Metro Manila, where the Philippines’ sprawling convention centres and international brand hotels are heavily concentrated, has always been the country's favoured meetings and conventions site. As an option for large international conferences and gatherings, it relies on the scale of its infrastructure and, to a large extent, the charms of its onward destinations - mostly quaint coastal towns and white-sand islands surrounded by crystalline waters, an hour or so by plane.
The landscape has been changing due to the pandemic, but COO Atty. Maria Anthonette C. Velasco-Allones, who heads Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the Department of Tourism's (DOT) marketing and promotions arm, has been undaunted in the past two years. She has been at the forefront of the industry in advocating digital transformation and in adapting to the demand for virtual, and now, hybrid events.
The pandemic may have altered convention formats as international border closures and city-wide lockdowns moved meetings online. But even as travel restrictions ease, convention organisers aren’t ready to let go of virtual participation, and the hybrid format has become a preferred middle-ground between full in-person gatherings and strictly online conferences.
The Philippines’ Department of Tourism itself set a template for future events with its hosting of the World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Manila. The three-day hybrid event, which was held from 20 to 22 April, drew an estimated in-person crowd of 650 international delegates and 200 local participants, as well as 1,000 virtual attendees. Delegates who flew into the capital were booked across several official hotels ¬– Manila Marriott Hotel, Hilton Manila, Sheraton Manila and Hotel Okura Manila.
Built for MICE – Clark, Iloilo and Cebu
Still, the MICE market can bet on a upward momentum, thanks to new openings across the country.
North of Metro Manila, SM Hotels and Conventions Corp (SMHCC) is on track to open the SMX Convention Center Clark in May 2022. It comes on the heels of the new Park Inn by Radisson Clark Extension, which opened in June 2021, and the SMX Convention Center Olongapo, which opened in November 2020. SMX Convention Center Clark is SMHCC’s second stand-alone convention center after SMX Manila. It’s also a welcome addition to Clark’s fully developed MICE facilities which, as of March 2020, included 2,900 hotel rooms, 111 dining facilities, 85 convention halls, and 27 facilities for wellness, golf and other recreational activities.
Iloilo’s rich heritage ¬– made tangible via a gallery of well-preserved ancestral houses and a celebrated culinary tradition – along with its new riverside infrastructure, have helped make it a popular domestic holiday destination. Now, its bullish business community and local government are aiming to draw the MICE crowd to the city.
The alliance promotes venues such as the Iloilo Convention Center (ICON), the biggest MICE facility in the city, and the SMX Convention Center Iloilo which can accommodate groups of up to 4,000. The alliance also markets new mid-range business hotels such as The Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, Richmonde Hotel Iloilo, Seda Atria and Park Inn by Radisson, as complementary accommodations.
In Cebu, the new Nustar Resort and Casino, a five-star integrated resort in Kawit Point is poised to add over 1,000 hotel rooms to the city’s hotel room inventory. The integrated resort will also feature a convention center that can reportedly accommodate up to 2,000 participants.
The opening of the brand-new Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX), an 8.9km bridge spanning the Mactan Channel, is also expected to improve traffic flow around Metropolitan Cebu and give the destination a boost. The CCLEX is the third bridge to connect Mactan Island, where the Mactan-Cebu International Airport is located, and Cebu City.
Strong hotel growth
The robust hotel industry, for instance, has continued to expand. Among the biggest players in the accommodation sector is AyalaLand's Seda Hotels. In the last nine years, the group has set up 11 hotels, resorts and serviced residences - across Metro Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and El Nido in Palawan - with a combined capacity of over 3,500 rooms.
Dusit International, which currently operates five properties in the country's largest metros - Manila, Cebu, Davao – is expanding its footprint in the country, a move that will eventually make the Philippines home to one of the largest clusters of Dusit and Dusit-brand hotels outside Thailand.
Other international brands are likewise making first time bets on the Philippines, most notably the 190-room Hotel Okura Manila in Resorts World Manila, which opened in December 2021. Hotel Okura Manila is the Japanese luxury hotel brand’s first property in the country.
Supported by government campaigns
Government initiatives, from promotional campaigns to incentive schemes, are likewise fuelling the boom. The TPB has also organised a dedicated department charged with overseeing MICE-related promotions efforts.
The Philippine MICE Customer Advisory Council (CAC), an advisory body comprising MICE industry pillars and stakeholders from various sectors (suppliers and end-users), is expected to lend the TPB expert insight on the industry along with a reliable network of contacts.
Among the new programmes are the MICE Plus Program, a set of incentive packages and privileges offered by the TPB to boost MICE tourism by encouraging foreign MICE planners and organisers to hold events in the Philippines.
According to the TPB, regional association meetings are still a major source market. Upcoming international conferences include those in the medical and technology sectors such as International Cosmetic Gynecology Conference Manila 2022, Medical Philippines Expo 2022, Seamless Philippines 2022, World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and International Conference on Nano Science and Nanotechnology.
During the pandemic, the Enhanced MICE Plus Program extended government support to local and international events of both virtual and hybrid formats.