(If you haven't read why I was declared "Officially Unwelcome" in the Philippines, you might want to start by clicking here.)
I'm Nathan Allen - a "Philippine Advocate", according to the national media. I have spent a total of 3 years exploring and documenting the beauty of the Philippines, and I consider it a great honor to be able to do it. If you did not know this, a tourism board in Sorsogon declared me "persona non grata" under very dubious circumstances last year. The whole country seemed to be embarrassed about it.
However, after it happened, a local travel blogger emailed me and said "Hey, sorry about all the bashing...they do this anytime a foreigner writes anything." Bashing? Honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about. I had only seen the thousands of comments from people showing their support.
I came across the above article online...it mentioned how much I love the Philippines, and how my constructive criticism was even communicated nicely. They wanted to know how I could ever be declared persona non grata. Well you can imagine my surprise when I clicked the link and found the "related story" below on the same website....here is the link I found:
So this is what my friend was taking about. It is a dead link, but the title is already alarming. Why would they be attacking me? Well it actually makes sense. If you didn't know this, the tourism board is the arm of government that pays for the bloggers' trips...and it's almost every blogger's dream to go on these paid trips. Perhaps this is just another case of tourism "cronies" looking out for each other.
I found the article it is supposed to link to, and I have to say, I'm amazed this website would even post such tabloid nonsense. Anything to squeeze every last drop of web traffic out of a trending issue, I guess. Either these bloggers are very desperate for clicks, or they massively missed the point of my post.
To make a long story very short, I pointed out some areas for tourism improvement on FB...with the ultimate goal of helping the Philippines get its fair share of SE Asian tourism. Then, even though it actually had very little to do with them, the tourism board of Sorsogon took the post personally, and made what many people believe was a very drastic and emotional decision - they declared me persona non grata.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity to "kick a man when he's down", a group of Filipino travel bloggers took time out of their schedules to publicly drag my name through the mud....while promoting their own blogs and kissing the butt of the tourism board all at the same time. Classy! It seems the only part that was actually true was the originally intended title, which appeared to be: Pinoy Travel Bloggers Attack Nathan Allen...
- First of all, for no good reason, they dragged my race into it. Where I come from, that could be considered...well, racist. It's also quite ironic, considering I had to defend the Philippines against angry expats because of a blog I wrote exposing "white privilege" in the country. No, I can assure these bloggers, I could be any size, shape, or color, and those tourism employees would still be staring at me with the same blank looks on their faces.
- These bloggers pointed out that the tourism officer didn't even give me bad service. Yes, that's true! In order to receive bad service, the officer would have to do something. What she did was nothing. Like zero service. Haha. Still, the "missing tourism officer" was never something I was really concerned about. Sure, I was disappointed I never heard anything from her, but I didn't lose any sleep over it. A board member and some bloggers were the ones who blew the issue up.
Personally, I was concerned with almost dying while being guided by a tourism officer in another region.
- They tried to say I was "too demanding", and I found that odd...because I simply "hoped" for a text that I never received. Hoping is quite the opposite of demanding. Did they even read my post? In the ultimate twist of irony, the only one actually demanding anything was the regional director of the D.O.T. (mother of the guy who declared me 'persona non grata', and the tourism crony they might be trying to protect). Please read, people. The information is all out there.
- Then they mentioned how I should have showed up in Sorsogon prepared to pay. I never imagined I would need to explain how blogging works...to bloggers...but here goes: It was confusing, but I was invited to Sorsogon. I had a similar invite in Albay, and after my sponsored activities, I was able to create a feature that reached 2 million or more potential travelers. That is why regions invest in having me there - sponsorship is often the only way it's possible for me, and the investment is very little in comparison to the income generated by a successful post. This is actually extremely cost-effective marketing for them.
- Then I was accused of writing a negative a post just to go viral. C'mon, dude. Now you're just being lazy. It's as if these bloggers just went through all my previous posts and accused me of everything I have publicly spoken out against! Haha. Guys, these articles were read by millions, in your own national media:
There was my piece on 'white worship' in the Philippines, there was my letter to a Polish food blogger, accusing her of attacking Filipino food for web traffic, and there was my plea to keep too much U.S. and "western" influence out of the Philippines. Yes, I'm that guy. Basically, having an opinion is great, but having an actual argument is much, much more important.
