Move at a steady clip

Manila is changing its marketing tack, and trying to improve its offerings to regain its standing as a top business events destination.

The Tourism Promotions Board’s (TPB) push to reclaim the Philippines’ claim to fame in hosting meetings stands to benefit metro Manila which, despite its limitations and challenges, remains the hub for this specific segment of business events.

TPB’s deputy chief operating officer for marketing and promotions, Maricon Ebron, remarked: “We start small with top multinational corporations in the Philippines that have monthly, quarterly, semi-annual meetings. Then we will start bidding for their regional meetings”.

Ebron said that from there, they can also court international organisations such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, that have not held their meetings in Manila for a long time.

Manila used to be the leading venue for business events in Asia but has since been taken over by other countries that have invested heavily in meetings hardware, marketing and promotions.

“We are up against competition that keeps on changing,” Ebron said.

Part of drawing more corporate meetings, Ebron pointed out, is asserting the advantages of the country including its English-speaking people, improved infrastructure, and a growing list of venues to choose from.

Admitting that the perks being given to business events are “basic” and “not enough”, Ebron said reviews are now underway while taking budget limitations into consideration.

TPB will also be changing its tack and have a more focused approach to cultivating source markets for business events. For instance, the shorthaul Asian market, which was earlier identified in the Philippines’ MICE roadmap crafted through a collaboration between the government and private sector.

Stakeholders believe that this is a sensible approach as Asia currently makes up 70 per cent of the Philippines’ total arrivals and Chinese, South Koreans, and Japanese are among its fastest growing markets.

Rajah Tours’ president Jojo Clemente opined that metro Manila will always be the capital of business events, as it is the country’s main city and has all the main facilities and infrastructure needed for business events.

But Clemente suggested that investment in newer and bigger facilities in Manila – to attract larger meetings and conferences of 3,000 pax or more – is necessary, as this is a growing trend.

“We still don’t have those kind of facilities and that is our disadvantage when compared to Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore,” he lamented.

Clemente also noted that while the metro’s hotel stock is rapidly increasing, it doesn’t have mega-sized hotels. As such, accommodation is still a problem when a big convention hits town.

“Once you have a big convention in metro Manila or 10 conventions happening at once, hotels are fully booked in the Makati and Manila Bay areas, (and sometimes) even up to Ortigas and Bonifacio Global City (BGC),” he pointed out.

Afro Asian World Events president’s Angel Ramos Bognot added that new developments in Manila, such as the opening of new cities in BGC, the Newport City near the airport, and Entertainment City in the Bay area with hotels and meeting facilities, have helped Manila’s business events sector evolve over the past few years.

Other reasons for the market’s evolution, he said, is that multinationals based in the Philippines are increasingly opting to meet in the metro instead of abroad as the local currency is fast depreciating in value against the US dollar.

Bognot added that the Department of Tourism (DoT) also needs to help investors in business events facilities by giving them advice and training on how to make their spaces more MICE-friendly.

“In some cases, the function rooms are designed more for weddings and social events, but they will be able to win international accounts if they are taught how to improve the technical aspects on sound and lighting for instance,” Bognot said.

And while Bognot supports TPB’s programmes for tapping into the meetings and conferences sectors, she noted that in the MICE roadmap, only exhibitions were mentioned while incentive trips were missing.

Other sources shared that perhaps the omission has something to do with the fact that the report was prepared by PACEOS (Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Suppliers). Or that the local association, Movement for Incentive Travel Executives (MITE), was not as active.

On the association meetings front, the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE), has an agreement with TPB to help bid for international events to be held in the Philippines, a natural flow given the associations’ international connections.

President and CEO Octavio Peralta said: “While PCAAE has not kept track of international events organised or won by its members as our initial role is one of a linker and facilitator, moving forward, PCAAE plans to proactively encourage its members to bid for international events, as well as monitor and record these events, including the number of participants and speakers from overseas.”

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