by Monette Iturralde-Hamlin · August 25, 2014

August 23 and 24. Frenzied, fun and fulfilling is how I would characterize the past two days I’ve spent in the company of Philippine M.I.C.E. Academy colleagues Tinette Capistrano of Primetrade Asia, Inc., Marisa Nallana of PETCO, Jing Lagandaoan of Globallink MP, Anton Magpantay of Creatif Foire PRO, Joel Pascual of PEP Group and Sonia Sayaman of ATN.  Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and so three years ago, I joined industry friends in setting up the Philippine Meetings, Incentive, Travel, Conventions, Exhibitions/Events (M.I.C.E.) Academy.

Envisioned to be the training arm of the Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers (PACEOS), the Academy is meant to answer the need for continuing education to upgrade the quality, competence, and excellence of M.I.C.E. professionals and practitioners in their delivery of tourism and trade services and to make them globally competitive.  Who best to provide industry practitioners better knowledge, updated techniques, and latest trends in M.I.C.E. than those in the trenches, like us?  The problem is getting all these super busy individuals to pry themselves away from their events to actually get to teach.

And so it was almost a miracle that everyone’s schedule converged for last weekend’s Event Management 101 Workshop for the Cebu Association of Tour Operators (CATO).  Under the able leadership of its president Marget Villarica who sits with me on the Tourism Promotions Board, and its VP and project lead Alice Queblatin, CATO had applied for a training grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The workshop was designed to help CATO members learn how to plan, organize, promote, manage and evaluate conferences, exhibitions and events; identify and form strategic partnerships with customers, suppliers, sponsors and other events organizers; know current global trends and marketing approaches in the M.I.C.E. industry; learn how to prepare bid proposals for international conferences and meetings; and develop competitive and winning incentive travel packages.

CATO opened up the workshop to their partners in the industry, and so we had 80 participants, consisting of tour operators, hotel and resort sales executives, a sprinkling of MICE professors and students, tourism promotion officers, tour guides and event organizers.  I was surprised to see amongst the participants the famous Patricio Primor, Jr., better known as Junjet.  The artistic force behind most of Cebu’s major event productions, Junjet I felt strongly should actually be one of the trainers.  Representatives from the Department of Tourism and ADB sat in to evaluate the workshop.

Despite their hectic schedules, the trainers readily agreed to spend their precious weekend and rest time to travel to Cebu for the workshop.   All seasoned industry experts, the trainers shared their knowledge and best practices, drawing on their vast experience in organizing MICE events. A quick survey showed we had at least 150 years of consolidated MICE experience represented in the room. Joining the Academy trainers were Raquel Tria of the Tourism Promotions Board, Clang Garcia of Jeepney Tours, and Albert Lafuente of Shangri-La’s Mactan Hotel and Resort.  And because we were all busy with our own events and companies, we all had a big laugh when we realized that we had crammed preparing the slides the night before.

Most of the trainers traveled to Cebu Friday.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t join them because TeamAsia was organizing Globe’s Digital Lifestyle Expo at the SM Megamall Fashion Hall Friday night.  While waiting for the event to begin, I hurried over to Forever 21 to get a white t-shirt for the second day of the workshop.  The Academy had decided to liven up the workshop by asking the participants to dress up according to the day’s theme.  Day One’s theme was beach wear, while Day Two was all white shirts which we would ask the participants to color as an icebreaker and networking activity.

Going home late Friday night, I agonized over what beach wear to don, given that I was going to teach.  I can’t really wear a swimsuit on stage, right?  With very little time to plan my wardrobe, I quickly threw a few things in my bag, hoped for the best, and started working on my slides for the next day.   I noticed Joel’s post on FB wearing the welcome lei he got at the airport.  I was jealous, but happy to get my own lei when I arrived at the airport Saturday morning with Raquel and Anton.  Cheap thrills to be treated like a VIP at the airport!

Operations Management was my assigned topic for Day One.  How to keep audience interest in the early afternoon with such a boring, yet important and incredibly detailed brass tacks topic?   Inspiration hit me just as I took the stage.  I decided to remove my huge overshirt to reveal a modest tank top and sarong underneath.  Presentation 101 technique: surprise your audience with a mini strip tease.  Now that worked like magic!  And quick-witted Sonia snapped up some photos too.

By the end of the day, we were all tired from serious teaching.  With a few minutes to spare, we took out mobile phone cams and decided to have our photos taken in fun.  A serious photographer (who had an all access pass at the recent Bench underwear show and lots of stories to tell), Joel gave us some tips on how to emphasize our curves for photo shoots.  I am too embarrassed to include my shots here, and will just keep them for my future grandchildren to know that their lola was once a hottie (borrowing Coke’s term).

After hamming it up for the cameras, we hurried over to the Redemptorist Church to attend the anticipated mass, and then went to Ayala Mall to buy white t-shirts, coloring pens, stickers and sparkles for the next day’s fellowship activity.  Dinner was at Lemon Grass, which sadly did not have the strong Thai flavors I was looking forward to.  But the camaraderie more than made up for the food.  Still wired up, we ended up at the Marco Polo Lobby Lounge for a nightcap, which was accompanied by a lot of ribbing and teasing about dating and relationships at our age.  After all, we were all single people sans Jing who had to fly back to Manila, and some of us, beginning anew to relearn skills long lost.

The second day of the workshop had the participants preparing their pitches for their assigned events, and dreaming up the most creative incentive packages that would put Cebu in the limelight and attract tourists and investments.  In between learning sessions, we all had fun writing messages and drawing on each other’s white shirts, forging friendships in the process.

From fiestas to conferences to sports events and concerts, the participants gamely defended their proposals for events and incentive packages to the panel of discriminating judges.  Several of the presentations were gems, but one group shone brightly. No surprise that it was Junjet’s group that bagged the best presentation for both the event and incentive package.   Come to think of it, the fact that Junjet stayed for the entire two days and participated wholeheartedly and actively was the best measure for the success of the workshop.

The participants obviously enjoyed the learning opportunity tremendously, with many coming up to us with words of appreciation and the inevitable request for a photo souvenir.   It was truly a rewarding experience not just for the participants, but more for us trainers.  I really believe that the more you share, the more you get in return.  Circle of life.

During the awarding of certificates, I learned from Tinette that we had to wear the CATO shirt we were given earlier for the group photo, so I rushed back to the room to put it on.  Arriving back at the venue, I heard everyone laughing only to realize that they had been looking for me to say a few final words to close the workshop, and bubbly Alice had said that Monette was probably still undressing.  Will I ever live down my new reputation?

At the airport, we were told that we could not hand carry the Cebu chorizos we were given, so Marisa and Anton put their loot into my check-in luggage.  I was glad for Anton’s company on the Tiger Air plane ride back to Manila.  Highly claustrophobic, I worried if I could get through the hour long flight without screaming.  Anton offered to exchange places so that I could have the window seat.  We started talking about work, clients, family and life, and soon I had forgotten about the cramped space.  Anton is an amazing person, kind to a fault, highly accomplished and driven yet very low-key.  Another hero from this industry to look up to, and one I am glad to call a friend.

It was funny, but Anton’s first question was, “How long were you a nun?” I was taken aback only to realize that Anton didn’t know me as long as the others did and only picked up from the ribbing that had taken place in the past two days.  The new Monette had emerged, they teased.  Who once was a formal, reserved individual (aka madre) was now a daring individual, doing things they never would have imagined me to do.  I guess my shirt said it all.

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