As war looms in Iraq, and North Korea makes Asia nervous with its nuclear programme, it would seem crazy for the Philippines to launch a major tourism offensive. But that is exactly what never-say-die Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon is doing this year with his 'Wow, Philippines 2003' campaign. He could have accepted the fact that tourism in the country is comatose, after last year's advisories by Australia and Canada warning their nationals against travelling to the Philippines. Then there was the abduction of 19 tourists from a Palawan Island resort two years ago by Muslim terrorists. Mr Gordon sweeps away concerns about terrorists. 'There's been a paradigm shift. No place in the world is safe from terrorism,' he said. It would have been easy to dismiss this quip as a mere show of bravado. But Okan Aysu, of Interpol's terrorism directorate in France, echoed the same sentiment last year at a Manila conference on anti-terrorism and tourism recovery. He said: 'We all now have to learn to live with a certain level of terrorism.' Despite bombings in places where tourists are not encouraged to go, arrivals in the Philippines rose to 1.99 million last year, compared with 1.79 million in 2001 - a year when a president was ousted, a new president was nearly toppled and tourists were abducted. A lack of funds is also a drawback for boosting tourism in the Philippines. The Philippines could afford a promotional budget of only US$660,000 (HK$5.14 million) or roughly 35 US cents for each of the 1.9 million tourists who spent a total of US$2.2 billion. In 2000, Thailand budgeted US$45 million - US$4.73 for each of the 9.5 million tourists who spent a total of US$7.5 billion. In Hong Kong, it was US$66 million or US$5 for each of the 13 million tourists who spent US$8 billion. Singapore budgeted US$70 million or US$10 for each of the seven million tourists who spent a total of US$6 billion. But what Mr Gordon lacks in funds, he makes up for in gumption and creativity. With other Asian countries now overusing the word smile in their tourist ads, Mr Gordon has seized on 'wow' to mean 'wealth of wonders', 'warm over winter' (aimed at Japan), 'wacko over wildlife' and 'wander our wonders'. 'You name me one bad thing, I'll tell you 10 good things about the Philippines,' Mr Gordon said. Mr Gordon came to prominence as mayor of Olongapo City when he fought to retain US forces at the Subic naval base. When the Americans were booted out in 1992, he dried his tears, conserved the base-assets and converted the complex into the Subic Bay freeport. Now Mr Gordon intends to showcase to foreign and domestic tourists not just the beaches and shopping (among the cheapest in Asia), but also his country's history and culture. 'It will explain why we have been like this, and how we can be greater as a nation.'