Island of smiles, beaches

By: Vanessa Claire Lucero June 20,2015 - 02:49 AM

Tourism quest continues to find Cebu’s unique brand

Beautiful beaches.  The “warmest smiles” and “friendliest people”.

A landscape that has the coast and the mountains within easy reach.

If these are key impressions of Cebu, could its brand be defined based on some or all of these assets?

The search for Cebu’s “brand” continues, an exercise that goes beyond agreeing on a catchy slogan.

The reality of a long-haul effort became apparent in yesterday’s tourism forum in a conference hall in SM City where suggestions bubbled but no easy answer came for the challenge of branding Cebu for use as “marketing tool” to unite the enterprises and aspirations of stakeholders in the tourism industry.

“We need to know what we can say or claim about Cebu and have people, both local and foreign, say, ¨yes, that´s true¨,” said Tetta Baad, chairperson of the Cebu City Tourism Commission.

¨A brand is perception… a promise.   And we have to make sure that our brand is something we can deliver.¨

“More fun in the Philippines” was a perfect brand for the country, she said, based on the phenomenal popularity of the slogan among both Filipinos and foreigners.

Now, finding Cebu’s handle in the brand game is a special challenge, given its advantage of already being known as a top “island destination”, even among elite travelers like readers of upper crust Conde Nast magazine.

The afternoon forum drew almost 300 representatives from the tourism sector, government, academe, and individuals who choose  Cebu as their home, including US Consul John Domingo, who said that after living in Cebu for 35 years, “ang akong kasingkasing sugbuanon”  (My heart is Cebuano).


Baad laid out the marketing framework to guide the discussion which was the followup of a May 20 branding workshop facilitated by Singaporean branding specialist Jacqueline Thng as part of Cebu Business Month.

Baad focused on the results of a global survey that singled out Cebu in order to check how outsiders view the province and why.

“Cebu and Visayan Islands”  ranked third  in Conde Nast Traveler´s 2013 Reader´s Choice Awards for the Top 5 Islands in Asia.

The no. 1 choice was Bali, Indonesia followed by Koh Samui in Thailand, then Cebu.

Coming in fourth was Phuket, Thailand and then Lombok Island in Indonesia.

Cebu and Visayan Islands had its highest scores  in the criteria of “beaches” with 83.5 points, then “friendliness” with 88.8 points and “scenery”with 86 points.

However, in four other criteria, the islands  scored below 80 points in “atmosphere”, “activities” and “lodging”.   Its lowest score of 68.3 was in “restaurants.”

The results drew applause from the audience but also led to calls and challenges to improve accommodations and restaurant services.

Beaches, the welcoming nature of Cebuanos, and “scenery” stem from the natural environment.   What needs improvement are services and tourist-friendly activities  “within our control”.

In the May 20 workshop, tourism stakeholders gave a random list of words that best described Cebu as a province.

Yesterday was an effort to come up with tag lines or slogans about Cebu that are unique, sets Cebu apart from other places in the world and makes the island easily identifiable.


“The brand must resonate. People must be able to connect with the brand on a more personal level,” Baad said, adding that “traditional advertising ¨no longer works¨.

With the advent of the Internet and a digital world, any marketing campaign has to deal with the fact that “the consumer is the star of his or her world” and can give immediate feedback about what he or she likes or rejects.

However, not just any string of words will do. The goal is to own a word, idea or concept that cannot be contested by others, she said.

¨It has to be strong. Nobody should be able to argue about it,¨  she said.

After a Google search on the Internet, Baad pointed out that Cebu is the only one of the top five Conde Nast-rated islands that doesn’t have a “tourism map” online – a colorfully illustrated map with icons pointing to places of interest.

This is something creative designers in Cebu can address, she said.

From the survey, Baad said, there were areas of improvement to work on – accessibility to destinations that should be “an hour away” at most, direct flights to and from Cebu, more high-quality restaurant developments outside the city; and more pronounced Asian and Cebuano culture accents. She said the branding exercise would need an “exhaustive study” of attributes and perceptions of Cebu.

There is something about Cebu that makes you feel like you´re home, and that is why people keep coming back, a participant during the workshop said.

At the end of the session, participants were shooting ideas of taglines: ´Cebu the Friendliest Place in the World´, ´Celebrate Life in Cebu´, ´Nothing Like Cebu´, ´Cebu Island: Where the Heart Sings´, ´Cebu Where Forever is Real´ and more.

¨We don’t intend to brand Cebu today,” said Carol Go of Mega Cebu in the wrap-up.  The branding exercise will still go through several forums and workshops before settling on a definite one.

Teresa Chan, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, asked participants to trust a core group to continue the work and polish ideas in making the final choice for Cebu´s brand.

¨Whatever it is, I hope that we all accept it, embrace it, and work together to make it effective, sustainable and known by everyone,¨ she said./With Eileen G. Mangubat

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TAGS: Cebu, Cebu City, Cebu City Tourism, Cebu City Tourism Commission, Cebu Tourism, Cebuanos, Conde Nast magazine, Filipinos, SM, SM City, US Consul John Domingo

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