SMX Convention Center: 30 years of pioneering MICE facilities and services

It’s been almost three decades since the SM brand became a player in the industry of Meeting, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) with the opening of Cebu Trade Hall (Cebu City North Reclamation Area) in 1992 and Megatrade Hall (Mandaluyong City) in 1994 with 6,696 sqm. of gross floor area (GFA).

Today, the brand is called SMX Convention Center and it has contributed an additional 67,117 sqm. since.  Despite the 13-year wait, SM returned in 2007 with the largest, privately owned standalone structure with the SMX Convention Center Manila (Pasay City). Located within the Mall of Asia complex, it added a whopping GFA of 46,647 sqm.

SMX Manila facade

At the annual SM MICE Convention, we sat down with Walid Wafik, VP and general manager of SMX Convention Specialist Corp. together with Agnes Pacis, VP for sales and marketing, and, Lourdes Macalindog, VP of SM Hotels and Conventions.

With massive expansion in the plans, Walid, a veteran in the global hospitality scene and in his eighth year in the Philippines, emphasizes on the masterplan approach. “SM always keeps in mind four key ingredients — mall, hotel, convention center, and transport hub — for a formula in harnessing foot traffic and revenue.”

Between 2012 and 2016, three of four mall-based facilities were opened to meet the demand in Visayas and Mindanao with SMX Davao (Lanang), SMX Bacolod (Bacolod City), and Sky Hall Seaside Cebu (South Road Properties).  In a bid to take market share in the bustling districts of Makati and BGC, SMX Aura (Taguig) meets both the four-ingredient masterplan formula, as well as providing a premier venue in a more central location.

In the next three years, there are five projects in the pipeline. In September, SMX Olongapo will open with 2,130 sqm. GFA at the SM City Olongapo Central.  In 2020, SMX Clark opens as the second standalone facility in the portfolio with 4,040 sqm. GFA. In 2021, development moves southward again with SMX Sta. Rosa at 4,000 sqm. and SMX Iloilo at 4,040 sqm. GFA each. In 2022, a second facility in Cebu opens under the SMX brand with 4,040 sqm. GFA. This brings a total of 13 MICE facilities to the SMX folio, 10 under the SMX brand, and the total GFA to 92,063 sqm.

While value of investment for expansion plans are not yet available, Lourdes shares, “To date, investment in existing convention centers, including hotels, is at P16.9 billion.”

In keeping with the four-ingredient formula, Park Inn by Radisson Clark and Radisson Iloilo will complete the mix. In the queen city of the south, plans appear to be quite exciting as shared by Walid. With SMX Mall of Asia as a model, the masterplan in Cebu is moving towards creating a mix with an SMX Cebu, an arena, a hotel and the mall. At present, the hotel closest to the future site of SMX Cebu is the existing Radisson Blu.

With every new facility, the SMX brand continues to evolve its design considerations. Agnes enthuses, “With an eye toward accommodating international events the likes of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), roadshows within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and through Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers (PACEOS), we have taken into consideration elements such as ceiling height, weight load and number of meeting rooms.”

At present, bookings remain strong with 90 percent from the domestic market. SMX has been successful at securing advance booking with long-term clients year on year. As infrastructure, countryside development, and decentralization continues to move swiftly, SMX appears well positioned to harness the growth centers.

In Luzon, gateways to international and domestic passage are projected to grow with the Bulacan International Airport Project (New Manila International Airport) with phase 1 completion in three to four years, Clark International Airport Expansion (2020), PNR Manila-Clark Passenger Railway (2021 to 2022), Subic-Clark Railway project (2022), Skyway Stage 3, NLEX-SLEX Connector Road, and the New Clark City Government Administration Center.

In Visayas and Mindanao, PPP projects under evaluation as of June 2019 include the New Bohol International Airport (upgrade, expansion, operations and maintenance), Davao International Airport (development, operation and management), Kalibo International Airport (O&M and facility upgrade), and the Laguindingan Airport (upgrade, expansion, operations and maintenance).  Ongoing is the renovation and expansion of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Passenger Terminal Building.

As the government pushes Build, Build, Build, Agnes looks forward to the challenge of growing the MICE business.  In her words, “It’s time to bid, bid, bid.”