About seven years ago, the Department of Tourism introduced the V-12 or Volunteer 12 program under the leadership of then Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon.
The program was founded on the basic idea of turning each of our 8 or 9 million Filipinos abroad into promoters of Philippine Tourism. What the program basically did was to encourage Filipinos living or working abroad to bring at least one foreign tourist to the Philippines. Filipinos who brought home a tourist would get discounts on air travel, accommodations in hotels and resorts, entertainment establishments, and various goods.
When I was with the DoT back then, serving as a consultant under the Special Projects Office, there was a lot of excitement around the program.
The discounts weren't anything to crow about, but what really got people excited was that for the first time in the history of Philippine Tourism, Filipinos all over the world were being recognized and rewarded for promoting Philippine Tourism.
We weren't coming at the doorsteps of various countries selling sob stories of how poor we were, we were coming at foreigners with pictures of Boracay, Bohol, Davao, Vigan, Manila, etcetera. This cut through all the crappy news about terrorism, bird flu, the Oakwood mutiny, etcetera and gave Filipinos everywhere something to be proud of and something great to promote.
What was even better was that people who signed up for the program right at the airport felt like part of some kind CHANGE that would directly affect the fortunes of their home towns and provinces.
Every tourist that they brought home, according to the calculations of the Department of Tourism back then, would spend an average of $1,500 for a two week stay. That's foreign money injected directly into local businesses, from the foreign tourist's wallet into the palm of the tour operator, restaurants, taxis, jeeps, boats, stores, etcetera.
Tourist money, dollar for dollar, has a greater impact on the Philippine economy than billion dollar investments.
When I visited Hongkong in 2006 to shoot a documentary for a Philippine cable TV show, people who found out that I had worked for the Department of Tourism kept on asking about the V-12 program. I had to be the messenger bringing bad news and had to tell them that it had been discontinued.
The thing is, if the government were to come up with another V-12 program and enhance it using New Media, I think it would make for an even more successful program.