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Ilagan Makes Its Way On The Map

CESO Communications January 17, 2020

Ilagan City has one of the fastest growing economies in the Philippines. Located in the province of Isabela, in the northeast region of the archipelago with several rivers running through the city’s expansive land mass, Ilagan’s local economy revolves around agriculture and fisheries. At the pulse of its economy is corn, dominating the city’s farmlands, public markets, and dinner tables.

The city emanates hope and promise. Its local government, led by Mayor Evelyn Diaz, works hard to maintain its status as a first class city. From building infrastructure to facilitating economic connectivity between its 91 barangays (district boroughs), farms and public markets, to providing accessible health and social services for its residents, the local government has one vision: to provide a home where opportunities abound for its residents.

Mayor Diaz and her team have their eyes on furthering the city’s status as a vibrant economic hub for investors and local businesses in the region. Part of their economic growth and diversification strategy is to strengthen its tourism sector. Despite its stunning landscape, diverse cultural experiences, and warm people, Ilagan lacks enough of the basic infrastructure, such as hotels and restaurants, to welcome visitors. Above all, the city is missing an impressionable brand to create a buzz amongst adventurous and cultural tourists.

Mayor Diaz wants to change this and put Ilagan on the map as a tourist destination. With so many competing priorities, she knew they needed help to make this vision a reality. Upon learning these challenges, the governing province of Isabela approached CESO to solicit expertise to help the city with place branding and the development of a tourism marketing strategy.

In August 2017, Roger Wheelock, CESO expert Volunteer Advisor, travelled to Ilagan City from Victoria, B.C. to lend his expertise. Roger has over 40 years of experience in the tourism sector, propelling Canadian cities and places on the map.

“I arrived in the city where they had no clue who I was, nor what I was doing there! From that point, I found a city with employees who were absolutely committed to the assignment, once they knew what we could do together.”

Roger was assigned a small team of dedicated staff, Sam Acosta, Chris Nuez and Michelle Andres. In addition, the city’s tourism department, the city administrator, and the Mayor and her staff all pitched in enthusiastically. The project team travelled throughout the city’s existing and potential tourism spots, facilities, historical landmarks and nearby towns, searching out ‘best-in-class’ experiences to create a set of standards for their tourism products. They consulted with Indigenous populations, cultural and religious organizations, as well as businesses to fully understand the diversity of the experiences the city could offer. Ultimately, their goal is to establish a brand that will encourage tourists to travel so far north of the country to experience a vibrant and colourful city with a booming agricultural sector. Collectively, they coalesced around the idea of concentrating on agri-tourism (Corn Capital of the Philippines), sports tourism, religious tourism and festivals tourism in Ilagan. To do this, parks would have to shine, streetscapes and road verges made attractive and well-maintained, signage and way-finding improved.

The local staff was motivated by the evolution of the project as it starts to unearth the underlying potential of the city to become a tourist destination. They also became more deeply committed to the project, knowing it will open new economic opportunities to improve livelihoods of their fellow Ilaguenos.

The small team grew to involve more local residents and groups, such as the city’s gay alliance, women’s business association, and many others. It was this collaborative spirit that made the project more efficient and successful.

At the end of the assignment, Roger and the team presented an array of recommendations to establish Ilagan as a recognizable and popular destination in the Northern region. From upgrading its parks and museums, to constructing a tourism information and assistance centre, to developing templates to guide tourism project plans, the assignment had tremendous impact in setting the course for the city’s success in tourism.

A small but critical foundation for their success and a direct outcome of the CESO project was the creation of a brand new logo that emphasized corn as the pride and the backbone of the city. Roger conducted two more workshops, this time involving the creative communities of Ilagan to develop a new tourism logo and wordmark. With guidance from Roger, the community took ownership in developing, refining and selecting the city’s new tourism brand identity.

They refreshed the brand statement to “Tara sa Ilagan… worth the journey”. (“Let’s go to Ilagan… worth the journey.”)

Ilagan City tourism department’s new brand logo

Today, the city continues to explore the many recommendations left by CESO’s Roger Wheelock. They have renovated parks, explored new cultural activities, and solicited investors. They have also added new staff members to the project, and those who were originally trained have trained 15 others to execute the strategy.

The journey it has taken the city to where they are today was made possible by the drive of its staff and Roger. “Roger was always on hand, busy and full of input and wisdom. The way he connected to our people and our organization is extraordinary,” shares Perlita Gaoiran, the city’s tourism director who also emphasized that the assignment strengthened the collaboration amongst her colleagues.

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