Organized Chaos was born in the summer of 2013, after I was chosen by the Canadian Urban Institute to embark on a tourism development project in Iloilo City, the booming urban capital of Iloilo province in Western Visayas, Phillippines. Despite not having a tourism background, and never having travelled to South East Asia, I was told that my role on this project would be Tourism Marketing Officer. When I accepted the six month internship, (funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development) I knew that I was walking into unknown territory. Was I intimidated? Absolutely. Scared? Maybe just a little. But the overarching feeling I had was overwhelming gratitude. For once, my passion for life, travel and the developing world was about to materialize into something monumental.
Asia’s fast growing tourism industry really took me by surprise. It is not only a beautiful and exotic destination for travel, but it’s affordable for adventure seekers from all socio-economic backgrounds. During my time in the Philippines, I quickly realized that not only was this remarkable, virgin landscape of 7,000 + islands capable of competing in the global tourism market, but it had one distinct selling feature that set it apart from the rest of the game: Filipinos.
Every day I was surrounded by smiling faces, full of pride in their land and culture. Smiles, unwavering. Smiles used as weapons against earthquakes and typhoons. A spirit so contagious, that even their intense vulnerability to natural disasters could never deter a traveller like myself.
Initially, I sat in on a number of discussions that invited a diverse group of stakeholders to assess the gaps, and identify investment areas that would promote local economic growth and development through the tourism sector. This meant spotlighting tourism front liners for skills enhancement training, identifying the tourism circuits, and launching a branding and marketing campaign, designed to promote Iloilo as a MICE destination, and to stimulate foreign and domestic tourism.
While many project outputs were underway, as a tourist, I noticed that there was no central body mandated to coordinate with the city tourism office and Iloilo’s vibrant arts community. On weekends, I attended film festivals or art shows, and went on tree planting, zip lining and camping expeditions, all by invitation. Local groups that I befriended, organized activities I would have never known about had I not immersed myself in the community. Tourists don’t often have this luxury that time allows. A link needed to be made, and this was my biggest feat.After organizing the city’s first Culture, Arts, and Heritage Conference, an Arts Alliance began forming in city hall. Value was seen in creating an events calendar, and finally, connections were made.
It’s crucial for us to recognize the potential that tourism development efforts can offer. By leveraging the Philippines’ rich culture, raw beauty and natural resources, I believe that we can generate a fruitful tourism industry that could someday lift this wonderful country out of poverty.