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Iloilo levels up from festival destination to top MICE hub

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By Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay (PN)

ILOILO City – “In the past, Iloilo’s tourism has been largely festival-driven. Now, we have the potential to be a premier MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions) destination,” Iloilo City Tourism and Development Officer Junel Ann Divinagracia recently said at a media roundtable held at C’s by L’Fisher in Festive Walk Mall, here.

Divinagracia explains that despite still being known as the city of the Dinagyang Festival, introducing Iloilo as an emerging MICE hub brings the potential of a year-round surge in tourist arrivals, compared to the seasonal draw of the much-hyped festival – celebrated annually in late January.

The city official shares that for the next year, Iloilo City is girding to host at least two to four large conventions every month, adding that around 50 to 70 percent of the city’s 1.2-million tourist arrivals last year can be attributed to confab delegates. According to a study by the Department of Tourism (DOT), MICE attendees are seen to spend six times more compared to a typical tourist – the industry being a potent economic multiplier.

Among the headway heralding this rapid growth in the local MICE industry are the introduction of new direct flights to and from Iloilo, a thriving and competitive hotel and hospitality sector, and robust infrastructure.

Just this February, Sen. Franklin Drilon and the office of DOT undersecretary Art Boncato championed and announced a three-year P50-million marketing plan to promote Iloilo as a world-class MICE destination.

“In the next three years, we [are set] to focus our marketing efforts in promoting Iloilo as one of the premiere MICE hubs in the country,” added Divinagracia.

‘GROWTH FOR ALL’

Megaworld’s 72-hectare Iloilo Business Park township is quickly emerging as the center of this MICE development, being home to the Iloilo Convention Center and two respected hotel brands – with one more major hospitality label in the horizon.

The Iloilo Convention Center, with its 3,700-seat capacity main hall on the ground floor and 500-seat function rooms on the second floor, sits strategically between the Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo and Richmonde Hotel Iloilo.

Currently, the city has around 4,700 DOT-accredited hotel rooms, and the Megaworld township is set to add more than 400 rooms in the next four years.

By 2023, Iloilo Business Park will add 405 more hotel rooms to the existing 475-room capacity of both Richmonde Hotel Iloilo and international hospitality brand Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, with the grand unveiling of the property giant’s own Belmont Hotel Iloilo. This is on top of the boutique hotels that the township is set to host in its 9-hectare commercial district, set to rise beside the Courtyard by Marriott soon.

“In the next five years, Iloilo Business Park will have around 1,000 hotel rooms in the township alone. This will further help bridge the gap in the hotel requirements of the city as we remain optimistic on the growth of MICE tourism,” said Jennifer Palmares-Fong, vice president for sales and marketing, Megaworld Iloilo Business Park.

Megaworld senior vice president and head of public relations and media affairs Harold Brian Geronimo added that dedicated transport hubs are also set to rise inside the township, slated to include shuttle services to and from the Iloilo International Airport, routes to Antique and Southern Iloilo, as well as premium P2P services to Boracay Island.

Despite all the growth and development in the local MICE sector seemingly centralized at Iloilo Business Park, both Palmares-Fong and Divinagracia brushed off fears that the Megaworld township will “monopolize” this emergent industry, saying there is enough of the market to go around – enough even to benefit the small and medium businesses in the city.

“With us coming in here, Megaworld has become a multiplier of sorts for the economy of the city,” Palmares-Fong told the media. “Iloilo Business Park has led in supporting the growth of the MICE industry here, but we are not [hogging] the business. I believe all, the entire local hospitality industry, can benefit from all this growth. It’s all for the city.”

“At the end of the day, not all delegates can be accommodated by Iloilo Business Park, there will always be spill over [to the other tourism stakeholders],” she continued. “We each have our own target markets and demographics we cater to, there is room for everyone to benefit from this growth.”

Divinagracia, for her part, claims that talking to other businessmen involved in the hotel industry of Iloilo, most are really thankful for the presence of Megaworld and Iloilo Business Park, seeing its vital boost to the local economy.

“Budget hotels are actually really thankful for the existence of the Iloilo Business Park,” Divinagracia explained. “Here in Iloilo, their occupancy rates are even higher compared to bigger hotels in the city, whole-year round even, largely because of the year-round conventions and events in Iloilo, some of which hosted inside this township.”

Led by the DOT Region 6, an Iloilo MICE City Core Group has been created to ensure the implementation of this burgeoning tourism plan. The Iloilo City MICE marketing plan is set to be implemented within a three-year period with the first year focusing on the creation of an Iloilo City MICE desk, a MICE Alliance, and a venture into a series of MICE roadshows.

“Our concept for Iloilo Business Park s to really make it a tourist destination for Iloilo City. Iloilo Business Park is certainly more than just a township, and we are proud to take an active role in making Iloilo City the country’s premier MICE destination,” Palmares-Fong concluded.