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Philippines: Bongga Ka Dive! My idea on how to boost tourism

EDIT: Because I believe in localization, the vernacular tagline is now PHILIPPINES: BONGGA KA DIVE!

As a diver, I am biased. Beyond the traditional way of viewing the Philippines as the “land of the smiles” and having some of the “best hospitality in the world” and “great beaches” one of the recreational activities that isn’t highlighted is the SCUBA diving. Sorry if I’ve been hankering about this for weeks but if there’s anything that the Philippines has that most countries don’t have — we have the best reefs in the world. We are a world class diving destination in the same way that the Galapagos, Palau, the Great Barrier and Indonesia are as well. But we aren’t just “one of those” other diving sites. The Philippines is situated at the center of the center of the Coral Triangle, one of the centers of biodiversity in the world. We’re world class. It’s all just beneath the surface.

This is an idea I’ve been bugging some dive friends for months and since the recent ruckus about the DOT campaign, I’d like to lend some expert advice on how to do the following:

1. Promote the Philippines as a world class diving site
2. Organically grow the diving community
3. Contribute to the knowledge of tracking and recording marine life for their preservation

What I’m essentially proposing is a community portal for divers, targeting first the local and tightly knit diving community. The site’s goal is to help divers be more informed about the surrounding flora and fauna underwater. It goes like this:

Divers can upload photos and videos of their trips. These are then tagged (in the same way we have Flickr tags) according to what they saw, when they saw it and where.

For instance, I can upload this photo:

and add the following tags:

Subject: Clown Fish Amphiprioninae Pomacentridae
Date and Time: November 15 at 3:00 PM (EXIF data can take care of this)
Dive Site: Secret Bay, Anilao

On a collective effort, photos that are uploaded (either locally or through mere links from Multiply, Flickr, IMGUR) can be sorted through tags, dive site and date and time. The result is a database of critter information which you can sort just by mere tags (I was thinking of applying this via Google Maps or Bing but I honestly think geo-tagging is too complex for us regular folks).

Here’s the best example — I always wondered if the whale shark that we saw in Pescador Island travels to other places (i.e. it’s said to have come from a site called Dolphin House which is also nearby). Looking through the crowd sourced photos and video from divers who frequent Pescador, you’ll eventually be able to track a pattern in the whale shark’s movements. This data can be useful for both recreational divers and for scientific study since marine biologists in the Philippines are very scarce given our enormous coast lines.

How does this help tourism? Seeing is believing. You now have a one stop shop for foreigners to go through to read user generated content from fellow divers. Pygmy seahorse locations? No problem. Is that whale shark the same one going around three dive sites? We’ll know. Coral bleaching and COTS sightings? We can track the degradation of the reefs because of the date and time tags. And the best part about this is that the divers don’t feel like it’s work. It’s practically fun. It’s all about how the data can be used by the WWF and the Marine Wildlife Watch. So there. We help tourism. We encourage more people to dive. We help the environment.

If I’m a foreigner and I want to dive the Philippines I can easily plot my trips and get tips from other divers on which resort has this certain house reef as well as get insider information on who they can hire as the best spotter for that flamboyant cuttlefish.

This isn’t a campaign. It’s a site that can be used to build campaigns. I don’t believe that we can promote tourism the traditional way. We need to get smarter when it comes to using the Internet to attract tourists. I’m not an expert in travel, but I do love the diving — and many other foreigners I dive with stay here for months to learn and to dive.

P.S. I know there is risk of me posting this idea out in the open. If you’re an angel and want to fund this project, I’ll build it. My email is jayvee[dot]fernandez[at]gmail[dot]com. What I’ve written here is merely one component of the site. I have figured out a monetization scheme as well to make it self sufficient to run forever. I’ve tried setting meetings with Mr. Bertie Lim and Mr. Romano way back but it seems that having a site “sponsored” can have its pitfalls (meeting never pushed through). So there. That’s one component on how to help tourism. I have more ideas. This is something I believe in and I want to build it. Anyone interested?