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Wanna Make Your Blog Popular? Travel the Philippines and Praise or Bitch It

Here in Cebu, local travel bloggers often meet fellow travel bloggers from Luzon or Mindanao for dinner or beer. We would talk about places, travel plans, and other fellow travel bloggers who succumbed to click-bait articles and listicles such as “Five Reasons I Hate Davao City” or “20 Photos from the Philippines, #7 will shock you.” [READ: 12 Months of Beaches around the Philippines]

Most Filipinos fall easy for this kind of writing.

One time, while having barbecue dinner at Larsian, the hot topic was this Polish travel blogger who bitched the Filipino street food [read my reply here: I’d Rather Eat and Try to Understand], which I found rather understandable because even some Filipinos cannot stomach our very own street delicacies. What I found very odd is the fact that a seasoned traveler who has been on the road for five years running whined about the despicableness of a 40-peso (less than a dollar) meal in one of the poor countries in Asia.

READ: What’s Wrong with “Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World”  

It was Doi, one of the travel bloggers, who dropped the possibility that the Polish girl might have done it for the sake of traffic—a word that has an entirely different meaning from the everyday road congestion that we Filipinos have to live with.

Wanna Make Your Blog Popular? Travel the Philippines and Praise or Bitch It

Sinulog Festival 2014

I did not take her seriously then—on the same manner that I did not take my own blog, or travel blogging in general, seriously. But it was not a sole case altogether. Before her, there was Allen’s, a Californian who traveled around the Philippines for twelve months, and shared his honest, non-touristy observations about the Filipinos and our collective life, which I found admirable, really, knowing that the tourism industry has only  few words in mind about the Philippines: paradise, pristine beaches, hospitable, smiling. The Filipinos loved his blog post so much that it actually flooded my Facebook feed. I found most of his observations  embarrassingly accurate and true, which I found bordering to exoticism [exoticism, by the way, is not a mere observation of other cultures, but viewing yourself and your cultures superior]. Almost three months after, he followed it up with a rather motivational Dale Carnegie, or to be more up-to-date, Nick Vujicic’s kind of speech. It was an instant hit to the Filipinos.

What I found very odd is the fact that a seasoned traveler who has been on the road for five years running whined about the despicableness of a 40-peso (less than a dollar) meal in one of the poor countries in Asia.  

Last year, justonewayticket.com’s Travel the Philippines 2015: 20 Photos that will make you pack yours bags and go  was a whooping success, with 170K likes. In fairness, it was a well-curated list (which takes hours to make) of tourist must-dos with engaging, (so-called) paradisiacal images of the Philippines. While she praised the Philippines a lot, boasting that her Boracay post (with 25 000 shares) was the most shared ever, there was another foreign blogger who lambasted Boracay, well, for being Boracay: crowded, epicurean, scammers-laden, inconvenient. It had 42000 likes (or dislikes).

Wanna Make Your Blog Popular? Travel the Philippines and Praise or Bitch It

Boracay 2010. My second visit to this island.

Now, it seems like hate is thicker than love. Or is “share” more important than “like?”

Some of Anna’s points are true but not quite. One, Boracay is a ruined beauty, for very obvious ecological and ethical reasons. It is a place run by capitalism. The original settlers, the Aetas, are displaced from their very own home, and an Aeta activist was actually gunned down for fighting for their own island. But the whining of going there, the so-called sex parties, and even the sandcastles makers and souvenir vendors everywhere (some of them, by the way, are the original settlers of the land) was unbecoming and un-traveler-like. Why call yourself a traveler if all you are going to do is grumble about these travel-related, or more accurately, tourist-related inconveniences, which by the way does not solely exist in the Philippines.

Travel the Philippines for Traffic

Kawasan Falls, Cebu

It did not take long for some Filipino travel bloggers to pick up the trend. One blogger interviewed random white travelers he met on his trip and asked them why they fell in love with the Philippines. I wonder if it was a hit. Because, you know, there was an added element: a Filipino interviewing a white traveler.

Why call yourself a traveler if all you are going to do is grumble about these travel-related, or more accurately, tourist-related inconveniences, which by the way does not solely exist in the Philippines.

