Over coffee with Renato Padilla

As general manager of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) for the last 15 years, Padilla knows the country’s MICE panorama like the palm of his hands. He tells what the Philippines needs to restore its shine in business events

Renato Padilla

The Philippines was once the toast of the business events industry in Asia, with PICC being the first convention centre in South-east Asia. How can we bring back the heyday?
What we need is a mindset from the Department of Tourism (DoT) to strengthen, and work on selling and marketing the Philippines as a convention destination to international and regional associations.

We tried that in 1978 when I was the marketing manager of the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corp. (PCVC), now the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB, DoT’s marketing arm). We were very successful.

Renato Padilla

Convention promotion was handled by TPB while DoT concentrated on tourists. (As such) we already had one foot in the associations door in the 1980s.

TPB formed a MICE department recently, but a Philippine Convention Bureau must be formed. Today, practically every city in the world has a convention bureau to handle destination market. In comparison, we do not have a convention bureau and neither do our cities.

Infrastructure is being built and new hotels are coming up but the government has to take the lead in promoting and marketing (the country for events).

Is the government receptive to these ideas?
Ten years ago, we tried persuading them to have a convention bureau. It’s all in the mindset. Local government units (LGUs) have to be development-oriented and help the business events industry. Some LGUs are doing that but (in a) very limited (way). We tried to talk to Pasay City (where Manila’s main convention centres including PICC are located), but they don’t understand.

Philippine convention centres are dwarfed by big venues in the region. Can the Philippines catch up?
We’re already behind in Asia. At the moment, our South-east Asian and (wider) Asian neighbours have managed to build structures as huge as 100,000m2.

We cannot even bid for big trade exhibitions. If a country is to become a member of the United Federation of Exhibition Centres, (it needs to have a) minimum of 30,000m2 of exhibition space.

Sad to say we don’t have that in the Philippines. PICC has 5,000m2, World Trade Center Manila has 10,000m2, and SMX Convention Center Manila has 10,000m2. All three combined offer less than 30,000m2 of space.

How is PICC doing on the exhibition front?
We need an honest to goodness exhibition centre connected to PICC. We need an area where we can exhibit heavy materials like military equipment, boats, trucks, etc.
Money is in exhibitions. Where before an exhibition was part of a congress, now exhibitions are standalone events.

Organisers will sell on a per square foot basis that they get from an exhibition centre, and that is where the money (comes from), even for local associations.

But there’s not enough space within the PICC grounds.
PICC is within the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex. CCP has divided the 60-hectare property into seven zones to develop into revenue-producing clusters like theatre, condominium, etc.

I brokered discussions between CCP and the Development Bank of the Philippines – the infrastructure bank of the government – to sell the land to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Philippine Central Bank), which owns PICC. An international convention centre and an international exhibition centre are complementing projects (but there are no results yet).

Being government-owned, does PICC get marketing assistance from the government?
PICC has to market itself.

So what is PICC doing itself to bring in business?
One of the successful things PICC did was to have the Office of the President issue a circular in 2017 directed at government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations to hold events at PICC, where no downpayment was required.

The campaign is snowballing. We had a 30 per cent increase in business but more now.
Several years ago, we formed the PCAAE (Philippine Council for Associations and Association Executives) with CEO Bobby Peralta and TPB in the hope that it will pick up the education and information aspects for local associations, and empower them to be able to bid for their counterpart institutions and congresses.

PICC has provided the venue for the yearly PCAAE summit.

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