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La Camara's Barbara Apraiz On Its 120th Anniversary, The Filipino-Spanish Relations, And The Future Of Business Here

The history of Filipino-Spanish relations dates back to more than a century—and one proof of this is La Camara’s celebration of their 120th year anniversary in our country. The establishment of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce has since strengthen the ties of both countries and continues to grow together, not just for economic ascension, but for binding relations within the community.

To commemorate this milestone, La Camara arranged a special Gala Dinner happening tomorrow at Casa Azul in Intramuros and Jardin Padre Blanco. The event promises not just a gala, but an experience—a time traveling journey that will take you back to 1899, when it all started.

And what better way to know about this journey than La Camara Executive Director Barbara Apraiz, who here shares how the Philippines and Spain have been working seamlessly hand in hand to help each other further its respective businesses and the secret to the lasting trust and friendship. We spill: It’s more than just business.


How are you working on La Camara especially now that it’s on its 120th year?

We are trying to modernize it. We have been here in the past 120 years, which is a lot. It is the oldest Spanish chamber in Asia and also one of the biggest in the region. We have 131 members, so we try new ways—not only through the internet or social media—but also trying to reach more people in different ways. We send out newsletters. We also travel to other Southeast Asian countries, visiting Spanish companies that are already open there but aren’t present yet in the Philippines. We invite them and talk about the country and the economy, to encourage them to go to invest, or at least, to have a look.


What have you discovered in this shift in globalization?

That there are a lot of possibilities. People are really surprised when they realize the opportunities here. In the macroeconomy point of view, this country is going to be one of the biggest in 10 years. It’s also easier because of our history, the ties that we have. It’s very easy to find a business partner because we have many things in common—the religion, food, sense of family. It’s also same for Filipinos, as many Filipino friends are working in Madrid. It’s their second home.


How is it like to reach this kind of milestone?

To continue growing, existing, and doing business, the more so we plan to increase our members and also to try to find different ways of collaborating. In the past, we focus on membership, some events, and networking. Now, we are more on elaborating agenda for Spanish companies visiting the Philippines and doing market research, like helping them find the right partner. 


From an economic standpoint, what would you say is the significance of La Camara celebrating this event?

To be honest, the bilateral trade between the Philippines and Spain has increased a lot. We have been working really hard, because there are a lot of Filipinos who are also interested in building their business in Spain. Actually, Filipinos are the main foreign investor in Spain.


How about on the social aspect?

Here, networking is very important—to get to know their partners and their people. It’s like dealing with family, so it’s one of the reasons that Spanish businessmen come to the Philippines. 


Throughout the years, what is the biggest innovation that you’ve ever tried?

It’s developing the La Camara app. We encourage companies from Spain, or Hong Kong, or Vietnam, or wherever, to download the app when visiting the Philippines. It gives them information on everything they need to know, like how the economy is doing here or who are the biggest players in the economy. It was launched a year ago, 14 months to be exact. It’s relatively new.


How do you think La Camara changed the landscape of business and commerce in the Philippines?

I think La Camara has helped a lot in opening new businesses that were not here. I arrived here six years ago, and I realized that there are many changes happening now, which is really good.


What would you attribute to La Camara’s longevity?

It’s the Filipinos. They have really strong ties with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce because of history and ease in doing business together. Also, in a personal way, I think it is very easy here to have the feeling that things are going to work. 


What are the other factors that bind the two countries further, in your opinion?

It is also our embassies working together in order to promote both countries. And tourism is increasing, as a lot of Filipinos are traveling to Spain, and likewise. But tourism is just an example. I think with everything, we are more connected. 


What for you is the most important goal of La Camara?

It’s really to help all the members. They want to feel not just strong connections but they also want to make business. So the main goal is to serve our members. We should work for them.


How does Spain continue to influence Filipino businesses now? 

In many cases, we help organize an economic briefing, which happens every two months, and we invite the members to see business opportunities here. And vice versa. They ask to help in finding their perfect business match. 


With La Camara present for over a century, how did the Chamber of Commerce adapt to the changes and challenges along the way?

Sometimes, there are things that you cannot control. Like for example, when we had a scheduled meeting with 25 companies from Spain who arrived here in the Philippines, but a typhoon came, and we could not proceed with the meeting. [Instead,] we solved the problem with the internet and set the meeting through Skype. Basically, we are taking advantage of technology now. But in the end, there is something that’s very important—to have that personal contact. We always recommend that in the end, before investing, come here and meet face to face. It’s very important because then you’ll realize if you have the connection or chemistry.


For you, what is it like heading La Camara?

My experience with the Chamber of Commerce has been super nice. Before living here, I worked in hotels as a director. So in the beginning, I was a little bit scared. But they said, don’t worry. I found out it’s just like working in a hotel. The clients are the members, and you are working for them and you need to understand what your member needs.


What are your personal inputs since landing this job?

It’s trying to make people to feel like a family. 


How you would describe your leadership style?

I am like a "servant" to my members. I am very close to them, in order to also understand what they are looking for and what they need.


How would you like La Camara to be known for?

That it’s more than business. It’s the network; it’s the feelings.


What’s the best thing about building an empire than has withstood more than a hundred years?

The relationship built between the Spanish companies and the Filipinos businessmen. Some of them have been working together for 20 or 30 years, and I am very proud that the relationship continues working. They trust each other, look together for more businesses. I feel that they are growing up together. I am more than happy.

Photographs by Daniel Soriano.