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Philippines' top developer takes on WeWork

Ayala Land to rely on its local network to compete with US coworking space group

The battle of shared-office providers is heating up in the Philippines, as freelancers and startups look for affordable but cool offices. (Photo courtesy of WeWork)

MANILA -- Ayala Land, the Philippines' largest real estate developer, plans to open more coworking spaces across the country to counter the aggressive expansion plans of foreign competitors entering the market.

U.S.-based WeWork, a multibillion-dollar startup backed by Japan's SoftBank Group, officially launched its Philippine operations early this week as part of its regional expansion. WeWork said it is investing $500 million in Southeast Asia and South Korea.

Coworking space providers, which offer cheaper rents and more flexible terms than traditional landlords, have caught on with freelancers and startups around the globe. Analysts predict that the Philippines -- which lags regional peers in terms of coworking space supply -- will see an influx of foreign operators over the next few years.

Colliers International expects healthy demand, particularly in Metro Manila, where only 3.2% of the total 11 million sq. meters of office space supply is allotted for flexible working spaces. And though stock is expected to grow by at least 10% over the medium term, that expansion will only match demand, according to Colliers International.

Ayala and WeWork are taking different approaches to the local market.

WeWork's maiden site occupies two floors with 800 seats at an upscale office tower in Bonifacio Global City business district. This eclipses the 433 seats offered by "Clock In by Ayala Land Offices," which are spread over three locations in the Bonifacio and Makati business districts.

Carol Mills, head of Ayala Land Offices, said more Clock In sites are in the works.

"Definitely, we are ready to expand because we have the locations," she told the Nikkei Asian Review early this week. "They [WeWork] have a big number of seats, but our strategy is a bit different. We want to be in multiple locations."

Ayala Land is preparing to open a 185-seat site in the Vertis North district, in northern Metro Manila, as well as some 898 seats across three locations within the capital over the next two years. The company also plans to capitalize on its nationwide network of office spaces -- its 67 towers had an equivalent of 1.1 million sq. meters of gross leasable space as of last year. Ayala Land spends up to around $1,000 per seat, depending on the location and the site's interior features.

"We can also open in provincial locations in the future," Mills said. "We plan to spread out to make it more accessible to more people and where our developments are located."

She also said that by renting spaces in Ayala Land office blocks, Clock In can offer more competitive prices. Clock In now charges 100 pesos ($2) per hour at its Makati site.

Ayala Land is a core unit of the Ayala group, one of the nation's oldest and largest conglomerates. Its office towers house multinational companies including Google, HSBC Holdings and Chevron and major outsourcing companies like France's Telepeformance and Canada's Telus, according to its website.

Ayala Land saw a market for coworking spaces and introduced Clock In in 2017 amid growing demand from millennial workers, freelancers, startups, small enterprises and emerging multinational companies.

Other players are also hoping to capture that demand. Malaysia's Common Ground, which entered the market last year, is spending $15 million on 10 sites in the Philippines. WeWork, with its $500 million war chest for regional expansion, is preparing to open its second location with 680 seats in the Makati business district, widely regarded as Ayala Land territory.

Despite the competition, Ayala Land says it sees the entry of New York-based WeWork as a boon because it raises the country's profile. "It is good that WeWork is here because it says something of the Philippines," Mills said.

She was also positive about knock-on effects from WeWork's presence. Though the startup normally seeks to cut rental rates in the markets it enters, challenging traditional lessors like Ayala Land, Mills said small enterprises that rent to WeWork could eventually grow and migrate to traditional offices that Ayala Land provides.

The local industry remains small compared with regional peers. In Jakarta, flexible office space accounted for 9.7% of total leasable office space as of last March, while in Singapore the figure was 3.9%, according to Colliers.

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