The Forbes Global CEO Conference will be held in Manila, Philippines from October 12 to 14, 2015. As the conference draws near, we reached out to Doc Rogers, one of AS Solution’s trusted security partners and longtime friend of the Philippines for some expert insight on staying safe, happy and productive while visiting there.
We hope you enjoy his guest blog whether you’re traveling to the Forbes conference, for other business reasons, on holiday or on a backpacking adventure to this Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 7,000 islands.
1. The climate in Manila: Expect heat, rain – and the occasional typhoon
The Pacific typhoon season normally extends from May to October, so there is a chance that the annual cycle of tropical cyclones might stretch into the days around October 12-14.These are powerful storms (the Southeast Asian version of hurricanes) that can seriously disrupt travel logistics.
With or without the typhoons, October is the rainy season due to tropical storms generated in the South China Sea. Often during the rainy season the weather improves with sunny patches and only light rain showers, but make sure you pack a raincoat and umbrella. Expect temperatures between 24-31°C, or 75-88°F.
2. Travel warnings and terrorism – but not in Manila
The Philippines has had its share of terrorism, but most of this has occurred far from Manila.
Terrorists and separatists are active in Eastern, Central and Western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and Southern Sulu Sea areas (located approximately 535 miles away Manila).
The risk in these locations come from groups which include the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, New People’s Army and Abu Sayyaf. There are no imminent threats from terrorists groups as of this date in Manila.
See the US Department of State’s travel warning for the Philippines here.
3. Manila is a sprawling super city located on major tectonic fault lines
Metro Manila is a bustling metropolis with a population of over 11 million. Located in the southwest part of Luzon Island, the national capitol region of the Philippines comprises 16 separate cities or municipalities, and covers 650 square kilometers, or 250 square miles. The main central business district is located in Makati.
Earthquakes occur in Manila, and there is the potential of a big one. Some seismologists say the city is overdue for magnitude 7 quake, which could leave more than 30,000 dead, and more than 125,000 injured. Metro Manila is surrounded by the Marikina Valley Fault system.
4. Surviving Manila’s traffic is the main safety challenge
Road accidents pose the biggest single risk to travelers in Manila. Please read that sentence again: Road accidents pose the biggest single risk to travelers in Manila.
Few tourists visit Manila without being stunned by its traffic – both figuratively and literally. The roadways are congested. Drivers can be erratic and unpredictable. The conditions are outright dangerous for the multitudes who ride small motorbikes, “jeepneys” and all kinds of home-made wheeled contraptions – but travel by taxi or private car can also be risky.
Don’t be fooled by the highway from Ninoy Aquino International Airport into the city. While its smooth, well-maintained surfaces look beguiling, they’ll soon be replaced by city streets that are in a constant state of disrepair. Drivers ignore stoplights. Buses come to an abrupt stop in the middle of the street. Impatient motorists might decide to turn into oncoming traffic when the proper lane is moving too slowly, which it almost always is. Unauthorized vendors and beggars clog the streets. But wait, there’s more.
Drunk driving is a serious problem in both Manila and the rest of the Philippines. When the World Health Organization evaluated road safety worldwide in 2013, it awarded the Philippines a score of zero for its enforcement of drunk-driving legislation. The scale went from 0-10. See the report here.
Taxi drivers present another hazard. Most of them rent cars from fleet owners for a period of 24 hours, then put in 24-hour shifts to maximize their investment. While this might make good economic sense for them, it doesn’t do much for traffic safety for the rest of us. Your driver may have been dealing with Manila’s notorious traffic for 23 hours by the time you get into his car. Fasten your seatbelt (if you can find one).
So what is a traveler to do?
Business travelers are advised to hire a professionally security driver, with a safe vehicle, from a reputable company. A trained and experienced security driver will mitigate most of the driving hazards.
They know how to vary routes and times to prevent establishing a routine; they keep routes and schedules confidential; they stay aware of what is happening around them, and they are trained to plan and react accordingly.
If you don’t opt for a professional security driver, then at least ask the concierge at your hotel to arrange for either another private driver or to call a taxi service. The better hotels know whom to choose. Hailing a taxi on the street is not always a safe option.
Put your seatbelt on, always. And keep the doors locked and windows rolled up at all times.
5. Watch out for petty crime—but don’t let it keep you in you hotel room
Like any big city, crime is always a potential threat in the Philippine capitol. But Manila is no worse than most places if you stay out of certain areas.
Manila has extremes of wealth and poverty that may pose potential risks to visitors. According to many expats who have lived and worked in Manila and other major cities, however, Manila is relatively safe if you know where to go – and where not to go.
If you stay in the Makati business district, well-defined tourist districts and shopping areas you should be OK. Stay out of places which common sense would also have you keep away from in other cities: slums and other economically depressed areas, dark backstreets and neglected industrial areas, etc.
6. A street-smart traveler is a safe traveler
Whether you’re flying in on the company jet or island hopping with a backpack, many of the usual travel safety tips also apply in Manila. Here are some of my favorites.
When you’re on the street, including business and tourist areas, be aware that there may be petty thieves out there, too. Pickpocketing and purse snatching are less likely when you avoid obvious displays of affluence and follow a few simple rules:
- Keep your wallet in your front pocket.
- Don’t flash expensive jewelry, smartphones, laptop computers or cameras in public places – including your car or taxi.
- When walking on the street, keep bags and briefcases away from passing traffic to prevent thieves on motorcycle from attempting to grab your belonging.
7. Don’t forget to smell the roses—and try the Filipino cuisine
The Philippines has much more to offer than travel risks, and the country is rightly known for its fascinating culture, amazing beaches – and food.
A visit to the Manila is not complete without tasting the local cuisine. If you’re only staying for a short time, stay away from street vendors as their sanitary conditions could well give you some of the local bacteria in addition to a tasty treat. Fortunately, there are plenty of well-established restaurants and five-star hotels that excel in Filipino fare – and also offer the highest sanitary standards.
Traditional Filipino dishes include lechón (roasted pig), longganisa (Philippine sausage), adobo (chicken and/or pork cooked in garlic, vinegar, oil and soy sauce), kaldereta (meat in tomato sauce stew), mechado (beef in soy and tomato sauce), puchero (beef in bananas and tomato sauce), afritada (chicken and/or pork cooked in a tomato sauce with vegetables), kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables cooked in peanut sauce).
You might want to wash it all down with a San Miguel Pale Pilsen or two. After all, this is where this world-famous brew is headquartered – and you won’t find it fresher or tastier than here!
Have a great time while you stay safe, happy and productive in Manila.