I HAD the good fortune of being able to attend the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events/Exhibitions Conference, or MICECON 2011, sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and by many hotels and resorts in The Queen City, Cebu just recently. I just found out that the next one will not be until 2013 since the Philippines is hosting PATA next year.
Green and technology were the main themes of the conference which brought international speakers like Hitesh Mehta, a sustainable architect; Noor Ahmad Hamid of the ICCA ;Corbin Ball; Max Hitchins, the Hospitality Doctor; John Peacock of Associations Forum, Australia; Susan Cardenas of Inkaterra fame, among many others who talked about green, sustainability and the use of technology to make for more efficient MICE operations.
It was a welcome sign of improvement in our local hospitality industry to see the following changes, albeit for the better:
• The conference did not use any Styrofoam. Water was served in reusable glasses; coffee was served in paper cups and you could use a permanent marker to write your name on the cup, so you could reuse it throughout the day. Radisson Blu gave out reusable water bottles in their trademark blue color.
• The conference served snacks on banana leaves on “nito” trays and during one Coffee Break, Bluewater resorts even used a nipa box lined with banana leaves that many speakers took home.
• The Shangri-La Mactan gave away Citronella candles in cute woven containers, as their theme was GLAMPING or Glam Camping and citronella candles sure come in handy to ward off insects in camp.
• The MICECON organizers led by Stanie Soriano gave away flash disks or usb sticks so you could download the presentations, rather than bringing home tons of paper or handouts. This was appropriate because of being both techie and green.
• The governor of Cebu gave away little banig bags with a souvenir “puso” keychain and a mini ukelele that Cebu is famous for.
• The Marco Polo gave away little baskets of dried fruit or mango tarts, rather than Swiss chocolates.
• I could feel the locavore fever running through everyone’s minds, when this event was planned. Even the speakers’ send off gifts were local Tablea Chocolates wrapped in a reusable buri box courtesy of ECHOstore (shameless plug).
So, it can be done. Show the best of the country and the province, rather than buy something cheap from China or pick the usual corporate or conference giveaways. The presents were tastefully done and the meals well-prepared.
The conference was very inspiring, to say the least. It gave me hope that we can plan events with a meager budget but come up with something original, environment-friendly and promote locavorism.
As soon as our panel discussion on greening the industry was over, a lady approached me to seek help “to remove all plastic from her hotel.” I told her we would help find suppliers for her needs. Some attendees approached me to say they were now ready to “buy local and use local.”
Our locavorism will differentiate us from other more modern Asian countries. If we use more local ingredients, use more local food and drink, we surely will stand out because we have our own unique flavors.
In architecture, we also can now promote our “bahay kubo” (nipa hut) than compete with the latest glass and steel structure of Thailand or Singapore. Like the old saying goes: “If you don’t have the height, maybe you have the speed!” So let us not be disappointed or discouraged when we are compared with our Asian neighbors. Nature is in. Eco-friendly is in demand. Eco lodges are the newest craze in the hospitality industry. Even Bill Gates now stays in a “natural” resort in China, as mentioned by our speaker Hitesh Mehta.
Who knows? Maybe we can claim the unique selling proposition that we have the best eco-friendly lodges and sustainable food and drink. After all, we do have banana leaves in abundance, we have organic rice and other organic foods because we cannot afford fertilizers and growth enhancers.
Let us promote our being natural, eco-friendly and sustainable. Just like MICECON 2011 did. Kudos to The Tourism Promotion Board for a job well done.
Chit Juan is an owner and co-founder of ECHOstore sustainable lifestyle at the Serendra and Podium malls. She also heads the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (www.wbcp.ph) and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (www.philcoffeeboard.com). She often speaks to the youth and corporate groups on Social Entrepreneurship, Women’s Empowerment through business and Sustainability. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan.