Everything You Need To Know About Hosting Your First Team Retreat In The Philippines

Have you considered holding a retreat for your outsourced accounting team in The Philippines?

If so, you probably have a lot of questions -

  • Where to go?
  • What to do?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Is it worth it?
  • And plenty more...

In this article, I'll answer those questions based on the experience of our first team retreat, in August of 2022.

In addition to answering the questions above, I'll share:

  • How the retreat impacted our team and business
  • What I’d do differently next time
  • How much we spent (all expenses)
  • What we learned
  • The impact it had on me
  • Why the future is bright for outsourcing in The Philippines

I’ll provide all the details, which will hopefully give you some insight if you’d like to hold your own retreat.

But first...

Why Hold A Team Retreat In The Philippines?

You probably know all the benefits of working remotely. And, of course, there are some trade-offs.

The main one being that you have to be much more intentional about building team culture and camaraderie.

You can't just stop by your colleague's desk to ask about her daughter's volleyball game.

You have to be more thoughtful about building relationships. Relationships, after all are the most fundamental piece of a thriving company.

So, how do you build strong relationships with your outsourced accounting team?

Especially if your team has not met in person before, a team retreat can be transformational. At least, it was for our team.

Let's dig in to find out how!

Our accounting team at our retreat in The Philippines

About Our Team

I'm a co-founder of Summit eCommerce Advisors, which is a bookkeeping and advisory firm.

We currently have a team of 14 wonderful people, who are all in in The Philippines. It's just my partner, Jason Snider, and I who are in the US.

In addition, we’re entirely virtual, with our team scattered around the islands of The Philippines. Most of them hadn’t met in person before.

In August of 2022, seven of our team members joined us for our first retreat, in La Union, The Philippines.

We’re growing fast, so some who had been hired recently couldn’t arrange travel quickly enough, and a few others couldn’t make it for other reasons.

What We Did On Our Philippines Team Retreat

Our team retreat was five days long.  Jason and I stayed an extra week, for a total of about 2 weeks.

The team planned the entire event on their own.  Early on, they would ask Jason or me if we wanted to do certain activities, but we told them to just do whatever they wanted.  (I have no interest in planning, plus, this trip isn’t for me.  It’s for the team.)

In fact, I told them, it would be more fun if it was a surprise, so I had really had no idea what our itinerary would entail.

If you're not quite the go-with-the-flow personality type that Jason and I are, and having that much unknown would tie your stomach in knots, don't feel like you need to be quite so hands-off!

But, I would encourage you to delegate the planning to the team. They will, of course, know more about the locations and activities than you will.

We pre-funded a bank account with a budgeted amount ahead of time for them.  There was just one rule - don’t spend more than what's in the account.  We actually came in under budget by about $1600.

Well, there was one more rule...

Make sure it's fun!

We decided not to do any work, or even workshops on the retreat.  We just got to know each other better, and had a great time!

We told our clients we’d be unavailable for that week, which took all the pressure off, so we could just enjoy ourselves.

Pre-Retreat: 2 Days In Manila

I’d never been to The Philippines, so I arrived a couple days early, to walk around Manila and orient myself.  

And, to hopefully beat any jet lag before the retreat started.

Walking old Manila, and yes, you’ll start to sweat the instant you step outside.

3 Quick Jet Lag Tips

If you're flying around the world to your team retreat, the last thing you'll want is to be half-asleep while you're trying to get to know your team. Here are some quick tips to help you enjoy your time there.

1. Arrive ready for the new time zone.

If you're arriving in the morning, as I did, try to get some sleep on the plane, so you're ready for a day ahead.

2. Walk as much as you can in the first two days.

On my first day, I had a few hours to wander around the neighborhood near my hotel. The next day, I spent most of the day walking historic Manila.

On day one, I got in 11k steps, and on day two I counted a massive 22k steps!

Exercise will make your body ready for sleep at night, and the sunlight helps reset your circadian rhythm. It's also a great way to get familiar with your new surroundings.

3. Do NOT go to sleep before 8 PM.

If you're like me, and you have trouble sleeping on the plane, you'll just have to power through your first day. It may be tough, but it's worth it.

Add some melatonin at bedtime, and combined with all the walking, you'll likely sleep like a baby 'till morning.

Thankfully, I had zero sleep disruption on the trip, I think, because I followed this method. I've traveled across the Pacific quite a few times over the years, and jet lag has never been a problem when I've been able to do these three simple things.