- Finally, there was the blogger who said nobody asked me to promote the Philippines. Well, sorry to burst your bubble...but many, many people from both the private and government sectors have asked me to help promote. I was busy working with tourism boards and LGUs both before and after my visit to Sorsogon. If they are providing valuable resources to tourists, and I see that it could help the country I love, I am happy to help.
Nope, the Philippines doesn't owe me anything, and I never said it did. My post clearly stated I knew I was showing up in that office last minute, and I did not expect much at all. I wish people would stop trying to read between the lines, and pay more attention to the actual lines.
If anything, I feel that I owe the country for the many unforgettable experiences I have had there, and that is precisely why I gave almost 3 years of my life to try and promote it...with absolutely no request for payment.
In this age of endless selfies and self-promotion, my blog isn't even really about me. It has been about the people and places of the Philippines. I'm not perfect, and my post clearly stated that I don't see myself as some big, important person. I'm just a regular guy who happens to be in a good position to be able to help. That's all I ever wanted to do.
One local told me "Yeah, it's normal...those bloggers are just trying to ride the fame of your blog". Could that be true? I wonder...have they even put 1 full minute into researching who I am and what I'm doing in their country? Anybody who's curious can find out HERE.
The Value of Truth
I provided honest feedback about the pros and cons of traveling in the Philippines, and I was amazed that in this article, not one of these bloggers condemned the board's decision to officially ban me for it. If bloggers keep protecting (and even promoting) this kind of behavior from government officials, sure they can keep going on paid trips, but they will lose the respect of their readers. They could become tools of a corrupt government, and the country's reputation will continue to suffer.
I understand bloggers want to be successful, but I hope they won't sweep their own integrity under the rug in the process. People know how easy it is for some politicians to buy votes out in the provinces...but I wonder if they realize that politicians can use sponsored trips to buy the influence of bloggers as well.
Other tourism boards have invited me on sponsored trips to help promote their regions - but that won't stop me from speaking up if things could be improved. Addressing these issues will only help the country in the long run.
Philippines, until your freedom of speech is stripped away from you, declaring a tourist 'persona non grata' for his honest feedback is unacceptable.
Really, I don't mind criticism at all. If it's valid, I believe we can use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. In this case, sadly,
they just missed the mark. The most heartbreaking part is that I have been supportive of some of these bloggers in the past...I even posted publicly to congratulate some just
days after they attacked me. Some of these blogs inspired me to create mine in the first place. I never imagined they would sink to a tabloid-style personal
Tearing People Down
I wonder if they ever took a moment to think about what I was going through...what it's like to be far from family on the other side of the world - in an isolated place you came to offer help. Unbelievably, your face ends up all over national media because you have been "officially banned" by what appears to be a grandstanding politician. People start making some very wild accusations.
In a region that people warn you is dangerous, you stick out like a sore thumb, and you feel unsafe. Then, when you don't think it could get any worse, top it off with public attacks by people who are supposed to be your peers. It was pretty stressful...I actually got sick and lost weight.
For every reasonably motivated person in the Philippines, there are 1000 more who can't wait to drag them down.
I have to say, one of the real downsides of being in the Philippines is seeing how pervasive the mob and crab mentalities are. Some people seem to take every opportunity to drag others down. It's quite hard to progress in the country, and perhaps that is why the Philippines has experienced such a "brain drain" (a lot of the talent moves to "greener pastures" in other countries, where hard work will actually be rewarded).
Anyway, what's also very concerning is how easily people can be swayed and manipulated by trashy articles like the one mentioned above...how quickly they can throw reason out the window and just "join the mob". It's almost as if these articles are written knowing full well that the facts don't matter (because nobody will research them anyway). Very unethical.
Many people in the Philippines don't seem to care about the truth - they just want to be entertained.
