Davao City, the Philippines’ third most important urban centre after the capital of Metro Manila and Cebu City, does not lack for superlatives. The premier city in Mindanao, the country’s second largest island, is home to towering Mt Apo, the highest peak and undisputed “King of Philippine Mountains”; to the awe-inspiring Philippine eagle, one of the world’s largest raptors and the country’s national bird; the gorgeous waling-waling or “queen of orchids”; and the pulsating Kadayawan, the Philippines’ “Festival of Festivals”.
Yet even though it is thriving, the southern city of Davao is rarely considered by tour operators, corporations or service providers looking for a new business events destination, most players in the local and regional tourism industries preferring to rely on the tried and tested destinations of Metro Manila or Cebu City.
The major reason for this is often the simple fact that people are unfamiliar with Davao City – called the Philippines’ Fruit Basket and Orchid Capital. However, the Davao regional office of the Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DOT) is intent on changing that fact through its “Let’s Meet in Davao” programme, launched in May of 2011.
New business events focus
The programme seeks to position Davao City as a leading destination for domestic markets and an emerging destination for regional markets, whether they are planning a meeting, arranging an incentive trip, organising a conference or staging an exhibition.
“Let’s Meet in Davao” was launched last May during the national convention of the Philippine Society of Training and Development, that brought together 300 executives in charge of business events in their respective companies. A novel programme, it allowed these executives,
as well as other local and regional tour operators and event organisers, to take advantage of the services of the newly installed Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) desk of the Department of Tourism to make their event an unqualified success, according to DOT Region XI director Art Boncato.
These services include the extension of free planning information and advice on conference centres, hotels, tour operators and event organisers in the region; promotional support such as linking of the event website to the official MICE website and provision of Davao images for bid books, invitations and other collateral; and arrival resources, such as the use of DOT information counters at Davao International Airport as well as provision of welcome kits and leis (garlands) for delegates, depending on the number of guests (an easy-to-use Davao MICE Manual can be downloaded from www.micedavao.com).
Boncato notes that the city has a number of diverse offerings, enabling it to tailor an itinerary to fit all kinds of groups. “Apart from modern medium-sized MICE facilities and services, the unique natural terrain of Davao, rising to the highlands and swooping down to the islands, makes for interesting and meaningful pre- and post-event activities,” he says. “The city centre’s proximity to mountain resorts, cultural areas and beaches make it ideal for delegates to experience the city’s natural and beautiful setting all within a tight business schedule.”
On top of the must-do list are visits to the Philippine Eagle Center, where visitors can see for themselves just how big the Philippine eagle is and why it is important to protect the king of the forest; dining out at Luz Kinilaw for grilled tuna dishes; and wild river rafting down Davao River for a serious adrenaline rush.
Allaying safety concerns
Security has been a key issue for groups contemplating events in the country’s southern island. Many are hesitant to hold events in Davao because of misperceptions and unfounded fears about problems with law and order. This stems from Davao City’s perceived link with troubles in extreme southern Mindanao simply because it is part of the same island, regardless of the fact that any troubles are in isolated regions far from the city.
In fact, Davao City is one of the safest in the Philippines. CCTVs are installed in major thoroughfares and linked to Davao Central 911, one of only three such emergency response centres in the world. Because of this sense of security, at least PhP330 million (US$7.7 million) in investments poured into Davao City in the first quarter of 2011 alone.
Mary Ann Hildawa, sales manager – Inbound for Asia and the Philippines of Marsman Drysdale, agrees that security concerns are more a result of perception than reality. She has been bringing groups to Davao for many years, making use of a host of factors such as the availability of top-class hotels and resorts, the frequency of flights and the proximity of tourist destinations.
“It is not a hassle to have meetings and big groups in Davao City because everything is within reach, it’s convenient and transportation is not a problem,” she says. “I never had a problem with security. The city also offers destinations not available in other islands in the Philippines.”
The city’s “Let’s Meet in Davao” campaign seems to be off to a good start. It has already received its first incentive group series, composed of executives from a big bank in Beijing. Furthermore, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte led a team to bid for the hosting of the 2013 MICE Conference spearheaded by the DOT’s Tourism Promotion Board. In a close fight, Davao won the bid over the province of Camarines Sur and the win was formally announced at the MICE Conference in Cebu in August this year.
That Davao City has what it takes to host major meetings, exhibitions and conferences has already been proven, when it played emergency host to the 25th Tourism Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2006, following the sudden withdrawal of Myanmar.
The city had less than a year to upgrade its facilities, hire staff experienced in the unique and demanding needs of the business destination market, and deal with the logistical nightmare that comes with hosting one of the biggest tourism events in the region… and yet it was able to pull it off.
