Why is Filipino food unknown in Norway? In June, we asked the couple behind Oslo’s first Filipino restaurant this question. Their reply had something to do with tourism or the lack of tourism initiatives to promote the Philippines as a holiday destination to Norwegians. To test their theory, I consulted Finn.no, the go-to website in Norway for people in search of everything but (or maybe including) the kitchen sink. I hit “pakkereiser” or holiday packages: 400 results for Thailand, zero for the Philippines. Contrary to Filipino food, Thai food is popular in Norway. Coincidence or proof?
To shed more light on the link between tourism and cuisine and Philippine tourism in general, let’s ask Tourism Attaché and Director for Northern and Southern Europe Department of Tourism, Gerard Panga. Gerard , has been with the Department of Tourism (DOT) for twenty-two years, with previous assignments in Taiwan and China. He took over the London Office in Feb. 2016 with jurisdiction over UK & Ireland, the Nordic Countries, Spain and Italy. Gerard has been very kind to immediately accept my invite for a Q &A.
MFB: Please tell us about the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign.
GP: The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (IMFITP) campaign was launched in January 2012. The slogan was created to rebrand the Philippines anchored on:
- the strength and character of the Filipinos as very hospitable and fun-loving people
- the beauty of our destinations and exciting activities which guarantee “more fun” experiences for the visitors.
The campaign started with a catchy slogan and meme, promoted online showing why it’s more fun in the Philippines. The campaign also challenged netizens to create their own memes based on creativity and wit. This became viral, generating thousands of entries, and creating wide scale awareness on the country’s campaign and tagline across all key source markets around the world.
Through the years, DOT intensified its branding campaign and tactical cooperation with the travel trade and media. Along the way, the IMFITP campaign was also cited as one of the best marketing campaigns undertaken by a National Tourist Office.
“…have you eaten?”
MFB: How is the Philippines promoted as a travel destination in Norway?
GP: We tapped a marketing representative to help us promote the Philippines in the Nordic countries. This office knows well the local travel trade and media networks, and the marketing dynamics to maximize our presence in the market, despite the limited resources. Norway is part of DOT’s opportunity markets.
UK remains the most important and top source market for the Philippines in Europe. This is where most of our marketing resources are allocated.
For Norway and the rest of the Nordic countries, we work closely with big agents and partner airlines on joint marketing to promote the Philippine programs covering soft adventure, leisure, beach holiday, city break, cultural immersion and water sports. All these anchored mainly on our unique selling points – distinct and colorful culture, value-for-money destination, more fun experience and very friendly and peace-loving Filipino people.
MFB: What is the main driver of tourists to the Philippines?
GP: It would be our islands, beaches and related activities, which include water sports, diving, island hopping, beach parties, local cuisine and so on.
Here’s what the department’s visitor profile report tells us:
Top 4 Things Tourists Like Most About the Philippines
People ( warmth and kindness)
MFB: Please tell us about Kulinarya Food Trips/Tour Packages. How strong is the push to promote the Philippines as a culinary destination in Northern & Southern Europe
GP: Kulinarya tours bring tourists to destinations such as Manila’s downtown, Pampanga, Cavite, Quezon and Bicol, to name a few. These tours showcase the specialities of the region, province, town and even family recipes. They feature unique food preparation techniques, history and traditions.
For Northern and Southern Europe, the packages being promoted would still tend to highlight sun and beach, diving and adventure. But recently, with the aim of putting our Philippine culinary heritage on international centre stage, we participated in Spain’s most recognized culinary event – Madrid Fusion 2015 and 2016 editions. We had three of our best chefs invited as presenters in the show with two of them featured in special dinners in the most popular restaurants in Madrid. And for the first time in the history of Madrid Fusion, the Philippines was the first Asian country to be given the honor to host Madrid Fusion outside Spain. Dubbed as Madrid Fusion Manila, the event has brought to the country some of the best and most recognized Michelin chefs as speakers, as well as international media.
Apart from the formal culinary setting and gourmet experience, Manila was also recognized as one of Asia’s Top 10 street food cities by CNN.