The Aureo Hotel and Resort in La Union

Retreat: 2 Days In La Union

We brought everyone to a beautiful beach resort in San Fernando City, La Union, about a five hour drive north of Manila.  La Union is where our operations manager, Daisy Delfinado, lives.

It has a beautiful coastline, so it was a natural fit. (But where doesn't in this country?!)

We stayed at the Aureo Hotel & Resort, which is quite possibly the nicest resort I have ever been to, right on the beach.

We played silly-fun team-building games on the beach, jet skied, and gorged ourselves at nearby restaurants.

The rooms were fantastic.  Breakfast was great.  

They have several pools.  Some rooms have patio swim-out pools, and one pool designed like a lazy river in a meandering circle, with a current that takes you around and around.  We had a lot of fun floating, splashing, and trying to swim against the current.

Having fun with our team in Baguio, The Philippines

Retreat: 3 Days In Baguio

Then we took a ride up the winding road to Baguio, a scenic mountain city that’s known as the “summer capital.”  It’s the coolest city in the Philippines, and had average daytime temperatures around 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

We did touristy stuff - visited the botanical garden, rode horses, and ate a lot more food.

The team loved it.

We spent plenty of time in a van together, driving from one place to another, the in-between moments encouraging casual conversation.  The van was full of laughter, and you could tell some heavy bonding was happening.

The hotel in Baguio was fine (Olive Town Center and Hotel), though nowhere near as nice as The Aureo, but it was centrally located, functional, and very convenient.  

It’s also one of the only hotels in the city with air conditioning.  The team was VERY concerned that Jason and I, fair-weather westerners, would need air conditioning.  So, they asked around to find a suitable hotel.  Most people laughed at them, saying "Baguio is cold!  Why would you want air conditioning!?"

After three days of fun, we ended with a karaoke night.  The team affectionately calls it “Summit Night.”  Tearful goodbyes were said.

A day of planning in Baguio.  Pictured from left to right are Isaac, Daisy, and Jason.

Post-Retreat: 4 Days With Daisy

After everyone left, Daisy, Jason, and I stayed a couple more days in Baguio to do some planning.  

It turned out that there wasn’t much left to discuss after five days of casual conversation! But hey, it gave us more time together to talk about big ideas.

Then, we went back down the mountain to spend a few days near Daisy’s house.  We spent time with her lovely family, and poked around her hometown, in between torrential downpours.

Post-Retreat: 2 Days Back In Manila

For our last couple of days, Jason and I went back to Manila to meet with a teammate who couldn’t make the retreat, as well as another local entrepreneur.

We stayed in Taguig, which was a nice, convenient place.  The hotel, Wynwood, was stunning.  And, at $65 per night, I couldn't believe it.

We had so much fun!

The Retreat’s Impact On The Team & Our Business

The impact on the team was immediate.  They know, intimately now, that they can rely on their teammates, and they’re much more comfortable to ask for help. They know we're here to support each other.

They learned about each other personally, of course, but also what each person’s strengths are.  So, now they know in more detail who to ask about specific topics.

When we got back home, and went back to our regular video calls, I could see a new light in their eyes.  Our team was already bought-in to our mission, but the trip made it much more personal.

The feeling of “we’re in this together” multiplied on the trip.

And, practically speaking, Jason and I have a much clearer understanding of the team’s strengths. We knew we had a rockstar team, but we learned that they’re far more skilled than we even thought they were.

They’re capable of much more than we were asking of them.  And they asked us, "why can’t we do more?"

Our response - “uh, well, sure.”

We came home with ideas for new offers to our serve clients.  That alone was worth the cost of the trip.


Villa vs. Hotel

Some business owners have told me they've rented a villa for their retreats. Housing everyone in one place, with shared common areas allowed them to have more intimate, informal hangout time, playing games, etc.

It sounds like a great idea, and we'll look into it next time. The bigger your group gets, though, the harder it will likely be to find a good place.


La Union worked for us, but if you’re looking for an easily accessible place for your retreat, this is probably not the one.  

There is no airport near La Union or Baguio, so you’re in for a five to six hour drive to get there.  That is a lot of wasted time.

Our team has been discussing holding the retreat on a different island each time.  That sounds fun, but we’ll see.


You might be wondering how we got everyone from place to place.

