The Moral Challenge of Responsible Tourism

Fr. Shay Cullen
January 3, 2012

The Philippines is spending large amounts of money for a slogan that will summarize a new tourism program to promote the best aspects of the beautiful country and its people. It is not hard to love the Philippines once you visit here. The people in general are courteous, welcoming, friendly and hospitable. There are fantastic landscapes, beaches, islands and natural beauty, great food, improving infrastructure, and low-cost travel. It’s a very affordable tourist destination and safe and secure, away from the southern parts of Mindanao.

But the challenge for the recently appointed Secretary of Tourism, Ramon Jimenez, is to find a way to promote these positive aspects in the midst of many negatives. Some officials naively tell journalists not to publish bad news that will damage the country’s image. The challenge is to change the negative realities that create bad news.

It is difficult to summarize these positive and attractive attributes into one simple slogan that will intrigue and attract the interest of the holiday maker. The public relations companies are being paid fabulous sums of money to come up with a slogan to promote in a word these attractive attributes of the country. It has been suggested that a national competition be held so the people can decide the best slogan. It will help the people think positively about the Philippines as a tourist destination for themselves and others.

This can help change the low self-esteem that some Filipinos have of themselves due to a colonial mentality. They have been convinced that they are inferior to Caucasians whom they wrongly think are superior. It’s time to assert the dignity of the Filipino and a true patriotic spirit through responsible tourism.

A marketing slogan has to be authentic. A slogan such as “Nature’s Glory – The Philippines,” focuses on the natural beauty of the country. Beautiful it is indeed, but it’s a hard sell when the international media and the internet is chockablock with news reports of the environmental damage caused by open pit-mining, coal-fired power plants, deforestation, coral damage, polluted coastal waters, untreated sewerage flows and other environmental man-made disasters. A government and private investors that want a huge tourist industry have to address the environmental threats first.

What needs to be done to win four million tourists is to close down the sex tourism industry and promote genuine dignified tourism where the true friendly nature of the people is not linked to sex bars and trafficked persons. “The Philippines – Friendly Faces, Warmest Hearts” will then be authentic invitations and not empty marketing tag-lines. The tourism industry must realize that the future is in a morally clean authentic tourism where the tourist can meet the real people and have a life-changing experience.

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.