Interview: Bárbara Apráiz de Encío
In what ways have personal interactions and networking changed in the business community during the Covid-19 pandemic?
BÁRBARA APRÁIZ DE ENCÍO: The Covid-19 pandemic radically changed the way we communicate, both on a personal level and in regards to business relations – not only in the Philippines, but around the world. However, this is particularly the case in the Philippines, which has a highly social culture characterised by a reliance on face-to-face communication. As such, the pandemic has had a considerable impact on the way business is done. Nonetheless, the Filipino business community has actively embraced new working environments and solutions, including working from home and the use of communication technologies such as video conferencing and mobile messaging apps. Filipinos once again demonstrated their capacity to adapt to new environments and thrive in even the most difficult of circumstances.
How can the Philippines attract international businesses and investment after the pandemic?
APRÁIZ: This crisis will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later, but it will take some time. Considering how much more we know about Covid-19 today than we did in March 2020 when the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic, we are better prepared to fight the virus. As such, life will begin to return to normal.
In the case of international business, barriers that were introduced at the beginning of the pandemic should begin to be removed. Such measures could include allowing entry for business missions or expatriates working in the country by implementing the same health protocols required of returning Filipino nationals during the pandemic period.
This would facilitate the ease of doing business and remove barriers that may make the Philippines a less competitive destination for investors when compared to other countries in the region. There are many factors that make the country attractive to foreign investors, and removing pandemic-related barriers will help the Philippines recover the welcoming environment for foreign investment that was partially lost due to the severity of its health restrictions.
Which aspects of the local culture encourage foreign businesspeople to establish themselves long term in the Philippines?
APRÁIZ: Cultural similarities between Filipinos and foreign businesspeople, taking Spanish businesspeople as an example, can be an important contributor to creating a friendly environment for expatriates. These similarities can create common ground and enable locals and foreigners to easily build lasting relationships. In addition, Filipino businesspeople often have an open and creative mind, an educated and cosmopolitan taste, and a focus on high-quality products and services. This can add significant value in many sectors, including gastronomy, fashion, art, tourism, retail and hospitality. In turn, local businesspeople value foreigners for their trustworthiness, seriousness and professionalism while conducting themselves. They are also known for their resourcefulness, efficiency, honesty and reliability.
What should foreign business travellers keep in mind when meeting their local counterparts?
APRÁIZ: Due to a relatively similar cultural background between businesspeople in the Philippines and those from Spain, our business travellers require little guidance in the form of tips or advice. Instead, we highlight the friendliness, politeness and respectful manners of local businesspeople, as well as the importance of traditional values, including those relating to family and religion. We often share with visitors that Filipino individuals in the business space very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss business proposals and matters over lunch or dinner.
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