Davao: welcoming MICECON from September 28-30, 2020. Credit: Getty Images
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.
But the landscape has been changing of late. Mr Arnold Gonzales, acting deputy COO of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the Department of Tourism's (DOT) marketing and promotions arm, said, "More regions and destinations [in the Philippines] are now recognising the importance of MICE."
Iloilo and Davao
Thanks in part to recent DOT- and TPB-led regional MICE educational sessions, two destinations have been particularly aggressive and effective in ramping up their MICE efforts: Iloilo, a coastal hub in the middle of the country, and Davao, in the southern island of Mindanao.
Iloilo's rich heritage - made tangible via a gallery of well-preserved ancestral houses and several iconic dishes, such as La Paz batchoy, a clear-broth noodle soup - 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 Iloilo MICE Alliance, consisting of the private sector and local government units of the city, Iloilo province, and Guimaras province, came up with attractive incentives for both convention planners and delegates," said Mr Gonzales. The alliance promotes venues such as the Iloilo Convention Center (ICON), the biggest MICE facility in the city, and the soon-to-come SMX Convention Center Iloilo, scheduled to open in 2021 and is expected to accommodate large 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.
Over in the south, Davao City is set to host, for the second time, the Philippine MICE Conference (MICECON) from September 28-30, 2020, the biggest gathering of 600 MICE players in the Philippines. The TPB describes MICECON's main mandate as "[providing] a platform to integrate and strengthen all sectors involved in the Philippine MICE industry into one cohesive, comprehensive educational program".
Pristine beaches in Iloilo.
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 seven years, the group has set up 15 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 3,500 rooms.
Dusit International, which currently operates six properties in the country's largest metros - Manila, Cebu, Davao - and in Boracay, is on track to add 11 more hotels in the next two years. The 188-room Hotel Okura Manila, within the Resorts World Manila complex, is scheduled to open its doors by mid-year and marks the Japanese luxury brand's first foray into the Philippines.
lloilo: rich in heritage and beauty.
Government initiatives, from promotional campaigns to incentive schemes, are likewise fueling the boom. The DOT's new TV commercial, part of its Be Part of the Fun Campaign, is a glossy production specifically geared towards a MICE market, and is a showcase of the country's modern meeting and convention venues alongside leisure facilities and well-known tourism attractions.
Perhaps more significantly, 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 composed of 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. "The end goal," said Mr Gonzales, "is [to ensure] that the programmes that we implement are responsive to the needs of both our stakeholders and clients."
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. "At the same time," Mr Gonzales added, "it encourages local MICE players to pursue and organise more events in the country at regional and international levels."
According to the TPB, regional association meetings are still a major source market. Last year, the country rolled out the red carpet for delegates of several large international conferences in the medical field, among them: the Scientific Meeting of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of Liver; the 23rd Asian Pacific Congress of Cardiology; and the 26th Asian and Oceanic Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
This year's calendar is also marked with more of these regional association meetings, including the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction, the International Conference of the Asian Clinical Oncology Society, and Asia Pacific Occupational Therapy Congress.