How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected business, commerce, investments and tourism in the Philippines?
I had the opportunity to discuss this with the Chairman of the Board of Boracay Beach (BBI) and successful entrepreneur—Grace Tolentino.
Robert Herriman: Can you start out by telling the audience a little about yourself?
Grace Tolentino: I am the Founder and Chairman of the Board of Boracay Beach Inc. (“BBI”), a widely recognized brand headquartered in the Philippines.
I also serve as President of Akamai Holdings Inc., a multinational company with over two decades of experience and diverse investments in various leading industries of Finance, Technology and Real Estate Development Sectors.
RH: Clearly COVID-19 has changed just about everything—including business, commerce, investment and developments in the Philippines. How were things pre-COVID and how different are things now?
GT: I believe change will always be there and takes place to take you to the next level for you to accelerate and move forward to arrive at where you need to be and remove the limits on who you need to become. Clearly, I see the country adapt to it and continue to recreate things building new reality. I see the Philippines commitment to development is irrefutable. In fact, one factor is the country has a long term development plan and continues to improve as of this day. To mention some, it has a robust infrastructure program, with a plan to spend more than $170B USD besides the country’s massive spending, foreign investors have been recently investing in several forms of business. We are extremely honored and proud of ourselves to be headquartered in the Philippines. The government focuses on the development of the real estate economy as a whole and has been a massive factor in enabling us to break the old perception that Boracay Beach Inc. (BBI) is a niche offering with limited scope but we transformed the mind of the market that we have diverse solutions in the entire real estate spectrum, together with Akamai Holdings Inc. and through our strategic partnerships, committees and associations, we solidify investments and make sure we are positioned in each and every segment of the market as far as real estate, infrastructure, finance, technology, hospitality and leisure is concerned.
The various sector’s growth contributed to economic development of the country, and the years of journey has shown that a home grown brand with better positioning and unique value proposition of diverse product offerings can redirect the market in many aspects. Despite challenges, the Philippine government remains resilient with steady commitment to enhance the key sectors for ease of finance, supporting SME’s, and unlocking investments is fully aligned with the country’s goal of nation building and long-term development plan.
In my opinion, I see the Philippines created capacity across emerging various sectors from real estate, technology, digital companies, healthcare, infrastructure and pharmaceuticals which all have shown tremendous signs and are equally poised for future growth. In my perspective, I think the economy today and in respect of what people think is on the right direction and there are a lot of factors why the Philippines is growing rapidly and despite facing a new phase in history, it continues to transition more as an emerging country in Asia. If you look at the Philippines, the Filipino Citizens, the human talent is the driving force of the economy and clearly plays an important role in transformation of modern Philippines and establishment of innovation in a more robust major stage. I see the government moving beyond the phase with combined efforts and have taken place strategic initiatives driven by innovation, creativity and the principles of accountability.
Fact is, legislative reforms were adjusted that gave confidence to investors. Just last month, the Philippines made rules on Real Estate investments more attractive by lowering float requirements and offering tax perks, a move expected to entice property firms to tap the markets for new capital, clearly shown that there is a lot to harness as far as investment is concerned. The trade sector built notable improvements focused on progressiveness and productivity. Clearly, the government optimistic crafting well-targeted policies to optimize the use and further develop the digital economy of the country. E-commerce has also taken part in sustainability in Philippine economy and driver of growth. In addition, the overall development authority of the Philippines enhancing the long-term development plan has unwavering focus on healthy, safe and resilient Philippines. In BBI and Akamai, we have been actively participating for nation building and its long-term development strategy. We come out with an overall growth plan that the world has yet not seen, we made our vision very clear, making sure the structure is focused on giving value to our shareholders, customer centric approach, business progressiveness, improving the lives of community, educating the market, global competitiveness, not limiting ourselves on niche offering but of building diversified opportunities as market leader and take the country an extra mile as forefront of change reaching the full potential of competent, qualified, skilled and empowered local talents committed to contributing to development of the economy. Extensive corporate social responsibility will remain as key efforts in our organizations agenda.
RH: How much damage has been done and does it seem as if some normalcy is returning to these areas in the country?
