Interview: Cristino Naguiat Jr

What role is gaming likely to play as part of the Philippines’ bid to expand its hospitality sector?

CRISTINO NAGUIAT JR: Like most countries in the Asian region, the Philippines recognises the significant role of gaming in increasing tourism growth. One of the most important considerations will be to ensure that current and future gaming developments showcase the best of the Philippines in terms of culture, locations, activities and cuisine. In neighbouring destinations such as Macau, tourism has become the backbone of the economy, and much of it is fuelled by the gaming industry. Likewise, with the relatively recent expansion of gaming in Singapore, the city-state registered a 16% jump in arrivals for the first quarter of 2011, while sightseeing and entertainment within the country more than tripled. The Philippines has the potential to grow its gaming and tourism industries given its central location in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite the fact that other gaming destinations in South-east Asia are already established, the regional market continues to grow and is large enough to support multiple gaming destinations. Some 1.7bn people live within a three-hour flight from the Philippines, which presents the tourism and gaming sectors with significant room for growth.

How important will public-private partnerships be in accelerating the growth plans for the Philippines’ tourism and entertainment sectors?

NAGUIAT: There is vast potential for the Philippines to create a niche in the global gaming industry, but this must be done in collaboration with partners and investors that are equally enthusiastic about the development and progress of the country. Along these lines, the country has embarked on the development of the Entertainment City Manila (ECM) project. Apart from encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI), the project is intended to create win-win partnerships between the government and both local and foreign investors. Provisional licences have been granted to four developers for ECM projects, with each committing to invest a minimum of $1bn. Upon completion, ECM will feature 1m sq metres of hotel, gaming, retail, entertainment and dining areas, and at least 3200 hotel rooms will accommodate up to 1m tourists a year.

ECM will move the Philippines towards its objective of gaining a slice of the estimated $115bn global gaming revenue pie, and will also allow the country to join regional counterparts as one of the main international destinations for upscale gaming and entertainment.

Through this project, PAGCOR hopes to turn the Philippines into one of the premier gaming capitals in Asia. ECM is also expected to directly generate upwards of 30,000-40,000 jobs. In addition, we expect a significant economic multiplier effect, as ECM should prove to be a huge boon for construction sector as well as other associated industries.

What international best practice would you like to see adopted within the gaming sector?

NAGUIAT: The success of other regional gaming destinations continues to encourage the Philippines to adopt the best practices and take other steps that may stimulate the growth of its gaming and tourism sectors. Given the goal of the Philippines to emerge as one of the main players in the global gaming scene, it is important that the country boost investor confidence in increasing FDI. By transforming the country’s gaming industry into a provider of top-end entertainment and leisure, we will not only boost tourist arrivals but also strengthen our revenue-earning capacity.

The country will continue to look for ways to support the growth of the gaming industry. Our strategy includes improving and upgrading the service offerings to customers and implementing innovative schemes to widen the reach of developments to new foreign and local markets. We will also be focusing on developing, training and rationalising our manpower assets, as well as ensuring that proper regulatory duties and responsibilities are adhered to in an effort to provide a level playing field for investors in the industry.