(STAR) By Kathy Moran - How does one keep the passion alive? That is the question. It does not happen often in my life that I encounter people who are passionate about what they do or who they are, but when I do I can’t help but admire them.

Passion is what separates doing work from achieving great accomplishments in life.

There are two people whose passion for their work I admire. One is my boss Millet Mananquil who considers her 20 years in the STAR “not just a job, but a passion.” The other is DOT Secretary Ace Durano, whose job it is to turn around 20 years of the country’s bad rep.

How does one keep the passion alive when the job at hand is to sell the country abroad? Every day there is something I find to criticize about this country that I call home. And, with all the bickering, mudslinging, crime and other things to complain about, how does anyone keep a focus on what is beautiful about this country?

“The privilege of promoting the Philippines in different countries and working with different nationalities makes me appreciate even more the natural blessings of my own country and the natural aptitude of the Filipino,” said Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Ace Durano. “As a nation we often undervalue and undersell what is good about the Philippines and the Filipino.”

Durano has set his sights on a goal of five million tourists by 2010 and, as of last year, the figures show that he is right on track with total tourist arrivals already reaching 3.09 million.

In a recent Tourism Roadshow and Selling Mission to Scandinavia, we got a glimpse of just how the DOT under Durano continues to put the Philippines on the European map.

It was four cities we visited: Oslo, Norway; Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden; and Copenhagen, Denmark.

No joke, this trip.

But let me first say that it was in comfort we arrived in Amsterdam. The World Business Class section of the KLM flight made the 14-hour trip relaxing. It helped that I tried out the Internet check-in service the airline offers 30 hours before the flight. What’s great about checking in online is that, one, it is really easy and fast with no lining up; two, you can choose your seat online; three, you can order your special in-flight meals, which is really cool for vegetarians like me; four, and most importantly, there is a dedicated baggage drop-off counter when you get to the NAIA. And that, as we all know, is a blessing beyond words.

The DOT team was led by head of mission Undersecretary Oscar Palayabyab, Team Europe head Verna Buensuceso and Tourism Attaché for DOT-London Domingo Ramon Enerio.

And yes, it was by bus, a double-decker at that, that we made our way to the four cities we visited during the seven-day trip.

The market portfolio of the DOT is divided into four types: core, strategic, turnaround and “niche.” Secretary Durano said the first three markets are what the DOT considers constant; it is the fourth market that has a bigger opportunity to attract more tourists.

Scandinavia is one such niche market. “For the first two months of the year this cluster grew by 30 to 40 percent as compared to the same period last year,” added Durano. “Scandinavia will continue to contribute to accelerating the growth rate of total arrivals and tourist spending in the Philippines.”

This explains why, this year, the DOT chose a road-show type of trip with a four-city destination, as opposed to last year where they focused solely on Sweden.

The figures show that as of yearend 2007, arrivals from Sweden, Norway and Denmark surpassed the highest ever recorded from these source markets in the entire history of Philippine tourism.

The arrivals from the Nordic countries breached the 40,000 barrier, also a first in Philippine tourism history.

“Hopefully we can expand our market coming from the Nordic states,” said undersecretary Oscar Palabyab. “Even if the population is rather small they have a high spending power. Their disposable income is far higher than anywhere else in the world and they are quality tourists.”

Denmark, Norway and Sweden continue to be among the top 10 countries that bring warm bodies out of Europe and into our country. DOT figures as of January this year show that Norwegian arrivals grew by 41.3 percent, Swedish by 31.7 percent and Danish by 5.5 percent.

And just what kind of people are the Scandinavians? They are the new kind of tourists that “Adventure Philippines,” a program of the DOT, is looking to attract.

From our mystical mountain peaks to radical surf spots, there is really so much for them to see. Cagayan for the white-water rafters; the white-sand beaches of Central Philippines for sun worshippers; great dive spots like the Tubbataha Reef for divers. Land lovers can stay dry in Sagada or take the now famous trek up Mt. Pinatubo and experience an adrenalin-pumping ride on board a four-wheel drive pickup.

