By Imee Charlee C. Delavin,
Senior Reporter

SELLING the unique Filipino experience to the world helped pave the success stories of local companies that made it big overseas as they bring the taste of the Philippines nearer to foreigners and the millions of Filipinos overseas.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) prides itself as an airline offering the best of the Filipino culture, making it a top-of-mind choice for those wanting to experience the country, even before actually setting foot here. The airline has branded itself as the “heart of the Filipino” offering seamless connection not just to local destinations but to nearby countries in the region.

“PAL’s unique brand of customer service, buong pusong alaga or wholehearted service is the most important factor that shapes customer experience and differentiates us from the larger, international airlines,” PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Jaime J. Bautista said in his speech at the recent BusinessWorld-PAL ASEAN Regional Forum.

“As an international airline representing the Philippines to the world, [we bring] the best of the world to Filipinos. Our campaign, the heart of the Filipino, leverages on our hospitality and generosity as a people, our service that comes straight from the heart that’s truly Filipino, service that is characterized as magaling, maaasahan, maalaga, magalang, at maalalahanin.

The airline of taipan Lucio C. Tan currently serves 43 international destinations, including 20 regionally within East Asia, 10 in Australasia and the Pacific, seven in the Middle East, five in continental North America and one in Europe. It has 80 aircraft, operates in 30 domestic points, and ferry an average of one million passengers of different nationalities per year.

Philippine multinationals like PAL can stand parallel, if not directly compete with its foreign counterparts in by further modernizing its fleet, expanding its route network, improve flight availability, schedules, and increase codeshare partnerships; innovate products and enhance customer experience, Mr. Bautista said.

Aside from further expanding its long-haul flights, PAL will also focus on building its ASEAN network, with recent liberalization of open skies policy and noting that the region in the “future” is now a fast developing economic driver in the world.

“For a legacy airline like Philippine Airlines, the question is not whether we grow regional rather the question is how do we commend this emerging market with the rest of our network. It makes more sense therefore for PAL to pursue its intended expansion to the rest of the world and showcase not only our beautiful places in the Philippines but also enabling the ASEAN countries,” he said.

“With its fast emergence, ASEAN is now looked at by many investors and some businesses with much interest. With the proximity of ASEAN points and at the same time diversity in language, politics, and culture in the ASEAN region, it is a very good product to offer that only ASEAN carriers like PAL can offer this. Some maybe skeptical considering [uncertainties overseas] but for many, the ASEAN region is the place to be and as an ASEAN member, I can proudly say that ASEAN is the future.”

PAL launched it first international flight in 1946 to California.

Since then, it has fully developed its homegrown flights to the United States, servicing millions of Filipinos and currently competing “head-to-head” with foreign players on other homegrown routes. The flag carrier noted that nearly half of its passengers are tourists to and from the Philippines, aside from the more than 10 million Filipinos it carry across the US, Canada, UK, Saudi, UAE, to as far as Australia and Japan, where it compete with both local and international low cost carriers and full-service legacy airlines that are 5-star rated.

To further support the local aviation industry, PAL said the government should also push the development of airport infrastructure — airport terminal and runway improvement; modern facilities; bigger space for increased capacity and leverage on enhancing technology for airport operations.

For Emperador, Inc., the liquor firm controlled by Andrew L. Tan, the strong Filipino base abroad also supported its initial expansion overseas.

“When you go to liquor shops abroad, they [Filipinos] see Emperador and they feel connected with the Philippines,” Glenn D. Manlapaz, managing director for Asia and International Markets Emperador Distillers, Inc. said separately during the forum.

The Philippine-listed company has expanded its footprint across 100 counties since it started its overseas expansion in 2013 with the acquisition of several liquor brands — brandy and sherry businesses of Beam Spain, S.L in February and the acquisition of other iconic brands Fundador Pedro Domecq, the Philippines’ largest selling premium imported brandy brand; Terry Centenario, Spain’s no. 1 selling brandy; Tres Cepas, Equatorial Guinea’s no. 1 brandy; and Harveys, United Kingdom’s no. 1 selling sherry wine.

It also took over Bodegas Fundador, known as Spain’s largest and oldest brandy cellars and brandy distillery in Tomelloso and acquired Scotch whiskey maker Whyte & Mackay Group Ltd. and its subsidiaries, the fifth largest Scotch whisky manufacturer in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Manlapaz said for Filipino companies going global means “improving the potential for expansion and growth; extending the product life cycle of the portfolio by finding new markets to sell them in; and reducing dependence on core markets.”

“If the business is plagued by volatility due to seasonal demand cycles, you can even out your sales by tapping markets with varied or reverse fluctuations. Most importantly, learn to compete against foreign companies — take the battle to them.”

Emperador recorded an annual sales of more than 30 million cases, controlling around 97% of the brandy market in the Philippines and approximately half the entire spirits volume in the Philippines. Emperador Brandy is the world’s best-selling brandy, and is the 2nd biggest spirits brand in the world. It has grown its presence in 40 markets the last 24 months.

“Taiwan has become our growth engine for overseas growth years in the last 24 months, Malaysia also and the Philippines has become one of the most promising markets in Southeast Asia,” Mr. Manlapaz added. “The biggest issue between doing business domestically and internationally is culture. Don’t think the whole world does business like you.”

Emperador’s Mr. Manlapaz also has these pointers for local firms looking to expand overseas: “Build a relationship before you get down to business; Don’t rush, be sensitive; bring an interpreter if needed; dress with authority and respect everyone you deal with, always…

Tycoon Andrew L. Tan, the chairman of the country’s largest liquor conglomerate earlier said apart from boosting “our long-term economic strength like other Asian economic powers, Philippine companies expanding overseas and going beyond our comfort zones or going to some uncharted territories, will definitely sharpen our skills as leaders.”

Regina Capital Development Corp. Managing Director Luis A. Limlingan said bringing the Filipino brand differentiated the local multinationals in the global space.

“These companies have been aggressively marketing their brand and services internationally for several years and have been reaping these benefits. In the case of Jollibee, they have been strategically opening stores in key locations, first with a strong Filipino base abroad and later adopting to their international preference. Emperador has already become one of the better known brands outside the Philippines, and they have acquired reputable names outside as well.”

Guian Angelo S. Dumalagan, market economist at the Land Bank of the Philippines for his part said in an e-mail “a major factor that determines the success of a Filipino business overseas is the company’s ability to adapt to the taste and preferences of consumers in the foreign land. This is particularly true for Jollibee and Emperador which sells food and drinks.”