Q1: You have expanded from a shirt brand to a tourism brand. Please tell us what was the insight that led to this transformation?
I first got the idea to go into the business of selling souvenir shirts from my travels – shirts were and continue to be the preferred souvenir as they’re light and practical. But many of the souvenirs being sold even in top destinations at that time like Baguio and Boracay were substandard and impractical. I then saw the opportunity to introduce something new, something fresh and the aim was to professionalize the business since this sector was predominantly a cottage type industry. So in 1992, Islands Souvenirs opened its first outlet and since then has opened almost a hundred stores all over focusing on the top tourist destinations in the Philippines. In the process of growing the business, I began getting more and more exposed to the travel and tourism industry. That’s when I realized that there were a lot of “gaps” in the industry.
Aside from the travel agencies and full-scale hotels and airlines, the rest of the tourism players were mostly cottage-industry models without a lot of the professionalism and good service. Furthermore, I felt that if the Philippines wanted to be a world-class destination, we needed to address the tourism service sector and step up our offerings. This was when I realized that the Islands brand could and should evolve into a top-of-mind tourism services brand. It was almost a natural evolution for us since we understood the industry well but more importantly, we understood what the travelers wanted.
Today, “Islands” not only focuses on retail but has also expanded into tours, adventure, media and most recently, hospitality. By 2012, we will be rolling out our taxi service in key destinations.
Q2: How do you create brand consistency across different product lines under the same brand in your group?
Interestingly enough, the brand in itself is still evolving, but we’ve been able to achieve consistency by being disciplined with our brand identity. The logos are all similar; we take care to use the right kind of fonts and colors as well as its careful execution. But more importantly, our brand transcends our logo and corporate colors. We have built a strong company culture that integrates our corporate values which in turn has become the core of our brand. We constantly refer to our “core” when we make corporate decisions regarding the brand as well as our products and services. Even the manner in which we communicate to our customer has to be consistent with our brand and core. When I say core, I actually mean how we deliver the needs of our customers, the market, the traveler, with regard to how he wants to travel, how he wants to spend his money when traveling, and how he wants to be treated when traveling. We always try to align our products and services with their needs – sounds like a lot of work, but it’s really just fundamental. Good service, value for money, great design… you can use those three phrases to describe any one of our products and services.
Q3: How do you decide if the business opportunity fits your existing brand?
If it impacts the traveler in any meaningful way, then that business opportunity merits a closer look. We are always on the look out for these so called “gaps”. It can be something as simple as a map or a guide and while many perceive it as mundane or even minor, anyone who’s traveled knows how important these are. And if a proper business model is created around it then it could turn into a major business. That is our mindset in addressing these opportunities.
Another compelling factor is if it helps tourism in our country. It is inherent at Islands to try to do our share in making the Philippines an attractive travel destination. The Talima Adventure Park and Islands Banca Cruises are samples of that commitment. We felt Cebu was running out of things to offer its visitors and Cebu wasn’t highlighting its strengths in creating an exciting destination. Today, island hopping has become its number 1 leisure destination. We also just opened an Islands Banca Cruises franchise in Davao; this I am certain will help boost tourism in the region.
Lastly, we look for businesses that can easily synergize with our existing ventures, something that would not only be a stand alone business but something that would complement our portfolio. In the future we hope to have an integrated line up of services that will, at the end of the day, make life easier and more enjoyable for the travelers.