The draw of major events

Philippine tourism stakeholders are finally realising the benefits of spotlighting high-profile events held in their country.

Trumpeting high-profile events is becoming part of the Philippines’s destination marketing action plan as the country strives to rebuild visitors’ confidence, currently rocked by safety and security concerns, among other things.

Take the significance of Tagum, a city in Mindanao that hosted the 6th ASEAN Scout Jamboree late last year for 30,000-plus participants. Tagum rose up to the challenge in ensuring the safety of everyone and meeting their needs from transport and medical care to meals.

That the jamboree was successfully staged shows that Mindanao is a safe destination and is capable of hosting big international events, according to Roberto Alabado III, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DoT).

Mindanao also capitalised on the rare diplomatic gesture of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe when he visited the Davao home of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte early-2017. The resulting global media coverage favoured Davao and contributed to strong arrivals from Japan, the country’s fourth largest tourism source market.

A 2016 survey of tourists from major source markets by Frost & Sullivan showed that safety and security are top concerns when visiting the Philippines, followed by traffic congestion and unclean environment.

Among local destinations, Mindanao is the most hard pressed to dispel this image exacerbated last year by the siege of Marawi (which has since ended) and the resulting declaration of martial law (still enforced).

But safety and security concerns about the Philippines were at times exaggerated to the detriment of business events. While there are some conflict areas in Mindanao, the island has far more safe and tourist-friendly areas such as Siargao, Camiguin, Davao and Bukidnon.

Teresita Landan, MICE manager, Tourism Promotions Board, said: “We have to let the market know of prominent events. They are testimonials that the Philippines is a safe destination and capable of hosting and organising events”.

She cited the 283 meetings and conference held throughout the Philippines, including a number in Mindanao, for the 2017 ASEAN Summit.

“We ably hosted them. Some were held simultaneously and in succession. There were no untoward incidents,” she pointed out.

A source requesting anonymity said the sector is learning to spotlight high-profile events in the Philippines’ favour, “unlike in the past when (these events) breezed by unknown to the industry” due to lacking government marketing and promotional support.

“Destinations have to trumpet their own accomplishments loud and clear”, he said.

Having earned a lot of publicity mileage from hosting the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress attended by over 15,000 people from around the world, Cebu is no longer shy in highlighting the events that it will host and its new tourism infrastructure. It will host Routes Asia 2019 and the first MICE Business Asia in mid-2018.

Angel Ramos Bognot, owner of Afro Asian World Events, said that as part of Cebu’s destination marketing, both the provincial government of Cebu and TPB will help market and promote MICE Business Asia.

Manila’s congested and traffic-prone image is eased somewhat by its hosting of the Asia Pacific Regional Rotaract Conference, an event to be held in the Philippines for the first time and attended by 800 people in July.

Mitch Ballesteros, CEO of Ex-Link Events which will organise the conference, said event promotion is a way of spreading good words about Manila, and the resulting publicity will further benefit the city.

The Philippines, especially Manila, is still getting big conferences, according to Team Asia chair and president Monette Iturralde-Hamlin. While it cannot attract mega events yet due to a lack of capacity, Iturralde-Hamlin said it is imperative that destination promotion persists.

She added that the private sector is doing its own destination marketing and, in her case, organising fam trips for clients. And she’s seeing results.

Alabado said the DoT is taking a step further in promoting Mindanao as a single destination with plans for cities to join forces and coordinate with each other. Since Davao is the most developed events destination in Mindanao, it can help shore up sister cities such as General Santos and Cagayn de Oro, and others in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

While martial law is still in effect in Mindanao, “people realise early on that it isn’t actually a martial law. Everything is back to normal, as if nothing happened”, a source said.

Landan said it is a must to showcase major international events held in the country to inspire confidence in other business event planners.

Landan noted that recent events including the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s 6th International Conference on Tourism Statistics was a vote of confidence for the Philippines and even the Miss Universe pageant spotlights the country’s ability to host major events.

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