It has been more than 20 years ago when the Bring Home A Friend program was launched by the Department of Tourism (DOT).
At that time the most number of tourist arrivals to the Philippines were the Australians, followed by the Japanese, and then the Americans. It was mathematically not right that a country like the United States, which is home to the biggest number of Filipinos, whose potential mainstream visitors were so many times larger than Australia, placed only at the third spot in visitor arrivals to the country.
The country then was suffering from an image of lack of security because of kidnapping incidents and the worst typhoons were hitting Manila often, being a major entry point to the Philippines. So what better way to tackle these issues than to convince all Filipinos to be part of the DOT campaign to bring in their friends, business associates, conferees, family members, bosses and colleagues of overseas workers, expats and even former officials and staff of embassies and international organizations based in the Philippines.
When invited by Filipinos themselves, the guests are met at the airport, brought around the different tourist sites, invited to family dinners or lunches, and even invited to stay in their homes. All these gestures make for a strong feeling of security and family ties.
The result of this campaign was a complete turnaround of the visitor arrivals. The US took the top spot in tourist arrivals. But most interesting was that the tour operators overseas began to incorporate the program into their tour offerings. It became an extra incentive for people to travel to the Philippines.
I must admit it was a thrill for me to learn that Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo was reviving the Bring Home A Friend (BHAF) program and the same was launched on October 14 at the Newport Mall at Resorts World Manila. In her opening remarks, Teo especially mentioned the role of our overseas workers and Filipinos residing abroad to become ambassadors of goodwill for the country by inviting their friends, coworkers and bosses to visit the Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs, in its 2015 report, advised there are 9.1 million Filipinos residing abroad, making each one a potential promoter of the program.
Consider this, too: Based on the DOT 2016 visitor sample survey, 51 percent of tourists that came to the country were upon their friends’ recommendations and 14 percent have friends and relatives in the country. Media launches are set in major source markets like the US, Korea, Japan, Middle East, Canada and London. Regional launches are also set in various parts of the country.
The DOT picked Piolo Pascual as their BHAF Ambassador of Goodwill and that was a good choice. He also sang the BHAF theme song and shared in four simple steps how one can join the program on YouTube.
The BHAF campaign is a referral incentive program, wherein Filipinos or Philippine expats, who invite foreign passport holders to visit the country, may have the chance to win a condo, a car, or a P200,000 worth of gift certificates from Duty Free Philippines (DFP). Three grand winners will be selected through a raffle. The official promo period began on October 15, and ends on April 15, 2018.
The media launch, hosted by Randy Santiago and Jimmy Bondoc, was a success with all the major representatives from the quad media in attendance. Entertainment was provided by the Sabado Boys and Aegis Band. There was even an impromptu singing by the guests. Some of my friends, mostly travel agents and tour operators, expressed their commitment to help with the campaign.
By the way, I asked Secretary Teo if I was qualified to join the program since at the first BHAF, I was not allowed to join because I was a DOT official back then. She affirmed that I am qualified, so here I am, one of the staunchest campaign ladies of the BHAF II.
Those who are qualified to join are Filipinos of legal age, with dual citizenship, and foreigners (expatriates) living in the Philippines permanently or temporarily.
To Secretary Teo and her indefatigable team: Undersecretary Katherine S. de Castro, Assistant Secretary Ricky M. Alegre, Director Czarina Zara-Loyola, and to the rest of the team, congratulations to a beautiful and fun launch of the BHAF II promo. Mabuhay!
The DOT family that was visibly present to lend their moral support to the tourism secretary were Undersecretary Alma D. Jimenez, Bong C. Bengzon, de Castro, Assistant Secretary Alegre, Regional Director for CAR Venus Tan, Assistant Secretary Eden Josephine L. David, Director Zara-Loyola and Roberto Teo, and my apologies to others I may have missed.
The major sponsors were also present led by Kevin Tan, senior vice president of the Commercial Division of Megaworld Corp. who donated the condo unit for the first prize; Bong Velasquez, assistant vice president of Philippine Airlines, who sponsored all the plane tickets for the invitees’ major prizes; Alfred Ty of Toyota and Rommel Gutierrez who gave away the Toyota Vios for the second prize; Vicente Angala, COO of the DFP who sponsored the gift certificates.
Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s start calling friends and families to start planning reunions, and business associates to initiate meetings. Tap your international affiliations with members of the Rotary, Jaycees, Lions, Zontas, IWFs and others, and invite them before the campaign’s deadline. The more you invite, the bigger chances of winning. When we help the DOT, we help our country!