What about concern for the environment, we wonder? “Scandinavians are very fussy about the environment,” added Palabyab. “Since they have a very fragile natural setting, the World Tourism Organization says that they are a new market that pays a premium for the environment. We must cash in on these people who are willing to pay more if they find a place that is earth-friendly.”

Not only are the Scandinavians great visitors, they are also good spenders. The average daily expenditure of the Danish is US$132.05; Swedes spend $116.3 and Norwegians spend $79.23 and since these visitors stay from 10 to 21 days they do contribute quite a sum to the Philippine economy.

“There is much more that we can expect out of the Scandinavian market,” said Domingo Ramon Enerio, London tourism attaché. “I think what we are trying to do in Europe is to up the game and try to hit those markets that spend even more than what is being experienced now.”

The DOT officials are happy with this synergistic relationship with the private sector. “Every time we enter a new market, we make sure that we have members of the Philippine travel trade with us,” said Verna Buensuceso, DOT Team Europe head. “Generating awareness about the Philippines is one thing, having actual tourism products and packages out in the marketplace is another, and this is where the private sector comes into the picture.”

Secretary Durano believes that tourism’s contribution to the economy by 2010 will surpass what was projected in the medium-term development plan. “It was projected that foreign tourist spending in the country would reach $5 billion. Last year alone it reached $4.88 billion,” her said. “All these developments in the industry and the country continue to fuel my passion for the Philippines. This is why I never tire of advocating what is good and beyond the usual about our 7,107 islands.”

Why they’re hot about Scandinavia

There is much that can be said about what the DOT is doing to attract visitors to the country, but the DOT will be the first to say that it can shout all it wants and do promotions galore — but unless the private sector provides the ways by which our destinations can be reached, there will be no visitors.

They’re like a package deal — the DOT and tour and travel operators — each of them achieving what they set out to.

Jojo Clemente, president, Rajah Tours Philippines: Scandinavia is one of the faster growing markets. Norway was more of an exploratory effort more than anything else. By nature the Norwegians are quite cautious about where they go, and they depend a lot on their neighboring countries like Sweden to take the lead. The efforts of the DOT to help ignite interest in the Philippines in places like Norway are a good start because these are things that for a while the government wasn’t doing for lack of budget or a lack of appreciation for tourism.

Serafina Joven, president and general manager, Annset Holidays: I join these fairs to get business, make new contacts and to make money, of course. As far as I can see, Scandinavians will follow the lead that has been taken by UK, Spain and other European countries. Scandinavia is considered a leisure market, they are especially interested in diving, adventure and soft adventure (like trekking and hiking). I think that destinations like Banaue and Mt. Pinatubo will interest them. The business aspect is more important to us. We leave the promotional efforts to the DOT. This way the partnership we have with DOT is good, healthy and working.

Cesar Cruz, general manager, T.R.I.P.S: Europeans are the kind of travelers who plan their trips ahead; they are not spontaneous travelers. Compared to the Russians they are not big (spenders), but compared to the Germans they might be bigger spenders. Scandinavians are a little more independent travelers because, on the average, most of them speak very good English.

Marilen P. Sandejas-Yaptangco, Baron Travel Corporation: Coming to Scandinavia is a huge effort in terms of time and resources and, as with every trip abroad, it is an investment because the results are not always immediate. When I get home I have to negotiate with suppliers to come up with a very nice package for them. We have to come up with creative ways to put together different destinations. With the success of the rest of Europe we are hoping that the DOT can again be successful in Scandinavia. I think that the DOT has been targeting the right markets for us.

Joy Denoga, director of sales and marketing, Ten Knots Development Corporation: The fact that people come to our booth and meet with us means they believe in the destination. We are hoping to recapture their interest in the Philippines since the country’s adventure and nature offerings — like what we have in El Nido — are being promoted. We want to develop our Scandinavian market because it’s always good to diversify. to the region.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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