Photo: Manila Cathedral, Intramuros © Valery Shanin | Dreamstime.com
In a country known for its scuba diving, beach resorts and mountainous adventures, Manila sits at the economic, social and cultural heart of the Philippines. Colorful jitneys, classic art museums, galleries and a preserved old town mix with upscale fine dining and glitzy mega malls, bringing together divergent aspects of this bustling metropolis. Its UNESCO World Heritage sites contrast with its booming nightclubs, all comprising equal parts of the fabric. As much as it touts its heritage and culture, Manila also excels as a business center attracting MICE groups to its borders.
Nearly comparable in size to Singapore, Metro Manila is home to 12 million people. Manila ranked 108th in the International Congress and Convention Association’s global city rankings with 22 meetings, running alongside cities like Abu Dhabi and The Hague and ahead of Asia Pacific convention centers such as Auckland, Hanoi, Jakarta, Hyderabad, Ho Chi Minh City and Kobe.
Manila’s history as a capital dates to 1571, when the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived at what was then a walled Muslim settlement and deemed it the capital of the colony Felipinas. Ruler Rajah Sulayman lost his life that year in battle, and the city came under Spanish rule. Spain reigned in Manila for more than 300 years before a U.S. takeover. The city was severely damaged by the bombings of World War II. On July 4, 1946, the Philippine flag flew for the first time in Rizal Park in Manila as the Philippines celebrated the first day of independence.
Today, what remains of the old era lies in Old Manila, or Intramuros, a fortress city which served as the seat of government during Spanish colonial times from the 1500s to the 1800s. Among the old buildings are the Manila Cathedral, the region’s oldest church, as well as the old Spanish Fort Santiago, since converted into a museum. Visitors can take a tour or walk around on their own to see Fort Santiago, San Agustin Church and Casa Manila.
Also showcasing the city’s past, Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world, founded in 1594, boasts an intact labyrinth of Chinese and Filipino eateries, specialty shops and malls.
The mix of history and modern amenities draws MICE groups, including APEC Philippines 2015, a year-long hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, culminating with the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in November, with about 7,200 people in attendance. The event was structured to showcase Manila and the Philippines as an ideal MICE location and marked the second time the Philippines played host to APEC, having hosted the event in 1996.
Meeting and event planners find no shortage of venues in Manila for major meetings and conventions. The Philippine International Convention Center, one of the most versatile event arenas in the Asia Pacific region, has hosted political summits, medical conventions and concerts by performers from Luciano Pavarotti to Ricky Martin.
Built on reclaimed land along Manila Bay, PICC qualifies as an architectural landmark and a receptacle for artworks, housing paintings and sculptures from Filipino master artists. Designed by Leandro V. Locsin, a Filipino National Artist in Architecture, the PICC complex debuted in 1976 to host the World Bank’s International Monetary Fund annual meeting.
The PICC offers a multilevel plenary hall, 14 meeting rooms, a fine-dining restaurant and a media center. Five buildings comprise the complex: the Delegation Building, Secretariat Building, Plenary Hall, Reception Hall and The Forum. The 43,000-plus-square-foot, multipurpose Forum caters to exhibitions and special events.
As the center expands, it plans to launch Meeting Room 1, geared toward larger gatherings, with space for up to 900 attendees. The room features a built-in stage. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will build the BSP Museum within PICC grounds this year to display art collections and historical artifacts owned by BSP. Also on the books this year is the construction of a new trade exhibit and special events hall that will span more than 61,000 square feet and include pre-function lobbies as well as the ability to subdivide the space into three halls.
At least eight other major convention sites exist in Metro Manila, including the SMX Convention Center, the World Trade Center and Megatrade Hall within Megatrade Mall, as well as upscale hotels situated within the business districts.
The World Trade Center Metro Manila boasts nearly 122,000 square feet of contiguous space and 88,000 square feet of outdoor space and also makes available pre-function lobby space of more than 10,000 square feet. SMX Manila offers four exhibition halls, five function rooms and 14 meeting rooms, totaling more than 225,000 square feet of space that can accommodate up to 18,000. Also available to groups is the Araneta Coliseum, which can hold 16,500.
During off time, groups can visit the Cultural Center of the Philippines, established by Imelda R. Marcos in 1969. This premier showcase for the arts hosts music, dance, theater, visual arts, literary, cinematic and design events. Its nine resident companies include Ballet Philippines, Philippine Ballet Theater, Tanghalang Pilipino, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company, Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, UST Symphony Orchestra, Philippine Madrigal Singers and the National Music Competition for Young Artists Foundation.
The Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila offers space for 6,000. Also a meetings hotel, Dusit Thani Manila’s environmental and social sustainability efforts have been recognized by EarthCheck for the fourth year in a row, earning the hotel silver certification.
As for new builds, AccorHotels recently opened the Novotel Manila Araneta Center in Quezon City. The 401-room, 24-floor property — the Paris-based group’s first of six in the Philippines — hosts events in its grand ballroom and meeting rooms.