Another curious thing is  to be white, have a Filipina partner, and express how amazing Filipinas are, like we are the only beautiful women in the world, like we are a kind of exotic animal. My boyfriend and I joked about jumping into the bandwagon of Euro-Asian traveler couples turned travel bloggers. Of course, he must, yes, must, wildly praise the Philippines and its people, but he fortunately hates FB and takes no interest in blogging.

Another thing is, to be white and want to be Filipino, like what Gia mentioned in a travel forum on Facebook. Now, there is nothing wrong to becoming a Filipino because I believe identity is an evolution, a process. Identity is a constant process of becoming, not being.

But. If you are glaringly white and want to be Filipino and think of yourself as one of us yet see yourself as superior, and write about us on your blog, now you are nothing but an exoticizer, a practitioner of so-called cultural exorcism, of hegemony. 

Sadly, it is one thing to be white loving  the Philippines and to be actually a Filipino expressing your love to your own country.

One time, I pitched a travel commentary (after my On Being a Dark Filipina Traveling around the Philippines) to my editor on Rappler. The pitch? How to make your blog popular. First, be white. Travel the Philippines and praise or bitch it afterwards. Or interview a random white traveler and have it published on Rappler. Or be white and have your praises published on Rappler: on how you found balut yucky at first but delicious in the end, on how you enjoyed the buttload of rice for breakfast, on how you enjoyed the crazily loud karaoke, and on how you loved lechon!

Identity is a constant process of becoming, not being.

My editor, who used to immediately get back to me, did not reply at all. Yeah, I just severed a beautiful correspondence.

I do understand Rappler’s and travel blogs’ lifeline comes from traffic. And what Doi had said might be true.

Travel the Philippines for Traffic

White Island, Camiguin Island

The Philippines, according to Time Magazine’s research, is the selfie capital of the world. It goes without saying that we spend a good amount of time taking selfies and uploading them on social media. So aside from being the selfie capital of the world, we are also the social media capital. Combine our craziness over social media+adoration towards America and anything white (some, if not most, Filipinos think all white people are Americans)+love/hate post on the Philippines.

Yes, that’s a viral post in the making.

Yes, a post can either make you an instant goodwill ambassador or a persona non grata in the Philippines.

But here is the thing. It does not matter. Whether it is a scathing or a lovely post on this archipelagic, several-times colonized country, it does not matter. What matters is that what you, a white traveler, say matters.

What matters is that you matter.

And if you are a travel blogger hungry for a social media fame, you can actually take advantage of this.

Wanna Make Your Blog Popular? Travel the Philippines and Praise or Bitch It

Sambawan Island, Biliran

That’s why.  I am wondering, you know, just wondering: what if it was a black traveler who praised the Philippines, and not Allen, a white dude from San Francisco? Would the post go viral? What if it was an Indian traveler who bitched our Filipino food? Would the hate triple?

What if it was a fellow Filipino who declared Boracay as the Philippines’ worst tourist trap ever. Would it matter?

How about you? Would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment here.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com. For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. Kemal Kaya says:

    Philippines is one of the best country in the World. I love it very much.

  2. mark says:

    Hi Jona,
    Thanks for writing this. I’m finding this more and more true. It’s pretty hard breaking for ppl who write from their hearts and passion for travel and are also trying to get traffic when they see articles like these above. Good or bad it’s getting the Philippines on the radar.

    It’s also very tempting to write stuff like this as bloggers. But I think people outside the blogging world don’t really care about this. The community has it’s toxic which is shitty but I’m happy to see this address. I hope this gets a lot of press, we know a lot of mixed couples and it’s something to think about.

    Love from Palawan,
    Mark and Camille

    • Hi there, Mark and Camille!

      I know it is very tempting for mixed couples to do so! My partner and I kept joking about it. Of course, it is he (who rarely checks FB and does not care about blogging, haha) who must write about the lovely Philippines, not me.

      This, getting a lot of press? I doubt it. We both know this is not the kind of article that goes viral. Haha!

      Thanks for dropping a thought here. I appreciate it a lot!

  3. You hit the nail right at the head, Jon. I’m not sure if I’m right, but I observed that Filipino netizines are quite sensitive. That extreme sensitivity is something that can be taken advantaged of.