The local government believes that given its ability to successfully host 3,000 delegates at the Asean Tourism Forum – which included 10 tourism ministers and 500 travel buyers and media from six continents – then it can confidently claim to be able to host all manner of meetings, incentive travels, conferences and exhibitions.
Davao City – and indeed the Philippines – hopes that through the “Let’s Meet in Davao” programme, other groups will also soon experience what many have already seen and enjoyed in the southern Philippines’ premier city.
New infrastructure investments such as the SM Convention Center, the Davao International Convention and Exhibition Center and the forthcoming 200-room Park Inn by Radisson, the first in the Asia-Pacific region, are expected to elevate Davao to a greater stature in the business events industry, not only within the Philippines but in a broader regional context as well.
- Visit the Philippine ‘Eagle Center, a research centre and sanctuary of the critically endangered Philippine eagle.
- Witness the bird show at the Malagos Garden Resort, owned by one of the biggest orchid growers in Mindanao and a leading figure in environmental conservation.
- Head over to Samal Island off Davao City for sun, sand and sea activities. Key resorts include Pearl Farm and Camp Holiday.
- Visit the Monfort Bat Caves, home to two million fruit bats. A visit to the site can be a feel-good “green” education.
- Go on the “Going Bananas” themed tour that highlights the banana produce of Davao.
- Enjoy the outdoors by taking a wild ride down Davao River, a unique way to enjoy the area’s natural beauty and exciting rapids.
- Pig out on seafood in iconic restaurants such as Luz Kinilaw, Marina Tuna, Jack’s Ridge and Ronaldo’s.
- Visit the Crocodile Farm, the only crocodile park in the region, and eat at Kaonanan, which serves crocodile dishes and exotic food inspired by local indigenous peoples.
- Gorge on the fresh fruit that Davao is famous for. Dare to eat durian and bring home some juicy pomelo and rambutan for family and friends.
- Buy souvenirs at Aldevinco Shopping Center, which offers Davao-made export-quality products and traditional crafts made by the different tribal groups.
Manila takes fresh stab at business events market
Over the past 15 years, the Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DOT) has not prioritised the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions market, preferring instead to concentrate its resources on attracting leisure tourists from key markets such as China, Japan and the United States.
The new tourism secretaries under the Aquino administration, however, have decided to revisit the business events market, believing that securing a larger share of this valuable market will be instrumental in the Philippines’ attempt to attract at least six million tourists by the end of the term of President Benigno Aquino III.
“The MICE market was not a priority for the past two administrations, but now it is because the new heads of the department realise its importance. In a way, we are starting all over again and reintroducing the Philippines to the MICE market,” says Stanie Soriano, officer-in-charge for MICE and Business Development of the Tourism Promotion Board (TPB).
Soriano says that the TPB has been waiting for the DOT to come up with its new brand for the Philippines’ country marketing campaign before it chooses a sub-brand specifically for the business events sector. But even without the new brand name, the Philippines has taken serious steps to re-establish its market presence by participating in strategic MICE events, such as the 19th Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo (AIME) in Melbourne.
Australia was the Philippines’ fifth highest foreign tourist generator last year with almost 150,000 arrivals, and a strong source market for MICE-related activities. According to the DOT, Australia, India and Asean neighbours Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Pacific-rim countries Canada and the US, comprise the Philippines’ core source markets for corporate groups.
The country’s selling points include a wealth of post-event tour activities available for corporate groups, as well as safe and well-equipped venues.
The business events sector received a significant boost in 2010 with the rise of several new large-scale accommodation facilities. The cities of Metro Manila and Cebu attracted the bulk of tourist accommodation projects green-lighted last year, valued in total at Php17 million (US$396,178), according to the DOT.
Additional convention venues such as the 15,000-seat capacity SM Bay City Arena and the 200-hectare ASEANA Business Park, both in Manila, are in the pipeline.
Davao International Airport serves daily flights from major cities in the Philippines as well as some international flights to and from Singapore and Indonesia. The flight from Manila to Davao takes about an hour and 40 minutes. Airlines operating to Davao are Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Zest Air, Air Philippines and Silk Air, an affiliate of Singapore Airlines.
Unlike the distinct wet and dry seasons found in other areas of the Philippines, Davao City is blessed with a climate where the days are mostly sunny and mild, with rain at night. Typhoons do not affect Davao.
Visas are not required for many Western passport holders for periods of up to 21 days. Nationalities who do need a visa can get it without trouble at the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate. For more information visit www.dfa.gov.ph
The most common language spoken is Cebuano or Visayan, the language of the southern Philippine islands, but Filipino is also used. English is widely understood and spoken, especially within the business community.
Department of Tourism – Region XI
Room 512, 5th Floor, LANDCO Corporate Center J P Laurel Avenue, Davao City 8000, Philippines
Tel: +63 82 2216955
INTAS DESTINATION MANAGEMENT
MARSMAN DRYSDALE TRAVEL INC