We flew the team members who live on other islands to Manila, where Jason and I met them, before going to La Union.  In Manila, we hired a driver with a large van through a local transportation company. That's really what made the whole retreat work.

He drove us to La Union (overnight, sleepless in a van, which I would NOT recommend. And after all that effort to conquer jet lag!)

He was on call to take us wherever we wanted - dinner, sightseeing, etc.

He drove us to Baguio, and all around the city.  When the retreat was over, he drove the team to Manila to catch their flights, and even one person to Batangas, which is three hours beyond Manila.

Then, he came back to La Union, picked Jason and I up, and took us to Manila.

That was all for $900.  Hiring him was a key decision.

Ah, delicious Filipino food!


We ate breakfasts at the hotel, which was included at the Aureo, but not in Baguio.

For lunch and dinner, we went out to nice restaurants.  We budgeted $9 per person per meal, which was plenty.  

Restaurants in The Philippines, I learned, serve meals family style, almost exclusively.  So, a few of the team would order for the group. Many steaming bowls and plates would be set on the table for all of us to dish ourselves from.

We ordered much more food than we could eat, had drinks, and sometimes desserts.  We often gave our leftovers to the driver, who was very appreciative.


You may have noticed that our team is made up of entirely women.  We didn’t plan it that way; it just happened.

There’s something about online work in The Philippines that appeals to women more than men, in addition to women already having strong representation in accounting. Some of our team members' husbands stay home to take care of the kids, allowing the women to work.

So, naturally, we wanted to make it easy for the mothers to come.  For the two mothers who could make it, Daisy and her sister, Lauren, we invited their families as well.  It gave the event a nice, family vibe, very un-business-y.

Both of them have two kids, and the husbands would take care of one child each.  (But, curiously, not two.  "No, no, no, a man can't do that!"  Like, don't be absurd!)

Had we wanted to get actual work done, this might have been an issue, as one of the children was always distracting the moms.  (And frankly, me too, as my dad-spidey-sense kicked in.)  The husbands kept to themselves mostly, but joined us for several meals.

For the next retreat, I would like to give the moms a break, so they can engage more with the team.  I've thought about hiring a daycare service, so the moms could drop the kids off for the morning or afternoon.  

However, Filipino culture is much more family-focused than we are in the US. Other team members happily offered to help with the kids. So, perhaps I'm not the best person to make decisions about this.


While there are risks whenever you travel, The Philippines is a relatively safe country. I'm a fairly frequent traveler to Asia, and male, so take this for what it's worth. I never felt uncomfortable while I was there.

And if I had any issues, my team was available to help.

Jason has a good tip for traveling internationally. He says whenever he goes to a new country, he tries to find a local contact; a friend of a friend, to ask questions and for help if anything happens.

Phone Service

You can get fast, very cheap mobile data from vendors at the airport. We didn't go anywhere too remote for the service.

What I’d Do Differently Next Time

We’re planning to hold team retreats every year with the full team. Twice per year, if we can.

As this was our first retreat, it was a big experiment.  And it went exceptionally well, so I’d want to build on that.

First, I’d make sure we get everyone there, if possible.

I like not having “work” time.  It allows everyone to relax.  It was much more important to build relationships than to get any specific work done.  Work can be done later.

I think, though, I would like to have a few focused group discussions on topics that are relevant to our team.  But, I'd keep it limited to an hour or two in the mornings, and not every day.

For example, we have a few stay-at-home moms on the team.  I know that can be challenging, and some seem to have an easier time than others.  We could hold space for them to discuss and support each other.  

Whatever we do, though, and whatever topics are discussed, we'd want it to come from the team.  We’re a very bottom up organization.

Working hard.

Did The Rainy Season Spoil The Fun?

In the future, we’ll try not to schedule retreats during the rainy season.

It’s a gamble, trying to enjoy the outdoors in mid-August, which is right in the middle of the rainy season.  We initially planned to go in June, but the country was just opening up for travel after the pandemic restrictions, and there still weren’t many flights into the country.

Yes, it rained. Torrentially, sometimes, but not every day.

Most days were nice in the morning, then by mid-afternoon it would start raining, but it didn’t usually spoil our plans.

The last few days Jason and I were in La Union had the heaviest rains, and completely rained out any plans we might have had. The downpours were an amazing sight (and sound)!

However, we did get rainy season pricing, so that’s a plus!


Here’s our cost breakdown for the entire trip.

