It was my first time to meet Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Assistant Secretary and Official Spokesperson Frederick Alegre and the first thing I noticed was his fondness of the color white.
From his office interiors, to the person himself who rocks the George Clooney-look with his silver crown, customized short sleeve polo shirt with a simple Philippine-inspired embroidery—everything was white. Philippine indigenous displays, paintings and other artifacts which he acquired from his numerous domestic travels, adorn the otherwise plain white background of his office.
More than goodness and innocence, which are often associated with white, the color also represents brilliance and understanding—two characteristics the man himself possesses.
During his photo shoot for Balikbayan Magazine, Alegre went beyond aesthetics when he nonchalantly talked about Philippine culture. As an example, he explained that Ifugao houses have stilts to avoid field rats from invading their houses in upland fields.
Balikbayan Magazine sat with Alegre to discuss things about him—both personal and professional—from his leadership style, updates on what DOT is up to and more.
Participative Kind Of Leadership
As the head of the Communications Office of the Tourism Department, he emphasizes the need for participative governance, which through the use of today’s technology, can now be executed with ease.
“I give directions, but when we decide, we decide as a team. There are some things that you have to decide right away but with today’s technology, it’s easy to get approval, get feedback, get reactions, before you can make a decision,” Alegre explained.
He then recounted how tedious it was to practice participative governance then, saying, “it’s different nowadays, because in the past, we convene, call a meeting. Now you can meet on Viber, so we’re easily able to react to issues that are raised or questions that are being asked.”
“How fast you get back to media is the essence of Public Affairs and Communications Office,” Alegre added.
What’s a typical day like for him?
“I get radio interviews as early as 5am. Usually a day starts early. Then throughout the day, I have interviews from media, especially now that tourism is a very vibrant industry,” Alegre explained.
Alegre said DOT is expecting to meet 7 million international visitor arrivals for 2017, citing the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) for 2016-2022. 76.3 million domestic tourists are also expected, which would yield P473 billion and P2.13 trillion, respectively. Contribution to employment is expected to be approximately 5.6 million or 13.4 percent share of total employment.
From January to July 2017, inbound tourist traffic reached 3.92 million, registering a 10.92 percent increase over last year’s 3.53 million for the same period.
Attaining Sustainable Growth Through Tourism
DOT is in charge of mandating and overseeing proper development and promotion of tourism in the country. Tourism can only be sustainable if it properly integrates with other sectors’ development plans. Alegre explained that successful management and promotion comes with the help of other government agencies, the private sector and the host communities.
“Convergence is key in many facets of tourism such as in environmental preservation, safety and security, health and wellness, transportation, business development, education and training, labor standards and management, and destination and product development,” Alegre said.
On top of these efforts to sustain tourism projects, Alegre also emphasized the vital role of local government units (LGUs).
“Apart from collaborative effort to optimize limited budgets, LGUs play very important roles in prioritizing this activity and sustaining it as an effective economic and social development tool towards inclusive growth,” he explained.
DOT’s Newest Undertaking: Bring Home A friend
More of a revival, Bring Home a Friend (BHAF) is the brainchild of then Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor. BHAF is a rewards program aimed at raising tourist arrivals by encouraging Filipinos living here or abroad or expatriates (as sponsor) living to invite friends (invitee) to the Philippines. By joining, both the “sponsor” and the “invitee” will get a chance to win fabulous prizes.
However, he also revealed receiving comments that describe the program as somewhat a desperate move.
“Some people have told me it should come natural for us to identify l. But i said okay, I know that we should no longer have an incentive but there’s nothing like a good raffle prize and the beauty about bringing home a friend,” Alegre retorted.
He added that through this promo, anybody can be a part of tourism industry because “the multiplying effect of Bring Home a Friend [program] is limitless and we know that there is so much interest to come to the Philippines. What better way to do it now that you have an incentive to win a condo, to win a car, shopping GC from Duty Free. And the one that you invite have a chance to win a trip to El Nido, JPark [Resort] in Cebu and Pearl Farm in Davao.”
“It’s timely that we launch Bring Home A Friend part 2. The Sec. [Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo] was clear when she said there are millions of Filipinos abroad. Each one of us, even here in the Philippines can become a tourism ambassador by merely asking friends to come visit us. So, by a stroke of a promo like this, everybody now becomes a part of the tourism industry because if I ask you how many friends do you have in FB? How many of your friends live abroad? If every Filipino invites one friend, I don’t know how we will accommodate a hundred million people” Alegre further said.
Tourism Budget Increase
The Philippine tourism budget is ten times smaller compared to its Asian neighbors. This was a somber reality enough to push for a tourism budget increase in 2018. The House committee on appropriations agreed to increase marketing funds to P1 billion for next year.
After the approval, the DOT plans to go all-out in their promotional activities. Alegre explained that the increase “would most certainly be spent on strengthening the brand through the conduct of marketing studies; mounting international activities to sustain, stabilize as well as develop markets; travel and consumer fairs; sales missions; traditional and digital advertising; media and travel agency familiarization tours should be sustained. Boosting social media presence and brochure support for partner travel trade should also be given attention,” Alegre said.
Tourism is a major player in the government as it contributes an equivalent of more than eight percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product. In order to increase this contribution, Alegre explained two major priorities—legislative support and strengthening of convergence projects
“First of all, the legislative needs to be convinced of the important contribution of tourism to the economy. Only then can DOT and its attached agencies be justified in raising their respective budgets, “ Alegre emphasized.
