Previous limited air access and funding had been the main culprits of a soft MICE market in the Philippines, but recent efforts may promise clearer skies for the archipelago.

Story by ANGELA BLARDONY URETA

Throughout the centuries, chroniclers and travellers have called the Philippine archipelago the “Pearl of the Orient Seas” as a result of its central location and unparalleled significance in the Pacific maritime trade routes. Its capital, Manila, has been an active international trading port as early as the 10th century and has since served as the country’s centre of arts, politics, education and finance. Today, Manila is listed as one of the world’s global cities and attracts over one million tourists annually, both for business and recreation.
Manila emerged the forerunner of the MICE industry in Southeast Asia when the development of the Philippine convention industry became official government policy in 1976, highlighted by the unveiling of the region’s first full-fledged convention centre, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), and the creation of the Philippine Convention Bureau (now known as the Tourism Promotions Board).
While it has faced stiff competition from more aggressive Asian neighbours over the years, the Philippines is hoping to make great strides in the MICE industry once more — banking heavily on the country’s highly-touted investment grade economy, its current flow of record arrivals for tourism, and the creativity and expertise its industry personnel have honed over the years.

“Manila — as well as the other larger cities in the Philippines — can meet most of the requirements that make successful international conventions or meetings,” Tourism Promotions Board’s MICE and Business Development Unit senior convention service officer Jerome Diaz says.
“The major challenge, however, is air accessibility especially for people arriving from Europe where there are no direct flights (to Manila).”
However, he points out that this concern will be gradually corrected by the “open skies policy”, a law liberalising air access in the Philippines which took effect in 2010. “We are optimistic that this would entice more airlines to come in, especially those from Europe and other major tourism and MICE markets.”
Once in the country, travelling in and out of the capital ceases to be a problem. MICE-ready or popular incentive travel destinations in the Philippines are either equipped with international airports (in the case of Cebu, Davao or Palawan, for instance) or have airports that offer daily flights to and from Manila with a wide selection and availability of schedules.

According to Mr Diaz, the Philippines is also one country with more relaxed regulations on customs requirements and local government taxes for MICE planners, organisers and delegates. MICE planners may request for endorsement from the Department of Finance and Bureau of Customs by coordinating with the Tourism Promotions Board for tax exemptions, customs waiver, and port courtesies for promotional materials they need for event that are of no commercial value.
Admittedly, the Philippines had been careful and selective in marketing itself in the global MICE industry, mostly due to its limited funds for promotions. And until recently, there were also no big infrastructure projects in the country’s meetings and conventions industry that made international impact.
“In MICE, you cannot go out promoting yourself internationally then apologise for lack of something newer and bigger to offer,” Mr Diaz explains.
Things started to change with the creation of Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009, which pushed MICE as one of the priority areas for tourism development. This, plus the on-going boom in real property development in the meetings and hospitality industry (represented by key integrated tourist destination projects such as Resorts World Manila, SM Mall of Asia Complex, ASEANA Business Park, etc.) gave the Philippines’ bid for reclaiming its favoured spot in the industry a shot in the arm.

“As a result, we at the Tourism Promotions Board have also started to re-introduce the Philippines as a strong MICE player in the region to reflect these developments, as well as put on an aggressive marketing campaign to gain re-entry into the global MICE market.”
Mr Diaz emphasises the importance of connecting with the proper government agencies to ensure a more satisfying MICE experience in the Philippines. For its part, the Tourism Promotions Board can provide comprehensive information, technical assistance and guidance to meeting planners and incentive travel organisers, especially those coming to Manila for the first time.
“The TPB specialises in helping meeting planners and association executives [with] bid preparation, incentive programme planning, site inspection and liaison services [by] providing clients with a valuable network of contacts in both the government and private sectors, and attendance promotion through our own network and overseas offices. We have a MICE and Business Development Unit dedicated to these services that business tourism planners can get in touch with if they need assistance or if they want to know more about the Philippines as a MICE destination.”

FAST FACTS

Number of weekly direct flights to Manila from key destinations in the region:

  • Australia – 25
  • China – 24
  • Hong Kong – 140
  • Korea – 153
  • Malaysia – 9
  • Singapore – 116
  • Thailand – 28
  • Vietnam – 6

Visa requirements to the Philippines:
Tourist visas are issued under three main classifications:

Pleasure. Issued to tourists and other temporary visitors entering the Philippines. It cannot be used to engage in gainful employment or for business, or to take up educational courses in any learning institution within the Philippines.
Business. The purpose of the temporary stay is to search for areas of investment. It does not allow the bearer to engage in any activity that may be considered a form of gainful employment.
Health. This is granted to those whose intention is to convalesce from a serious injury or illness. The illness, however, should not be contagious or dangerous.
Requirements for visa application as well as information on nationals who are allowed to enter the Philippines without a visa for a specified period of stay may be requested from the Philippine embassy or consulate from the visitor’s country of origin.

Key government contact for MICE:
The Philippine Tourism Promotions Board, a corporate body attached to the Philippine Department of Tourism, is responsible for marketing and promoting the Philippines as a major convention destination in Asia, taking charge of attracting, promoting, facilitating, and servicing large-scale events, international fairs and conventions, congresses, sports competitions and expositions.

MICE and Business Development Unit Tourism Promotions Board
4F Legaspi Towers 300
Roxas Blvd. cor. Vito Cruz St.
Manila, Philippines 1000
Phone: +63 2 525-9318 to -9327
Fax: +63 2 525-1255
Website: www.tpb.gov.ph

Largest venues:

  • Philippine International Convention Center
  • World Trade Center – Metro Manila
  • SMX Convention Center
  • Cebu International Convention Center (outside Metro Manila)

Some major events in 2012:

  • 45th Annual Meeting of Asian Development Bank (ADB) Board of Governors
  • ASEAN Commission for the Promotion & Protection of the Rights of Women and
  • Children (ACWC)
  • 2012 PATA Travel Mart
  • 10th General Assembly Meeting, Halal World Forum and World Halal Council
  • 37th Annual Conference, ASEAN Economic Associations (FAEA)

Tourist arrivals in 2012:
4, 272, 811 total arrivals, with Korea, the USA and Japan leading the top markets

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