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For Guys

Guide to doing business in Manila


Mathew Ward (33)
Chief Revenue Officer at Komli Media
New Zealander

How often do you travel to Manila and who do you fly with?
I travel to Manila every two months or so for two to three days. I’m a Singapore Airlines member so I go with them for the three-hour flight. Jetstar isn’t too bad, if you want to use a budget airline.

If you’re a citizen of an APEC country like Australia or New Zealand, get the APEC business travel card which allows you to use the fast-track immigration lanes. You can skip the queues and save time.

One thing everyone ought to know about Manila:
Manila is famed for its crazy traffic jams. A journey that should take 15 to 20 minutes can easily take up to an hour during peak hours, depending on traffic conditions.

The shortest time to get a visa?
Most nationalities don’t need to get a visa for stays up to 21 days.

Fastest way to get into the city:
Always take an airport taxi and agree a fixed fare. It’s generally safer than flagging a taxi on the street where you might get ripped off. There are no major taxi companies so if you’re getting one in the city insist that the driver uses the meter. Alternatively, get the hotel to arrange transport for you from the airport.

When are the good and bad times to visit Manila?
I suggest avoiding Holy Week, which is during Easter. It’s a busy week in Manila as the locals move around the country quite a bit. Apart from that, the rainy season between the months of June to October can be a nightmare. Manila floods a lot during the monsoon season and sometimes even experiences typhoons – you definitely don’t want to be caught in one of those.

Editor’s Tip
A good time to visit would be around March or April, avoiding Easter week though. It’s the summer school holiday and most locals travel out of town. Traffic is also much more bearable.

Any good hotels to recommend?
There are two main areas in Manila for businesses. First is Makati, the main CBD area and another is Fort Bonifacio, the up-and-coming business district. I usually end up in Makati and my favourite boutique hotel in that area is Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences (+63 2828 4774). It’s really good value and has lots of nice rooms. Of course, there also are the usual big chain hotels like Makati Shangri-La (+63 2813 8888) and InterContinental Manila (+63 2793 7000), if that’s what you prefer.

What’s the dress code for meetings?
It depends largely on the industry you’re in. I’m in advertising so I can just wear jeans and a collared shirt and it’s acceptable. Generally, people don’t walk around in a full suit. Business pants, and a shirt and tie will work.

Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
One thing I’ve noticed about Filipinos is that they appreciate if you show that you understand their local market when doing business with them. They’re the most receptive when you use local examples and make your business idea relevant to them. They’re not really interested in how things are being done in other markets like the US or Australia, they want to know how it’ll work in the Philippines.

You are taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
The mega shopping centre called Greenbelt in Ayala Centre in Makati has a good mix of shopping, food and bars. Greenbelt is the main shopping centre. If you want to try some local Filipino food, go to Fely J’s Restaurant (+63 2728 8858) in Greenbelt 5. I also enjoy Elbert’s Steak Room (+63 2519 8665). In Fort, there are quite a number of good food places like Chef Laudico’s Bistro Filipino (+63 2856 0634). They serve great local food.

Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
In Manila, the bars and restaurants are quite spread out and most places are in an open mall concept. There’s a new underground cocktail bar called Blind Pig (+6391 7549 2264) at Salcedo Street in Makati. It’s sort of hidden but it’s very trendy and is a great place for drinks. In Fort, I would recommend Skye Lounge (+63 2478 4284).

For bars where you might get hassled, Prive (+6391 7898 8181) is quite a good nightclub. The famous Burgos Street is where all the “night time” bars are located.

Streets of Manila 

Any unsafe areas to avoid?
Not that I know of. I believe if you stick to the main business and shopping areas, you should be pretty fine. But of course, stick to the general safety rules like not walking in dark alleyways at night and keep an eye on your belongings.

You’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to go for much sightseeing. However, I hear that the places to go are the old walled city of Intramuros and the American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio, which is bigger than the one in Normandy.

If you’re not keen on sightseeing, there are lots of beautiful golf courses around the city like Club Intramuros (+63 2527 6613) I do know a lot of guys who like to golf in Manila though I haven’t done it myself yet. I hope to one day!

Gifts to take home for family and friends?
For traditional Filipino handicrafts and home accessories, visit Balikbayan Handicrafts (+63 2893 0775) in Makati. They also ship bigger items home for you. Pick up gifts before you get to the airport; besides the usual booze and duty-free shops, you can’t buy anything else there.

How long before your flight do you really need to be at Ninoy Aquino International Airport?
To be honest, the queue at immigration can get really bad. I like to err on the side of caution so I would recommend two hours in advance. Even though I have the APEC business travel card to skip the immigration queues, it’s still about an hour and half’s wait. If you happen to have plenty of time, you can grab a coffee at one of the small coffeehouses in the airport which are fairly decent. If you have access to any of the premium lounges like Singapore Airlines, use it. It has Wi-Fi and anything else you might require while you wait.