The Fun Is Us – Manila Bulletin

The Philippines showcases the best of our islands at the world’s most important travel fair in Berlin




MABUHAY In the 253-square-meter booth designed by Kenneth Cobonpue was a sampling of all the fun possible in the Philippines, including the waters of Palawan, Margarita Forés’ laing na hipon, and Boracay’s white sands masquerading as carpet


I don’t know about you, but I have high hopes for the Philippines. On account of its travel potential alone, my confidence is not a matter of positivity, it’s not a matter of nationalism, it’s a matter of fact, although, yes, there have been centuries-worth of hurdles, political, economic, and social.


But the beauty of the Philippines is always there. It’s been out there bright and shiny enough to draw in conqueror after conqueror that, for centuries, beginning with the Spanish occupation in the 16th century, have been wanting to keep all that beauty to themselves, the Dutch though they failed over and over, the British during their 20-month invasion in the 1760s, the Japanese during World War II, the Americans from 1898 to 1946, followed by their Big Brother stance over our internal affairs until about 2015, and the Chinese out there on the West Philippine Sea.

The problem, though this is entirely our fault, is that some of these foreigners, the Spanish and the Americans particularly, managed to occupy not only the land or the people but also our spirit so for a while now, we hankered to be señoritos and señoritas and we hankered for white Christmases, the Empire State Building, and Disneyland.

At last week’s ITB Berlin, the world’s biggest, most important tourism trade fair, while I sat on chairs made of native, natural materials, like rattan, set on carpets that mimicked the look and feel of Boracay’s powder-fine, sugary-white sand against which rolled the blue waves of Palawan, as captured in a continuous loop on 13 LED panels, each a meter by four meters high up on the wall, I was in Berlin, but I was in fact proudly at home.

At Hall 26 of the 26-hall fairgrounds in the Charlottenburg Wilmersdorf precinct of Berlin, in which 10,000 exhibitors from 181 countries and regions showcased their products and services, the message of the Philippine booth was as clear as Palawan or Boracay waters.

Number one: That our country is naturally, intrinsically beautiful.

Number two: That our beauty is many-splendored, high on the mountain or deep in the ocean or manifold on rolling plains and endless fields.



Of all travel fairs, ITB Berlin is one that gathers all the tourism ministers of participating countries every year and ours, Department of Tourism (DOT) secretary Berna Romulo Puyat, who unveiled the Philippine booth on opening day of the fair on March 6, proved as much the message as the medium, her look accentuated by indigenous weaves, her passion as engulfing as the barreling waves of Siargao, her work style as hands-on as those hardworking fingers in Tacloban that make weaving straws into Tikog mats an art form.

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Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat;

Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat

But Berna was not alone. For her vision, the Tourism secretary did not simply rely on the support of the private sector but, appealing to their sense of pride as Filipinos, she rallied them to her cause, putting behind the Philippine booth a powerhouse cast that represented the very best we could accomplish as a people. The cast included heavyweights representing various fields of endeavor that in recent years have put the Philippines on the map: Kenneth Cobonpue for design, Margarita Forés for food, Kiddo Cosio and Sly Samonte for specialty coffee, among others.

El Union’s Kiddo Cosio, top furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue, culinary artist Angelo Comsti, and Julian Cobonpue

El Union’s Kiddo Cosio, top furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue, culinary artist Angelo Comsti, and Julian Cobonpue


El Union's Sly Samonte,

El Union’s Sly Samonte

As a result, in Berna’s own words, the Philippine booth was “stylishly beautiful with the Filipino heart at its center.” Only 253 square meters, it spoke volumes about our country and, in the way it was designed by Kenneth, with the carpets masquerading as sand, with the crystal clear blue waters of El Nido undulating on the video wall (featuring a film stitched together by Paolo Konst from three separate clips made by three different filmmakers for the ITB), with the roof lamps over the exhibitor counters in the shape of traditional houses, the booth was unmistakably Filipino.

“Kenneth Cobonpue did an exemplary job crafting its design to look contemporary yet brimming with our heritage. More than a visual feast, our booth was an experiential one. We brought real weavers to show the public the process of making our iconic textiles,” said Berna, pointing to the women present in the booth as living proof of our rich, surviving traditions in weaving, such as those in Kalinga in Luzon, the municipality of Basey in Samar (the banig capital of the Philippines) in the Visayas, and the T’boli tribe, T’nalak makers, in South Cotabato in Mindanao.

Weavers from the T'boli tribes of South Cotabato

The booth had weavers from the T’boli tribes of South Cotabato, Basey in Samar, and Kalinga to show the ITB Berlin visitors the rich traditions behind our iconic textiles.



Even El Union’s Kiddo and Sly, young people whose hands are brewing a new greatness in coffee making principally in La Union, served craft coffee from beans sourced from Benguet’s Fely’s Farm, Bukidnon’s Gloria Estate, and Mindanao Mocha with the added goal of introducing ITB visitors from around the world to major island groupings in the Philippines.



ITB Berlin visitors

Margarita, of course, dished up samplings of our signature pork and chicken adobo and laing na hipon, served with adlai, the nutrient-packed, gluten-free alternative to rice that is grown in Northern Mindanao, the Cordilleras, particularly in Sagada and the Mountain Province, and in Zamboanga.

Chef Margarita Forés

Asia’s Best Female Chef Margarita Forés



What I liked best about the Philippine booth in Berlin was its modular design. I wouldn’t say that what it offered at the five-day travel expo was the best. What it gave the visitors was only a small sampling of the many good things possible in our country that should make the visitors want more.

