The wheels keep turning

Much work is needed to rebuild the MICE sector once Covid-19 blows over. See what event planners can look forward to

Covid-19 has damaged the MICE industry but there are plans to lure groups back when travel restrictions are lifted; Manila’s skyline pictured

While the future is still hazy – as of press time – as to how the Covid-19 crisis will be resolved, the post-pandemic scenario for Philippine’s business events sector can be divined based on its performance – or non-performance – earlier this year.

Covid-19 has damaged the MICE industry but there are plans to lure groups back when travel restrictions are lifted; Manila’s skyline pictured

Orly Ballesteros, business events organiser at Ex-Link Events, placed losses at a “conservative” 500 million pesos (US$9.8 million) for the January to March period for PACEOS’ (Philippine Association of Conference/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers) members alone.

Events were cancelled, and business was rudely interrupted, bringing about massive accumulated losses. Philippines was eventually placed on complete lockdown in mid-March.

“The MICE and tourism industry stakeholders (and their staff) need financial aid from the government. Most of the industry players are small and medium enterprises that have limited funds and have been affected by the current pandemic”, Ballesteros said.

He is reaching for help in higher places, by speaking with various government agencies such as PACEOS and the Tourism Congress of the Philippines to provide financial aid to cushion the impact of the pandemic. But whether the assistance recommended comes through remains to be seen.

Short of cash subventions, also envisaged are perks and sweeteners to resurrect numerous business events that were put on hold this year, and lure more foreign corporate groups in the meantime.

Former tourism secretary and events organiser Mina Gabor proposed adding value for event organisers – such as upgrading participants to five-star hotels, throwing in experiential post-event tours, or providing well-thought-out souvenirs – for events scheduled to take place in 2H2020 and 2021.

A second look at Philippines’ MICE Roadmap 2020-2030 is also on the cards.
“If you really want to tap the MICE market and the roadmap specifies targeting Asia and the Middle East, we need to develop these markets. We need to look at how far we have gone in meeting the goals and timeline,” said Angel Ramos Bognot, owner of Afro Asian World Events.

And once Covid-19 blows over, the task of rebuilding the sectors falls on the shoulders of Tourism Promotions Board’s new chief operating officer, Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones, who assumed the plum post in early February. However, as the lawyer and public servant is inexperienced in tourism, marketing and promotions, it would be interesting to see how Allones tackles the worst global crisis in years.

Heritage attractions
The heart of Manila is its heritage, which pre-Covid-19, was revamped considerably. Top of the list is the Walled City of Intramuros – seat of the Spanish colonial government for three centuries – which now has extended opening hours till 23.00. The attraction is now well-lit, and safer for tourists to stroll alongside its arched gates, gardens and fountains.

Meanwhile, new attractions in the area include the Dungeons of Fort Santiago where 600 were tortured and killed during the WWII; Museo Filipino for a glimpse of pre-colonial Philippines and little-known heroes; and last but not least, play a round of golf at the 18-hole Club Intramuros, from 15.00 to midnight.

To experience old and new Manila, hop on an air-conditioned ferry. The Pasig River Cruise starts from the Guadalupe ferry station in Makati, and the 45-minute cruise will pass by attractions such as the Malacanang – the presidential palace, before arriving at the end-point, Escolta in old Manila.

Rejuvenate in Rizal
Bucolic and unpolluted Rizal Province just a few hours overland from Manila beckons with its arts offerings and multifaceted landscape.

Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo is a feast for the senses with its display of paintings, sculptures and other worthy pieces of contemporary Philippine artists. The place is whimsy and quirky, while the meandering gardens and outdoor spaces are delightful and refreshing.

Another artsy area is Angono, home to some of the country’s art luminaries, art museums and art galleries, and the Higantes Festival – a parade of towering papier-mache giants.

From modern to stone age art, cadge a detour to the Angono Petroglyphs of 127 human and animal figures carved in rock walls. They’re the oldest work of art in the Philippines dating to the late stone age.

The highlight at Rizal is a vista of the Sierra Mountain ranges, ravines and waterfalls, jungles, rivers and unusual rock formations. But the trip won’t be complete without a stop at the vast Masungi Georeserve in Baras for some trekking or climbing. Teambuilding activities can be arranged, alongside a fine-dining experience at the Silayan Dining Room.

Opened last year for corporate groups, the dining room was built to blend with its surroundings and serves up seasonal and organic produce from the area.

Tagaytay and Batangas post-eruption
For the adventurous, head off to Tagaytay to see how the destination is doing after the eruption of Taal Volcano earlier in January.

While the main island which the volcano sits on has changed physically and is now strictly off limits, Tagaytay’s beauty is unmarred, while areas where volcanic ash fell have been cleaned. Some of the country’s best restaurants and boutique hotels are here.

From Tagaytay, it’s just a short drive to Batangas province where one can laze on the many beaches that dot the province’s endless shorelines, join heritage tours, visit pilgrimage sites, and splurge in luxury farm stays and wellness treats.

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