GT: The challenges will always be there with changing individual needs, disappearing cultural barriers and enhanced lifestyle, I think in the new digital and interconnected world, unlocking investments and finance is inevitable, will have to follow growth and suit accordingly as well as the significance to scale investments in key growth sectors in real estate, infrastructure, technology, digital companies, pharmaceutical and healthcare. I hope to see aggressive initiatives in opening new doors of avenues and creative opportunities. In the Philippines, recovery programs and digital readiness is intact for flexible, fast and variable governance, clearly adopted for new structures and production lines.
Clearly, the government strives to prepare the next generation to contribute as innovators in this modern age driving global investment markets and financial landscape. Time is changing, it’s a new growing population and in peak youth stage- with technological advancements, and adapting to faster ways of stepping forward, the best decision is to soar, swim or leap, making sure you are constantly improving, adapting and progressing. I think the flexibility and durability of our economy is an advantageous factor and we will support the public sector, reinforce liquidity, business continuity and implement a new platform of opportunities that widely benefit the market to quickly overcome this phase. The country blooms with you. I believe with outstanding efforts and various precautionary measures in place, the Philippines is towards acceleration of the future, enhancing industry capabilities, sustained ranking, gaining substantial international interest and will be in outstanding position in enhancing public and private sector partnerships and clearly, will strengthen the economy.
RH: Is the Philippines seeing foreigners—investment and developments returning? If someone from outside is looking to invest in the Philippines, what do you think are the best places to put money?
GT: I see the Philippines as land of limitless of opportunities; the entrepreneurship ecosystem is robust and there’s rebirth of produced leaders that clearly will transform the mind of the market, leading to building better nation, the youth awaken shall unite and shall take place to defend the economy authentically with a heart for the people. I have no doubt, Philippines will always surpass each storm, and will remain robust as years go by. Key leaders in the global market have already invested in the region and continue to invest as they have seen and recognized it is one of the most important countries in Asia today and will continue to shine in the coming years. Around the world, it is also dubbed as Asia’s rising tiger for its phenomenal growth; its capital region is one of the richest cities in the world. Clearly, there are a lot of factors why the cities and countryside are growing vertically. As you know, the Philippines is the only English speaking country in Asia and have well trained professionals from all leading industry sectors. Majority of Filipinos are known to speak English fluently, the easier access to understand English language which gives comfort to investors and customers globally. Anyone who has been to the country or lives here must know otherwise, the first thing you should know about the Philippines is that it has an abundance of natural resources, aside from capital, the country is rich in copper, nickel, gold, silver and human talents inhabited by almost 110 million people.
Statistics from across the world show extremely positive trends and high levels of liquidity amongst investors in the real estate investment sector, finance, infrastructure, technology, pharmaceutical and healthcare. Perhaps, within the region, it is the driver of growth today as it creates capacity and eventually will consume capacity in the next coming years. I believe in long-term investments. In Boracay Beach Inc. (BBI), we changed perception of the market that we are not limited in Boracay scope, but clearly the market understand it is a widely recognized brand with diversified solutions across multiple sectors, together with Akamai Holdings Inc. both organizations boost resilient portfolio, market knowledge, expertise, strong liquidity, better value proposition, asset quality and as performance benchmark. I see the finance and real estate investment market globally accepted by investors and customers combined with technology, digitization services will truly take the lead within the region.
RH: What would you advise against for Investors?
GT: I believe you shouldn’t miss any opportunity so keep your mind open, always on the lookout and make sure you don’t put limits for growth in any sector you are in. For me, I don’t follow the crowd, I feel in leading institutions and making wise directives, it is important to come up with your own vision, your own strategy, your own plans and evolve from there. Let me give you a different perspective, the Philippines have robust and vast resources, both public and private sector plays an integral role in access to finance. We create capacity and eventually when the hour has come we consume capacity. Today, the Philippines has created capacity across the various sectors that we are talking about and overtime, we would be consuming that capacity. I feel we can always craft opportunities in any given situation. I believe the leadership of the Philippines is looking at economic development from a long-term perspective. I think for investors, it is important you have the clear intention and capability to enter the Philippines market, you can focus on real estate liquidity with the right local partners that are well connected both public and private sectors, who have robust business models to scale the investments, surely, I believe you will take the lead. In my perspective, for example, given the real estate economic parameters of the Philippines, investors always have the opportunity to invest to harness the benefit of the market not just in Asia but also can be positioned as a strong global player.