In a space only a little bigger than a tennis court there seemed to be room enough at the booth for all our 7,100++ islands, our Guimaras mangoes, our Cagayan de Oro white river, our Bagobo tangkulo, our Iloilo batchoy. The list is long and might I add our Spanish colonial heritage sites in Cebu, our Bohol Chocolate Hills, our sea turtles on Apo Island, our beach coves in Siquijor, our sand dunes in Ilocos? There could also be our maglalatik from Biñan, our very own flamenco, Habanera Botolena, from Zambales, our Surigao Enchanted River…

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Manned by 20 exhibitors, our booth covered more than enough ground, especially as, within one hour of the unveiling, each counter was busy entertaining inquiries, the busiest first hour of the first day in any booth of ours in ITB history.

“Overall, from post debriefing with participants, business transactions and potential businesses are very successful and favorable. The general consensus is that the quality buyers were entertained and that most, if not all, exhibited serious business interest in the Philippines,” beamed Berna, emphasizing, however, that a more official review gathered from participant surveys was due yet in a few days as of this writing.

“Design wise, it was elegant and showcased Philippine destinations,” said Joey Bernardino of El Nido Resorts, one of the exhibitors. “We generated a good number of inquiries from both individual and group travelers as well as from current and new and potential partners. We got a lot of quality buyers.”

According to Jojo Clemente of Rajah Tours, it’s a safe bet to say that “we probably talked to about 250 to 300 agents/clients during the first three days, 10 to 15 percent (more than in previous years).”

“I think that the DOT and all the other people involved did a great job, given a rather tight budget,” added German-Filipino John Rueth of Kapwa Travel & Tours. “The show was a success. We were able to make quite a few interesting contacts, surprisingly from non-German-speaking countries like Poland, Italy, Portugal, France, Estonia, and more.”

This is where the fun comes in. Berna has been at the helm of the DOT for no longer than 10 months and, of her recent decisions, what could have been most contentious was her adoption of “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” an old DOT campaign first launched internationally in the Berlin fairgrounds in 2012 under then secretary Mon Jimenez. More than a mere case of “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” the campaign in Berna’s hands, with advertising whiz and BBDO’s David Guerrero by her side to flesh out her ideas, takes on a new powerful medium, that of shareability.


RESPONSIBLE TOURISM The team behind the Philippine booth at the five-day ITB Berlin found the right spot in the city to express their commitment to sustainable travel, the overarching theme of its tourism campaign. From left: Sly Samonte, Venus Tan, Kenneth Cobonpue, Julian Cobonpue, Margarita Forés, Berna Romulo-Puyat, Kiddo Cosio, Jorge Mendez, Rey Moraga, and Angelo Comsti

Created back in 2012, just two years after Instagram was born, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” takes wing on social media now that it has been reconfigured as an organic campaign, 100 percent crowd sourced. So far the campaign has been feeding off a collection of over four million posts about the Philippines on Instagram alone, but more and more shareable content is coming up on the social media landscape, in which a hashtag can literally go to the four corners of the earth in an instant. It’s a brilliant campaign, not only organic, but also completely interactive, so much testimonial and authentic material promoting Philippine destinations, cultural activities, heritage, cuisine, etc.

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“One of the differences with media now,” explained David, “is you can reach people who have particular interests, from particular countries [and] address them with the right ideas. What this campaign can do is give us all the content we need to address people’s specific interests, whether it’s diving or conventions or beaches. We’re trying to say the right thing to the right people at the right time.”



Like the design of the Philippine booth in the German capital, the campaign is modular. Among Berna’s strengths as a tourism minister is her knack for collaborations. Already, movers and shakers in the private sector are pouring resources otherwise beyond the reach of the DOT into “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.”

“You know what, even if they doubled my budget for branding, it would never be the same as other countries,” said Berna. “So I asked the help of the private sector because they could promote our country while promoting their own companies. In the Philippine Airlines commercials, for example, in the end they put ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines.’ Ben Chan has also been very supportive, so instead of shooting in other places, they are shooting in key Philippine destinations like Lovi Poe in Siquijor or Kath Bernardo and Daniel Padilla in Boracay for Bench.

Sometimes, they ask me which destinations I’d like to push. But right now, I am really working very closely with Cebu Pacific and Jollibee.”

Shown at the after party held at the happening club The Reed on Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse on ITB’s opening day were images of a Jollibee campaign that had yet to be officially launched in the Philippines. “I had dinner with Tony Tan Caktiong as soon as I was appointed and I just happened to tell him about the late Anthony Bourdain, who loved the Jollibee halo halo, the Aloha burger, etc.,” recalled Berna. “And Mr. Tan said, ‘No, we’ll do better than that. I’ll make commercials for you and we will promote [Filipino] food.’ What’s amazing is they would really come to us and ask us how we want to promote the country. They’re doing it for free, they’re filming everything for free.”

In its new incarnation, the soul of DOT’s campaign is that it invites everyone to join in the fun, to be part of the fun, and not only behind the scene, but in the actual execution. That’s why it’s fun—and that very spirit put the Philippine booth and all its possibilities together.

“I believe we’ve  set a new standard with how we present ourselves in future world travel expos,” said Berna. “We must leave a good and strong impression, but while we strive for aesthetical excellence and experientiality, we should always keep in mind that the richly diverse cultures around the country are represented.”

The 20 exhibitors of the Philippine booth at the ITB fair were Amorita Resort, Ansett Holidays, Baron Travel Corp., Blue Horizons Travel and Tours Inc., Bohol Beach Club, Club Agutaya Inc., Crimson Resorts, El Nido Resorts, Intas Destination Management Inc., Kapwa Travel & Tours Inc., Movenpick Resort and Spa Boracay, Plantation Bay Resort & Spa, Rajah Tours, Sharp Travel Service, South Palms Resort, The Lind Boracay, Travel Experts Inc., Travelite Travel and Tours Co., and Wakay Tours


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