Let's face it, many people will literally believe anything they read on a screen. In my opinion, this is deeply troubling for
the future of the country. If it's that easy to convince the people of something (despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary), powerful individuals could be using smear campaigns to
manipulate citizens far into the foreseeable future.
My friends, it's always good to know where information like this is coming from - and why. You see, if they can't say I
marched into a tourist office like some entitled jerk, then they have absolutely no good justification for declaring me persona non grata. I mean, look what happened.
This one disgruntled man (who wasn't even there) took a guy who has been invited and welcomed to promote all over their country...and declared him persona
non grata. Trust me, he will keep pushing the "entitled white guy" version of the story to try to avoid looking like a complete fool.
As a comment on CNN stated: "C'mon, if he really was the snobby, demanding guy they claim, wouldn't we have heard this from the countless other regions he has partnered with and promoted over the past 14 months?" Good point. In the Philippines, facts are chewed up, and tabloids get spit out. It seems the news cycle isn't complete until somebody desperately tries to provide "the other side of the story"...even if they have to just make it up! Haha. I can only imagine what kind of crazy nonsense they will come up with next...
A Message For the Bloggers
Yes, my post really seemed to make some local bloggers sensitive. They started plastering their links all over the place. I just want them to know that when I say that I'm promoting the Philippines, in no way does it mean that they aren't. Filipino bloggers have done a great job promoting their country. I hope they will keep providing valuable resources to their readers...and always keep the best interests of their people in mind. I will support it - I try to live by the motto:
"Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already".
I also want to thank those bloggers who actually understood the point of my post - those that understood the need for a functional, respectable government. You make me think there is hope for the Philippines.
Filipino Tourists Matter
Other local bloggers saddened me by mentioning how "he is promoting the Philippines, but most of his readers are Filipinos". I believe this statement is not only dismissive and belittling to Filipino people, but this kind of thinking is extremely short-sighted as well.
There seems to be a lot of focus on bringing more foreign tourists to the Philippines, but I hope the D.O.T. does not overlook the value of local
tourists. Many of my readers are Balikbayans and OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), and they get excited to come home and spend their foreign dollars
visiting the places I feature in the blog.
Aside from OFWs though, it seems to me that about 50-60% of all tourists in the Philippines are actually based in the Philippines!
If Filipino tourists have enough money to go on vacation in the Philippines, they also have enough money to book a cheap plane ticket overseas and spend their money in OTHER countries.
This is money the Philippines will lose, and for this reason, I believe Filipino tourists are important. They should not be taken for granted.
What "I Dreamed Of This" is All About
For me, blogging is not about getting "free stuff". I have actually turned down over 95% of the offers presented to me. When my audience grew, I realized I
had a voice....and I that I could use my voice to speak up for those who are not always heard. If my
heart tells me something is unjust or needs to be fixed, I promised myself I would say something about it. That is why I spoke up about these areas for improvement.
My FB page...
When it comes to tourism promotion in the Philippines, I try very hard to avoid supporting mediocre or unethical businesses. I believe that supporting them
will only hurt the country's reputation internationally. That is why I try to research everything before I accept any invitations. They must be worth promoting.
I don't care what these businesses or agencies try to offer me - the integrity of my word and trust of my readers is more important than anything.
The service quality and standards in the Philippines will never improve if we promote any
free hotel or tour dangled in front of our faces.
These organizations need to be promoted as a reward for exceptional service, not simply because we're friends, or they offer us a free stay. If this system of doing favors for friends and families is replaced by one that's actually based on merit, then perhaps Philippine tourism will finally rise to compete with the rest of ASEAN. That's when local communities might truly begin to benefit as well. This is my hope.
Here's to a strong future for Philippine tourism...and a 'persona non grata' free 2016 ;)
FYI, this was a "follow up" post to being declared "Offically Unwelcome" in the Philippines.
By the way, with the help of some generous private citizens, I was still able to explore and publish my Sorsogon article HERE.
Popular Blog Posts:
More "I Dreamed Of This" Blog Posts HERE
Have something to add? Leave a comment...