series is visiting the Philippines. Read and watch in-depth reports from the country online and on TV until May 14

(CNN) -- The Philippines Department of Tourism has a lot to boast about. The country has beautiful beaches, great scuba diving and a culture that is known for its hospitality. What it doesn't have is a lot of money for a global tourism campaign.

Thankfully, the country's social media mad population is happy to help. In January, the government launched a campaign with the tagline "It's More Fun in the Philippines," openly inviting the country's bloggers, tweeters and Facebook friends to come up with their own ads.

"We just opened another battlefront, which was the social media side and tapping into the fact that there are 27 million Filipinos on Facebook," says campaign creator David Guerrero.

The response was resounding. Within hours #itsmorefuninthephilippines became the number one trending item on Twitter. Facebook pages filled with homemade ads popped up, exclaiming everything from "Social Climbing, More Fun in the Philippines," to "Angry Birds, More Fun in the Philippines."

Philippine tourism's social media boost
Above the treetops in the Philippines

Roland Benzon was one of many Filipinos who seized on the campaign with delight, creating his own Facebook album of ads. Within 24 hours, his work was shared by over 10,000 people.

He says the democratic nature of the campaign inspired him.

"Usually it's top down," he says. "The government does something and we just sit there passively reacting to it and voicing our opinions. Here it wasn't that way. We actually made the ads."

Read more: Why Philippines tourism is a tough sell

The use of crowd-sourcing did mean that not all the ads stuck to the positive messages the government hoped to convey. Ads sprung up with slogans like "Poverty, More Fun in the Philippines," and "Corruption, More Fun in the Philippines."

"There is no way with a genuine people's campaign that you can control everything that people are going to say and everything is going to be the way you'd like it to be," says Guerrero. Still he feels the positive reception for the campaign has overwhelmed the negative.

Tourism numbers to the Philippines are rising, though the country does have a long way to go. Fewer than four million people visited the country last year, compared with 19 million to Thailand and the industry has yet to become a tent pole for the broader economy. However visitor arrivals were up nearly 16% in the first two months of this year.

One of the Philippines' greatest battles in attracting tourists will continue to be its poor infrastructure. Roads and airports across the country are in need of a major upgrade and tourists' complaints range from hassles with dishonest taxi drivers to less than savory toilets.

The current government has said it is committed to upgrading the country's tourism infrastructure, allocating a chuck of money towards the cause in the 2012 budget. Those involved in the travel industry says such government support is necessary if the country wants to fully capitalize on the buzz from its tourism campaign.

After all, it's one thing to promise people "More Fun in the Philippines" but another thing to deliver it.

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