Rethinking and refining Philippines’ MICE strategy

Although the Philippines' business events future looks healthy for 2024, Mike Albaña, vice president and general manager of SMX Convention Center, lists out several improvements that the sector can undergo to retain its allure for business events.

How has the Philippines’ business events sector fared this year and what are your projects for 2024?
4Q2019 and 4Q2023 are almost similar in terms of revenue, so we can say that the sector is really on its way to recovery.

In general, 4Q is always the busiest for business events, and this year is no exception. Traditionally, 4Q is the busiest for exhibitions and conventions plus there are Christmas parties come December.

Confidence is already there. Regular and fixed business events are already coming back. In fact, some of them are already locked for 2024.

Where is the demand coming from?
Around 90 per cent of SMX Convention Center Manila’s business is domestic. Of that, 30 to 40 per cent will have international exhibitors and participants.

Organised by seasoned domestic organisers and given the ease of travel now, there is confidence in face-to-face events. At the beginning of the year, 95 per cent of convention and exhibition participants were wearing masks. Today, you will see that 95 per cent are no longer wearing masks.

Is this surge temporary? Can demand be sustained?
Demand will be sustained. There is interest from both exhibitors and consumers to attend.

Hybrid events will continue and it will always be an option. Hybrid events were already there pre-pandemic when say, speakers from the US or Europe could not come to the venue. The only difference (from the pandemic years) is that this time there will be more participants who will choose to be physically present at the venue.

How can the Philippines be more competitive in business events?
I just had a conversation with the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). They’re preparing to roll out the country’s business events branding for 2024, so the sector stands to benefit from that.

Also, capacity building for business events is very important and TPB is supporting that by partnering with local government units and stakeholders in professional trainings, workshops, etc.

As a product, the Philippines is just as competitive when compared to our South-east Asian neighbours – but there’s not enough marketing and promotions.

The House of Representatives recently approved the budget of the Department of Tourism (DoT) for fiscal year 2024. The government should allocate sufficient funds for DoT and its marketing arm, TPB. (Editor’s note: The approved budget of 2.6 billion pesos (US$46.8 million) is 24 per cent lower than the 2023 budget of 3.4 billion pesos.)

To develop the Philippines’ business events sector, there should be sufficient funds. Our neighbours like Thailand, Malaysia and even Vietnam are very aggressive in promotions and marketing. If we compare our budget with Thailand, I don’t think it’s even half of Thailand’s. As such, how can we market our destination with such a small tourism budget?

Hosting international event planners and organisers in the Philippines requires a big investment in their airfares, accommodations, etc. How many times do we have to do that if we want the Philippines to be at the top of the minds of PCOs? Planning for international conventions requires three years, not a year. Without a sufficient budget, the DoT and TPB cannot do it.

What else is needed for the Philippines to attract more business events?
First, we should prioritise improving our transport system, airports, seaports and road network for efficiency and better accessibility. Fortunately, this is happening now.

Second, visa facilitation for international convention and exhibition participants. China is an opportunity market for us but it is challenging to process a large number of visas in a day. Fortunately, some headway has been made with this, with the recent implementation of e-visas for China-based travellers

When attending international roadshows and exhibitions, some buyers still ask if it is safe in the Philippines, a question which has remained over the years. The safety and security of business events participants are essential in attracting international events to the Philippines.

The government should also invest in enhancing our law enforcement agencies, emergency response capabilities, and overall public safety measures that would help boost the confidence of international participants that travelling to the Philippines is safe.

It is also very important to be at par with our South-east Asian neighbours in terms of connectivity and technology. A fast and reliable internet is a basic requirement for an event, not just in metro Manila but in the whole country.

Another way that Philippines can sell itself is by involving the local community and getting them to interact with business events delegates at events. This is how foreigners learn about our local culture and traditions.

A good selling point for the country is to involve local communities and interact with them in business events. That’s also a way for foreigners to know the local culture and tradition.

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