Hotels - rates per night, per room (with my sophisticated rating system):
Manila hotel near the airport (meh): $65
Aureo Resort in La Union (incredible): $145
Hotel in Baguio (okay): $60
Hotel/resort in La Union (no nice things to say about this place): $55
Hotel in Taguig, metro Manila (stunning): $65

The culture in The Philippines is such that they naturally expect, and are happy to, share rooms.  The families had their own rooms, and Jason and I also had our own.

One thing that surprised me was, aside from the Aureo, how consistent hotel prices were, from a dump to a world-class hotel.  I would have expected a bigger price delta.

Flights - US to Manila: $1560 each
Flights - team to Manila: $145 each
Van & driver (full week): $900

Budgeted $9 per person per meal

In total, we spent:

$11,538.76 USD

The Trip’s Impact On Me, Personally

I fell in love with this country.  This was my first in-person experience there, after working with Filipinos since 2014, and it exceeded my expectations.

The people are wonderful (especially our team); the place is beautiful; the country is growing, and there also seems to be a TON of opportunity there for locals and foreigners.

Most meaningfully, I saw the impact that our work has on the local community through our team.

Daisy embodies this.

She’s brilliant, ambitious, and a natural leader.  (Why we hired her.)

But more than that, we got to see what she’s been telling us about for the prior year and a half.

We pay our team well, typically 1.25-1.5x the salary they can find at a local accounting firm.  And, as they rise up through the company, that can grow to much more.  

Because we hire people who share our values, and we pay them more than they need, that ripples through their local community.

Daisy wanted to build a good life for her family.  As she did that, she started working more in the community.  

She started providing meals to needy children, but, not through an organization; she organizes, purchases, and distributes food HERSELF, with her family!

Her next project is providing school supplies to kids in need.

She’s also investing in, and building, local businesses.  In early 2022, she built a water bottle refilling station (pictured below), which pumps, purifies, and distributes drinking water to local families.

She also bought a fishing boat that she loaned to her cousins, which they use to generate a better income for their families.

Next, she says she’ll buy a rice field.

Daisy is the biggest example, but these things are happening throughout our team, in smaller and more private ways.

Of course, we don’t deserve any credit for this (though Daisy gives it to us anyway).  It’s just amazing to witness.

Being there and seeing the locals’ desire for a better life, and their ambition to go out and make it happen, really inspired me.  It makes me want to spend more energy there, where I can have an impact.

Daisy showing off her water filtration system.

The Remote Work Opportunity In The Philippines

I’ve been working with Filipino freelancers for a long time.

Because working online is now normal to me, I thought everybody there was aware of the online opportunity, even if it was still a growing industry.  But, I could not have been more wrong.

I learned that it's still relatively unknown.

I asked some locals how many people they knew who worked online.  To my complete shock, they knew very few. Some didn't know anyone.

So, as big as the outsourcing industry is in The Philippines, we're now just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Our team are telling their friends what a wonderful opportunity it is, and they're starting to look for remote work too, for the first time!

The Pandemic Accelerant

In addition to organic, shifting, work trends, the pandemic massively accelerated the move to outsourced work.

Just as in the US, employees were sent to work from home... and they liked it. No more three hour commutes each way!

When employers asked them to come back to the office, as you can imagine, there was some resistance, to put it mildly. A large portion of them started looking for work online.

That was Daisy's story. In the year and a half since she was sent home, she'd moved back to her hometown and had a baby. She had no desire to go back to the congestion of Manila.

What does this mean for you and me?

This means people who didn't have any reason to look for jobs with us, now are. People with elite-level talent, who had plenty of opportunity locally, are now available to us.

This is the start of a golden age. The opportunity is massive for those who can find the best people.

That’s it!

We had a phenomenal time.  I can’t wait for the next one!

I hope this has been useful for you if you’re thinking about doing a team retreat.  I’m happy to answer any questions. Feel free to send me a message on LinkedIn.

And, if you're ready to build your outsourced accounting team in The Philippines, just schedule a call with us. Our expert recruiting team can find the perfect addition to your accounting practice.

Written By
Isaac Smith
Isaac has been building businesses since 2014. He sold an eCommerce business in 2019, co-founded Summit eCommerce Advisors - a bookkeeping and advisory firm, TeamUp - a recruiting business, and hosts the Next Level eCommerce podcast. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area, where he loves snowboarding with his daughter and trying to convince his wife to do outdoorsy things.
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