File photo by Butch Morato.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has called for collective efforts to find ways to boost the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) tourism as the world establishes a “new normal” amid the global coronavirus disease crisis.

“Now more than ever, we must all close ranks and intensify our collective efforts to once again position the Philippines as a premier leisure and MICE destination,” she said in the recent Global MICE Situationer in the Time of the Pandemic webinar where she delivered the welcome remarks.

Organized by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the webinar featured Gary Grimmer, executive chairman of the Gaining Edge global convention consulting firm; Noor Ahmad Hamid, regional director for the Asia Pacific, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA); Jenn Glynn, president of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence; and Mark Cochrane, regional manager of the Global Association of Exhibition Industry.

Touting the popular slogan “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, Grimmer said the country has the potential advantage of offering an alternative MICE destination that is known for its people’s hospitality, food, and competitive pricing.

The speakers agreed that there may be a gradual return of industry activities under the “new normal” brought by the pandemic.

Cochrane noted that some markets in Asia, such as China and Japan where strong domestic MICE sector is present, are starting to move back into action. Some events facilities, however, including those in Manila, are being used for medical support purposes.

Given the pandemic, he noted that local clients are likely to serve as the top market for MICE tourism in the meantime.

He said the government would play an important role in the recovery of the industry, citing the moves Thailand made to assist MICE entrepreneurs amid the health crisis.

In the Philippines, the DOT has laid out several programs to cushion the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic on tourism. In fact, it announced that the waiving of fees for trade shows, roadshows, and other events promoting the Philippines to international markets would be extended until 2021.

Among others, it vowed to “aggressively push” domestic tourism as part of its recovery marketing and promotions program.

For Glynn, no devastation has had a far-reaching effect on the industry as this pandemic since the 9/11 terrorist attacks with an estimated USD450 billion losses for tourism this year.

She, however, spoke of a positive outlook and cautious optimism, seeing restrictions eased in some countries, and a semblance of normalcy or the “new normal.”

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel. This, too, shall pass and the event industry will forever be changed,” she said.