MFB: In our interview feature with Oslo’s Bread N Butter owners, Reverdy and Abelene Pineda, This is Why Filipino Food is Unknown in Norway (An Interview with the Couple behind Oslo’s First Filipino Restaurant), they said,
“Thai (food) is very popular in Oslo because of the growing tourism, trade and industry between Norway and Thailand. Personally, I think tourism plays a big role in boosting Filipino food in Norway. The Philippines has never been marketed as a vacation paradise for the Scandinavians, unlike Thailand and soon, Vietnam. I think there is a lot of concern about safety, corruption and kidnapping incidents involving foreign tourists in the Philippines. Our country needs to be seen and be visited a lot more. Food is a huge factor for tourists. Norwegians long for Thai food right after a relaxing vacation in Thailand, for example. So again, tourism is the main key to be seen and be known in Norway.”
Please comment on this.
GP: First of all, I commend the couple for their passion and for breaking through to introduce our cuisine.
Sampling local food is always part of any tour program offered by our tour operators. Independent travelers have unlimited dining options also when exploring our country, from local to international cuisine.
As part of my job as a tourism marketer, I get to host and dine a lot with many foreign guests and every time I would ask them about our cuisine, they would always say that our food is tasty.
The correlation between food and tourism may not be absolute. For example, Maldives is very popular for beach holidays but not necessarily for its food. Dubai is very exciting for shopping and unlimited activity options. Personally, I don’t enjoy Arabic food.
Yes, Philippine food could be more popular if more Norwegians are able to travel to the country. We need not wait for that. Conversely, we may make it as a starting point and catalyst to create more awareness about our food and our country, and propel the people to travel to the Philippines.
We know that our Filipino cuisine is delicious and could be world class. We need more enterprising Filipino restaurateurs.
Certainly, we need to do more to promote Philippine cuisine. As of now, our country as a destination is more known for beaches, soft adventure and our friendly and hospitable people.
Our country has a new government, which is aggressively addressing “travel demotivators” (i.e. corruption, safety concerns, lack of infra and service facilities, etc.) to mitigate the negative impressions and enhance the awareness and overall confidence in the Philippines for both business and leisure travel.
Travel safety is a universal concern even for us here in Europe. We are glad there are more Europeans traveling to the Philippines. As of May 2016, travel from Norway to the Philippines increased by 4.25%. Overall European outbound travel is expected to grow at a slower rate of 2.8%. From our market jurisdiction, we are having bigger growth rates out of UK (14.85%), Sweden (19.18%), Denmark (25.39%), Italy (12.04%) and Spain (26.14%).
MFB: Why is travel growth rate from Norway so much lower compared to neighboring Sweden & Denmark?
GP: It could be partly related to economic conditions. Sweden is projected to achieve a 3% GDP growth in 2017, Denmark 2% and Norway only 1.6%.
MFB: Why is there a lack of Philippine package tour offers or promotions in Norway?
GP: The Nordic market is an opportunity market for the Philippines. We have full market development projects lined up and this would include the development of products, press and blogger trips and tour operator familiarization trips to the Philippines. In this process, definitely food will be something that can be highlighted while we aim to increase the awareness in the market on the Philippines as a whole.
In our next product presentation and marketing activity with the media and travel agents, we may hold it in a Filipino restaurant or a function room serving Filipino food.
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MFB: If Filipino food becomes more known abroad, would it open a new or bigger market segment of tourists to the Philippines?
GP: We have recently seen an increasing interest in the Philippines in terms of our culinary heritage. Filipino food featured in international publications, television shows and various content published and shared in social media, slowly but surely, help it make a mark in the international culinary arena. We are optimistic that Kulinarya would continue to be one of the experiences that our visitors can look forward to.
DOT is also working aggressively to get as many hotels/resorts and restaurants accredited to cater to markets which require or prefer Halal food.
MFB: How many visitors from Norway does the Philippines receive each year? How would you compare this number to other countries, say the UK or Italy? Where do you see Philippine Tourism at in Norway five years from now?
In 2015, we received these arrivals from our source markets (under our jurisdiction):
Norway 20,968 (increase of .59%) compared to previous year
Sweden 23,206 (+6.15%)
Denmark 15,269 (+6.79%)
UK 154,589 (+15.65%)
Spain 24,144 (+24.76%)
Italy 21,620 (+8.83%)
As we have shown in the other table, we are having a good start for all our markets. Norway is up by 4.25% as of May this year. We hope to sustain our growth momentum amidst the challenges brought about by the Brexit and lower travel appetite among the Europeans because of the terror threats.
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