MANILA Philippines — With the Philippine government pinning its hopes on tourism to boost a flailing economy the Department of Tourism on June 2 launched a new campaign to entice Filipino-Americans to come home through an Internet-based promotion.

In the 1970s the Philippine government then under President Ferdinand Marcos launched a tourism program to entice long-time Filipino residents abroad to come home to the Philippines.

That promotional campaign which gave rise to the now familiar term “balikbayan” (returning Filipino) gave the vacationing Filipino-Americans 25% off on plane fares to Manila via Philippine Airlines and a free 25-kilogram baggage allowance via that now ubiquitous balikbayan box which was packed with a lot of American treats near and dear to their families.

Dubbed “The Philippines: Explore. Experience. Return ” the new government promotion is more techno-savvy relying on Fil-Ams abroad to register via e-mail in order to win free trips home and shopping goodies according to Tomas B. Lopez Jr. director of the DOT Flagship Programs.

In an exclusive interview with the Journal Lopez said the first phase of the program called “The Great Philippine Free Flight Giveaway ” will raffle off 250 free roundtrip tickets to the Philippines to Fil-Ams in North America including Canada and Hawaii. They are eligible for the raffle by registering their email address at The succeeding raffles will then award 150 free round-trip tickets.

According to DOT statistics about 30% of tourists to the Philippines are Americans or Canadians mainly of Filipino descent. Lopez added that there are about 2.5 million Filipinos—spanning three generations—living in the United States and Canada. He said Guam and other Pacific islands with a relationship with the U.S. may be included in the promo soon.

The second phase of the program called “Out-of-the-Box Balikbayan Promo” will enable the registered Fil-Ams to win monthly and grand prizes like condominium units wellness packages appliances or money which they or their families can use.

Lopez said a number of Philippine companies signed up to support this “out-of-the-box” promotion. Kuok Philippine Properties Inc. for example is donating a unit at St. Francis Towers in Mandaluyong City as one of the prizes. Philippine National Bank will be donating money “which the balikbayans can give to their favorite relatives.” Abenson a well-known appliance retailer is also supporting the promotion by allowing the winners to shop for free of any of its appliance centers.

Lopez explained the new tourism promotion is trying to veer the Philippines away from the usual marketing strategies wherein its old traditions and customs were played up — the bahay kubo (nipa hut) tinikling (a Filipino dance using bamboo) or fiestas (festivals based on Catholic holidays). The promotion will give Fil-Ams a taste of the “new Philippines ” a sense of the urban products facilities and conveniences within the country. “Before the balikbayans stuffed their balikbayan boxes with American-made goods. These products are now readily available here. What we want to do now is to stuff their boxes with products from the Philippines ” he explained.

“The Philippines is now a high-tech nation and we should be able to show that through our tourism promotions ” Lopez stressed.

He cited for example the emergence of the Philippines as a wellness destination offering some of the best spa treatments in Asia corrective eye surgeries and cosmetic treatments that are “at par if not better than what the balikbayans can receive abroad.”

Both promo campaigns launched on June 10 in San Francisco via the ABS-CBN’s global cable network The Filipino Channel. Lopez said the grand raffle draw will be held at the Wowowee show.

He said studies show that almost all Fil-Ams abroad are in one way or form connected to the Internet. Asked whether older-generation Filipinos who may not be Internet savvy could join the raffle Lopez said the agency’s research shows that about 67% of Fil-Am retirees have younger family members staying with them. “So they can ask their grandchildren for example to register them via e-mail.”

Asked why the government was not marketing the Philippines to Americans without Filipino ancestry Lopez said “If the Filipinos themselves aren’t attracted to come to the Philippines why will the Americans come?”

Last year tourist arrivals to the Philippines rose by 14.5% to 2.62 million in 2004 according to data from the DOT. Americans mostly of Filipino descent comprised the chunk of arrivals at 528 493; followed by Koreans at 489 465; Japanese 415 456; Taiwanese 122 496; and Chinese (excluding Hong Kong residents) 107 456. Meanwhile Canadian visitors last year numbered 72 853.

In a related development the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. on June 3 held an open house to showcase the various development projects of Philippine property developers.

The roadshow dubbed “Bayan Ko Bahay Ko” (My Country My Home) attracted nine property developers namely: Crown Asia Ledesco Megaworld Properties Inc. State Properties Corp. Pacific Heights Shangri-La Properties Inc. LandCo Pacific Corp. Filinvest Properties Inc. Daiichi Properties Wachovia Mortgage and SunTrust Bank.

In a press statement Albert del Rosario said the roadshow’s aim is “to assist Philippine property developers in their marketing and sales promotion in the United States particularly targeted toward the Filipino-American community.”

The “Bayan Ko Bahay Ko” program was initiated by Del Rosario as part of the Embassy’s economic diplomacy program and is projected to boost the Philippines’ housing and property sectors and increase remittances in a bid to push the country’s economy.

The Embassy’s Consular Section also rendered various types of consular services. Many members of the Filipino-American community applied for dual citizenship and took their oath of Philippine citizenship.

Remittances from overseas Filipino workers have propped up the Philippine economy by encouraging their families to spend. MBJ