“Secondly, the convergence projects need to be strengthened and implemented on time so that succeeding projects are able to take off. Oftentimes, leakages as well as delays in procurement are impediments to pursuing timely improvements necessary for the industry’s full growth potential,” he added.
Philippines To Stage Golf Tourism
“We want to aggressively promote golf tourism, not only because we have beautiful courses here but we have a country that you can play at for 365 days a year,” he explained.
This will be the first time DOT will “aggressively” promote golf tourism. With the weather, Alegre is confident that anyone can enjoy playing golf all throughout the year. He added that private golf, which consists the bulk of golf courses type in the country, are now “relaxing their rules,” to attract golfers, not only from the country, but also international golf enthusiasts.
“The private golf courses, most of the golf courses here are private, have agreed to open up around four years to play—not only for membership,” Alegre explained.
Why golf tourism?
“It’s a form of exercise and there’s a competitive spirit that goes with it. Plus, when you’re in a golf course, you see how nature is preserved, so there’s an environmental aspect to it that the golfers enjoy. You get to walk, fresh wind, flowers, the grass,” Alegre, himself a golf enthusiast, said.
Exciting Events In 2018
Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM), the first and only Asian edition of Madrid Fusión and described as the most important gastronomy event in the world, will resume its fourth run in April 2018.
The World’s Strongest Man, a strongman competition for super-human athletes who “continually push the human body past the limits we thought it had,” is scouting a suitable venue for its program in the country. It will again hold its Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in Cebu while a special edition “Century Tuna” Ironman will be held in Subic.
Meanwhile, “The Bachelor”, an American reality television dating game show, will shoot its final episode in the country, and a Sports Illustrated Magazine cover shoot are some other exciting activities expected to put the spotlight on the Philippines.
Good News From DOT’s Recent Trips Abroad
In September, a team from DOT visited Japan for the Tour Expo Japan aimed at improving inbound tourism from Japan where they held talks with travel agencies as well as bilateral meetings with the Transportation Ministry.
They also went to Spain to attend the World Routes Forum 2017, whose objective is to attract international airlines to fly to the Philippines. Cebu has been chosen to host Routes Asia in 2019.
In Paris, France, the DOT was present during the International French Travel Market Top RESA with the aim of increasing arrivals from France and gain interest from various tour wholesalers to mount groups to Philippines.
In Cannes, France, the group attended the 2017 Duty Free & Travel Retail Global Summit to prop up Duty Free Philippines (DFP) shops and seek interest of luxury brands to have their products sold in DFP.
During our discussion, Alegre recounted how life led him towards putting the Philippine tourism at the pedestal.
The DOT spokesperson, who started his journalism career at the age of 24, shared his vast background in media and journalism before entering into public service.
He remembers his experience as a young journalist, which enabled him to travel the world—an edifying experience that he considers as what brought him to where he is now.
“It brought me to places. I always tell to people there’s nothing like the wealth of travel, especially in molding people. This is true most especially in the case of the Philippines where it’s a developing country, you must see what the best practices are part of the world that allows you to understand why they are developing and why we’re still underdeveloped, “ Alegre narrated.
“There’s nothing like [the] educational and cultural learning [you gain] from travel. ”
Fast forward 2016, Alegre was appointed to the position in September, which coincided with his 30th year anniversary working in the media industry.
Earlier this year, Alegre was at the forefront, along with DOT Secretary Teo to defend their otherwise embattled Department when it hogged the headlines and faced two consecutive issues.
First was when DOT drew flak for being “excited” over the proposed underwater theme park in Palawan. An online campaign, addressed to the local government of Palawan, Nickelodeon (Viacom International Media Networks), and Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Inc, was initiated to oppose the proposed underwater project. The complainants asked the companies to “junk their plan to build a 400-hectare underwater theme park in Coron, Palawan.” The project did not push through.
Second was about the supposed DOT’s new tourism campaign entitled “Sights”, which was pulled out due to plagiarism accusations. This led to DOT canceling the agency’s P650-M contract over the controversial tourism ad.
It’s More Fun Still
The “It’s More Fun in The Philippines ” tourism slogan of DOT has been around for five years now and it looks like it will stay as the country’s tourism brand.
“There are upcoming campaigns still in support of the More Fun brand, ” said Alegre when asked if there are slogan campaign plans being brewed.
For the remainder of the year, DOT will continue with its marketing program targeted at strengthening their position in the traditional markets, penetrating new markets, as well as developing new segments. Alegre said DOT regional offices, together with the local government units and private sector, need to continue the product and destination enhancement to attract more travelers and investments.
In the department’s effort to pursue the improvement of facilities and services, the regional offices are focusing on gaining more support for the progressive accreditation system and classification of tourism establishments.
With Alegre’s vast experience in the field of communications, he has developed wisdom and relationships.
“The fact that I came from the communications industry, from media, it’s easier for me to relate,” Alegre said. “Because now I’m relaying the news because I’m the spokesperson of the Department. I was always on the other side getting the news, now I’m the one relaying the news of our Department.”
He also acknowledged the complete backing and support of the senior staff and Secretary Teo.
“The most fulfilling part is when you can change lives, when you can help people do what they can do in life, especially if it’s related to tourism, it’s very fulfilling.”
He concluded by saying, “You give people hope that things will get better because of tourism. I always say that when tourism grows, the lives of every Filipinos also improve.”
Photographed By Pia Rozul