MANILA • The Philippines has fired one of the world's top advertising firms in a row over alleged plagiarism, adding more misery to its tourism industry already reeling from a war with Islamist militants and a deadly crackdown on drugs.
The tourism department on Thursday cancelled its contract with McCann Worldgroup Philippines and demanded an apology, after deeming its just-launched promotion for the South-east Asian nation was too similar to a 2014 South African campaign.
"It is not right that we will be paying for something delivered to us which is fraught with accusations of being a copycat version," assistant tourism secretary Reynaldo Ching told reporters.
The ad showed an elderly tourist enjoying his trip to the Philippines and ends with him whipping out a blind man's walking stick.
It was ridiculed on social media for what netizens described as its uncanny similarity to the "Rediscover South Africa" ad.
The Department of Tourism's campaign contract with McCann was worth 650 million pesos (S$18 million), which was passed on by the administration of former president Benigno Aquino.
"Our team is exploring all legal remedies. That's something that will be discussed in a professional level with the agency," assistant tourism secretary Ricky Alegre said.
"While we regret the decision of the (ministry) to discontinue our partnership, we continue to believe that it is in the best interest of all parties to discuss a sensible resolution to this matter," a McCann statement said on Friday.
McCann, part of the US global ad giant Interpublic Group, had issued another statement earlier in the week saying it stood by the integrity of the campaign.
"We also underscore that there has never been any intention to copy others' creative work," it said.
Despite picturesque tropical islands and spectacular mountains, the Philippines lags behind its neighbours as a tourist destination due partly to decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies, as well as kidnappings by Islamist militants.
About 5.9 million tourists visited the Philippines last year, compared with 32.6 million for Thailand.
Safety concerns had been exacerbated over the past year partly due to a crackdown on drugs by President Rodrigo Duterte that has seen thousands of people killed and led to warnings by rights groups of a potential crime against humanity.
Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo urged journalists in March to "tone down" their coverage of the drug killings, saying the media was scaring away foreigners.
In recent months, the threat from Islamist militants has also spiked.
In April, the government foiled a plot to kidnap dozens of tourists in the central island of Bohol, leading to gun battles that left 15 people dead.
Then last month, militants flying the black flags of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group rampaged through the southern city of Marawi, leading to clashes that have left nearly 300 people dead, and are continuing.
Mr Duterte declared martial law across the southern Philippines, home to 20 million people, in response to the rampage, which he said was part of an ISIS campaign to establish a caliphate there.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK