TOURISM in the Philippines is on the uptrend. But the country has so much more to offer beyond its nature-based activities as well as amazing beaches.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has launched the “Meet You in Iloilo” campaign as the city is primed to be the next big convention or MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) destination in the region.
The National Tourism Development Plan has also identified Iloilo City as a priority tourism development area.
Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, DOT secretary, pointed out Iloilo is highly accessible with an international airport that is currently serviced by carriers to Hong Kong and Singapore, and is connected to major cities in Luzon and Mindanao.
Puyat said Iloilo successfully hosted both the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings within the last four years, as well as numerous other local and regional medium- to large-scale conventions.
These events demonstrate that Iloilo City embraces global tourism standards. From 2018 to 2019 alone, Puyat said at least 66,000 delegates attended events in Iloilo province, almost twice the figure from the year before.
Iloilo proved itself as an ideal site for MICE growth given the city’s seamless infrastructure ranging from its gateways – both airport and seaport – to wide highways and modern business parks.
The state-of-the-art and DOT-accredited Iloilo Convention Center (ICON) serves as the biggest MICE facility in Iloilo City. Its construction was made possible under the leadership of Sen. Franklin Drilon, and the participation of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the DOT’s Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).
MICE impacts more than just venues and convention facilities. It also spills over to hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and car services, not to mention that it bolsters tour guides, production companies, spa and wellness centers, and producers of crafts and souvenirs, Puyat said.
“The Iloilo City tourism sector does not only make a destination more competitive and sustainable, but also very inclusive,” she said, adding that the ripple effect of MICE is far-reaching as it creates direct and indirect jobs.
What makes Iloilo City a unique MICE destination is its rich history, heritage and culture, providing enriching experiences to delegates and adding value to their stay, noted Puyat.
Drilon’s Iloilo Heritage and Urban Renewal Project has restored many heritage sites and locations all over the city.
“We look forward to experiencing more museums and restored structures in Iloilo City; initiatives that will boost Iloilo’s growing economy and increase its cultural capital,” Puyat said.
TIEZA helped the city restore the Sunburst Park. The recovery of the Iloilo River, on the other hand, showed that sustainability can be achieved when tourism and progress grow together responsibly.
Outside of Iloilo City, there are sights and attractions that delegates can visit before and after their MICE activities, Puyat said.
“Aside from the support of the whole DOT system, we have also initially enlisted the support of corporate entities like Megaworld Corp., Ayala Land, and SM Hotels and Conventions to augment our platforms for advertising and promotions,” she added.
Drilon noted the various efforts to market and position Iloilo as a premier MICE destination.
“I have no doubt that together, we will succeed in this endeavor for we have a story to tell and tourism, I have learned, is how well you tell your story,” he said.
Since 2011, the government has been working to transform Iloilo from a city of diminishing economic appeal to an attractive tourism destination, Drilon said.
“Eight years ago, we embarked on a massive infrastructure development program and the titans of the Philippine economy came,” he added.
With the stories of construction, restoration and development, he said Iloilo’s growth contributed significantly to the attainment of Western Visayas of its high regional gross domestic product growth rates for the past five years.
Back in 2010, Iloilo’s hospitality industry was suffering from low occupancy rates due to lack of economic and tourism activities in the city. Today, this sector is booming as world-class hotels, shopping malls and recreational facilities mushroomed all over the city.
“Tourist arrivals in Iloilo, I understand, doubled in the last five years – from 627,000 in 2013 to 1.24 million in 2018,” Drilon said.
Iloilo hopes to add more international flights to the province. It is also looking forward to International Container Terminal Services Inc.’s construction and operation of a cruise ship passenger terminal in Iloilo as part of the P8.7 billion bid to upgrade and operate the port of Iloilo.
In 2017 and 2018, Iloilo hosted a total of 46,000 participants in various meetings, conventions, trade fairs and exhibits. “For the first half of 2019, ICON was host to 80,000 MICE participants,” Drilon said.
He said MICE will open more opportunities for Iloilo to further boost its tourism industry, drive investments and development and most importantly, create jobs for its people.