    We also agree with Mark and Camille on this: “But I think people outside the blogging world don’t really care about this.”

    • I agree with Mark as well. But the thing, Gian, travel bloggers have some sort of ethics to follow as well. One thing is to NOT mislead. When I read their posts, it is rather condescending and pretty obvious that they’re targeting the Filipino audience. And it feels like they’re toying with the emotions of most Filipinos (because apparently some actually saw through their technique.) And yes, it is within the circle, the more reason to talk about it.

  4. Sam says:

    Hi Jona! Just stumbled upon your blog. I’m a travel writer myself. And sometimes I think bloggers tend to make everything a “review” — as if a place or their travel experience is a product sold. That’s it… Travel is seen as a “package” where people seem to find the freedom to critique a people or a culture, albeit unethically. If they didn’t like it, they feel cheated of their “package”, instead of seeing it has having a variety of stories in the same places.

    Love this topic btw 🙂

    • Hi, Sam! That’s why it took me awhile to call myself a travel blogger because it felt so superficial, which is a polarity of what writers aim. For me to take it seriously, I must address some things, and this is one of them. Yes, sadly, some take traveling as a “package.” In a travel group on FB, one travel blogger mentioned that it is actually a joke between top travel bloggers to write about Philippines if they want to level up their hits.

  5. Darlene says:

    Hi Jona,

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had this same thought a long time too. Probably a case of colonialism and white superiority, eh? Like how we value fair skin more than our tan skin, as evidenced by the celebrities.
    I have an American friend who blogged about how he loved the Philippines. He’s half black. And not so surprisingly, it didn’t go viral. Hehe. Filipinos can get so butthurt easily so of course they take advantage of that.
    Do you think this ‘trend’ or strategy will last and get more prevalent?

    • We talked about this on FB. And one black American travel blogger raised if it really matters. I asked her if there are viral posts about the Philippines written by, for example, a black traveler.

      I hope this trend does not last long. I hope Filipinos realized that they are being used.

  6. Doi says:

    I really don’t mind foreign bloggers expressing their love for our country so long as they are genuine about it. What I do not like is for those opportunistic and egotistic bloggers to exploit on our sensitivity for the sake of raking up their blog’s traffic. A humming bird shared of one particular travel blogger who was successful in showcasing the Philippines in their blog but in reality that person only saw us as third class citizens, much worse, slaves. Tsk. #userfriendly

    I just wish that every Filipino blogger and the rest of the media channels out there doesn’t have to resort to seeking an outsider’s perspective when convincing our fellow Pinoys to explore our own country.

    • I’ve met many foreigners who genuinely love the Philippines, no one from the blogosphere.

      Who is this particular travel blogger? Haha!

      Indeed, Doi. But there won’t be a supply if there is no demand. Hits are better when they are the ones talking about the Philippines.

      See you soon!

  7. Lindsay says:

    This is seriously a really great article, and it brings a lot of really good points (some I hadn’t even thought about) to the surface. Thanks for writing and sharing. As a white kinda-sorta travel blogger (I say that as I’ve only recently really taken it seriously as it was mainly a hobby before), I never really thought about how much power just my race could have. I write from the heart and in true honesty of what I see and experience, but now I wonder if some of the traffic I do get is based solely on my race. I hope trends like this die a very quick death, because a great article should be seen and shared as a great article, no matter who it is written by.

  8. Marj says:

    This irks me because it’s so true. I’ve noticed the trend quite a few months back. I wish Filipinos aren’t so easy bait but we are. Case in point are the onslaught of Filipino themed videos on Buzzfeed — all for the views! Your article also reminds me of this other one: http://www.thenextescape.net/stuffwedo/2015/2/9/trolling-a-country-filipinos-as-social-media-tools. We are such easy targets and it’s so frustrating how we are played as fools. Tsk! Tsk!

    • Thank you for the link, Marj. Good thing someone pointed this out early on. I really linked the blogs he mentioned to let these foreign bloggers know that they sure are the travel bloggers that we find disgraceful and unethical. Thank you, Marj!

  9. Roxy says:

    My gosh this post is gold! Glad I found this. Keep on writing awesome mind-opening posts like this!

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