RH: Of course tourism must have taken a hit. How is the tourism sector doing? Do you see things getting better?
GT: Tourism is already in the lifestyle of people, for me, it is already in my DNA. I think each one of us needs to showcase your country to the world and be a responsible citizen. We will continue support what is good for the country, and I think this change is an opportunity for you to believe this is the time for you sit on the table and you can truly be of value in your simply ways to serve the needs of this civilization: whether you are an individual and an institution, your clear intention in doing what you do adds up and will surely makes a difference. For me, I think you need to transitioned yourself that aligns to nation building, you begin with yourself, use all your talents to multiply, build from whatever you got and encourage the people to unite towards a common vision that can fully transformed the generations to come as hope of the country, as their golden time is not spent yet but needs to be invested in proper places and rewrite rules. Clearly, today is an opportunity establishing a better future to truly impact lives.
For me, I believe tourism is one of the key sectors that opens doors for new discovery and continued journey to building opportunities. Revenue in the Travel & Tourism market is projected to reach US$1,913m in 2020 and is expected to show an annual growth rate of 25.1 % by 2023. We see the market’s largest segment is Hotels with a projected market volume of US$956m in 2020. Clearly, it pushes the industry leaders and professionals to adjust in the market and adapt new strategies in repositioning for innovation.
At BBI, we don’t just embrace new scenarios, we “become” and in high standards of growth, we establish key metrics in various industry sectors to leverage with active engagement, solidifying new production lines for resilience, integrating latest technological innovations and assuring progressiveness of market share in the years to come. I believe digital transformation will continue to stay, so I think transformation of mind is important to define the challenge, recreate your strategies and align your industry to serve the global community.
RH: For people that may not be familiar with the Philippines, can you talk about some of the favorite tourism spots?
GT: I think as a newcomer, it is important to find a gatekeeper to the Philippines and clearly, it is you who can hold the right key to open opportunities and make you experience beyond normal, which means beyond what the public sees, beyond the surface. What you see is not really what it seems. What is unknown to you, with the right people, you will be better informed the better and what is good. The Philippines is as deep as the ocean and only when you connect with the right company, you will find treasure. I think you will truly appreciate your time spent when you meet and have personal dealings with people that authentically represents the country itself.
I feel the country is made by people who represent it- patriotic leaders, citizens and residents. For me, I believe as citizens, you need to have the understanding to passionately share your country to the world and unselfishly share your knowledge to the newcomers. In my continuous journey, I have had close coordination and personal encounter with industry key leaders in all sectors and for me, I think in the world, the crowd admired power, but I think it is important to sincerely honor the person behind the veil and give them the best time of their lives, the authentic experience.
The government focus, not just on tourism but also on the development of the tourism economy as a whole, clearly industry contributed the latest around 12.7% in PH economy, as an engine for socioeconomic growth that provides jobs, enables foreign exchange while preserving Filipino culture and tradition as well as conservation of the environment.
I’ve always been passionate in learning more than the surface and I choose to discover it walking in my own path, my hunger for knowing how the system works, thirst for continues knowledge, building relationships with people from all over the world, enhancing deeper understanding with different people and real time experience with industry leaders is what I believe some of the few points in my list that brought my feet to Boracay Beach island, the rest is a history. Today is a newer and greater journey not just within the region but internationally. Speaking of Boracay as a favorite tourism spot, the island boosts the PH tourism economy over the last decade, it leads domestic tourism where it is recognized as the crown jewel of the Philippines and a discovery of a lifetime. When I think where to begin, I look at the country map, and you will see Boracay Beach island as it’s strategically located in the heart of the Philippines. The country prides Boracay white powdery sand, the romantic sunsets, the luxury developments and the ambiance simply correct itself. Whether business or leisure, it is a perfect home in paradise because of its convenience and accessibility to travel by land, air and sea, less an hour from Manila by plane. The infrastructure and international airports accommodate millions of tourists yearly. Through the years, i have seen and have no doubt of Philippines tourism growth, with over 7,641 islands, the country received world accolades as leading destination from beaches, nature, sightseeing, middle range infrastructure to world class developments, it has far outpaced its counterpart over the years and clearly shown that the industry booster can not only compete with other destinations in fact surpass them in many aspects due to gaining positive response of global markets. Its natural resources are not even scratching the tip of the iceberg on what the country can offer on its initiatives on ease of living and ease of doing business. Today, Palawan for the fourth time is leading the best island destination in the world 2020, including Boracay and Cebu in the list recognized by global travel and leisure magazines based on market favourite tourism spots. I believe the Philippines will remain an integral part of customers’ lives. Boracay Beach enjoyed the world accolade title leading for five consecutive years. From a travellers viewpoint and an entrepreneurs perspective, I see tremendous growth whether business or leisure, unlocking value in provincial areas, unchartered territories and untapped horizon while enjoying privacy and comfort like Polillo Island, Aurora, Leyte, Bicol, Palawan, Iloilo and Bohol continue to remain exciting potential geographies for us, BBI and Akamai expand in these markets, consolidate its position and clearly building an opportunity, we evolve accordingly on which makes sense on economy as whole.
In my perspective, the Philippines’ enhancement of business and economic links to the global community is expected to spur investments in further development in real estate, infrastructure within the region to clearly enhance tourism spots. Government goal is in development diversification across provincial areas of the country and consistently supporting the private sector in building new realities.
Many people we hosted over the years return for more discoveries. I think when you have the eyes that see beyond the surface you will have the clarity that you live and breath in the land of the limitless opportunities, you possess the key to create capacity and you are in the right place to achieve your own growth story and inevitable upward movement to embrace the bright future.
RH: Lastly, I’d like to give you a chance to talk Boracay Beach Inc. (BBI) and Akamai Holdings Inc. If someone is interested in learning more, where can they go?
GT: I think personally, I found it important to do business with a heart and not to lose it when you grow through life tests, which built character and competence. I believe integrating a heart in an organization is not a weakness. It is the source of strength and truly never fails when you sustain it. It keeps you going passionately and doing things with full efforts, it drives you to do what others think is impossible, it makes you learn faster, it moves you strongly to improve yourself and that’s exactly what I did in the beginning on my journey, to truly do what I love to do.
I think it is important to take wise decisions, big or small and make the best choice everyday, it sets your path. Personally, I always aim for big goals, simply because I firmly believe you can turn a vision to reality and its all at your fingertips. I think we need to strive to be better everyday, not to show the world we are doing good but because we are driven by our own aspirations. I believe what we do and the results of our efforts can impact generations to come. I think you need to set a clear vision for organization and your own personal vision and execute it in your own directives, so we build the business and strategize. It is the Ark where it aims to give value to the lives of an individual, a family, an entire community, a country and surely will touch the world. Our business initiatives focused around markets with our strategic partners within the region and international. We are positioned where we see future growth complementing with our overall long term plans. What we did in the early years is diversified investments in diverse sectors of finance, real estate, infrastructure, technology, hospitality & leisure and business centers and in the long run we will only strengthen the organization’s efforts and harvest to reinvest. It is a cycle with no limits and it is unstoppable. Boracay Beach Inc. (BBI) inevitable expansion lies in having transformed the market perception about the institution. Today, the market views the institution not just as a performance benchmark for the Boracay market, but also for the entire real estate investment sector. Both Institutions including Akamai Holdings Inc. have diverse products and services offerings assure strong positioning that business solutions are in each and every segment of the market, implementing system and building better value proposition with a door of opportunities available for all, structured for each and client needs in all levels, and continuing to innovate for sustained growth within the region as innovator in this modern age. Clearly, we pursue our race to excellence as the cornerstone of the country, the heartbeat of the Philippines in building a new story of the future of “A better country, a better world.” It is something to look forward to in the years to come.
Boracay Beach Inc. www.boracaybeachinc.com
Akamai Holdings Inc. www.akamailand.com