Bernardo M. Villegas
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BNB for Forty Million Tourists

          Not very well advertised is the fact that there are some 40 million Filipinos who travel with their respective families and friends to the numerous tourism sites all around the Archipelago, thanks to improvements in connectivity occasioned by cheaper air fares and the Philippine Nautical Highway that enables entire families to travel by car from the northernmost part of Luzon to the southernmost part of Mindanao.  It is heartening to hear Filipino families, even those with modest incomes, travelling to here-to-fore relatively unknown places like Coron, Malapascua, Camotes Island, Camiguin, Siquijor, Panglao, Caramoan, Kalamgaman, etc.  I am glad that there is no longer that obsession with Boracay, which should anyway be better off attracting foreign tourists, especially the Chinese, given the very expensive accommodations in that overrated paradise island.

         What gladdens me most is that these domestic tourists are staying increasingly in facilities that can register with airbnb which markets bed-and-breakfast hotels all over the world.  Let me surprise you.  Have you ever heard of Sta. Ana, Pampanga as a tourism attraction?  No?  Well, thanks to a very entrepreneurial family from that small town in Pampanga (just about two hours from Manila), there are Filipino families, especially those with overseas workers coming home for a vacation, who are staying in a bnb facility in the middle of rice fields.  The family of Oliver Butalid, a former DTI Regional Director of Regional III, has converted an old poultry farm into an oasis complete with a swimming pool, jacuzzi,  air-conditioned bedrooms, immaculately clean toilets and conference rooms.  The name of this home away from home is Albergue de Sta. Ana.  It can accommodate at any given time 15 to 20 individuals who in addition to the comfortable lodgings are treated to the most sumptuous breakfast that the famous Pampanga cuisine can offer.  In fact, from the favorable comments that systematically appear in the bnb website from satisfied clients, the highlight of the stay in this Albergue is the breakfast!

         Those who are wondering where the word Albergue comes from, let me quote from a folder introducing the facility:  “Albergue is a Spanish word for shelter or refuge.  Traditionally, these are inexpensive dormitories or private homes converted to hostels intended for overnight accommodation of pilgrims.  One of the most famous walking pilgrimages is the Camino de Santiago in the Galician region of Spain.  Every year, thousands of pilgrims walk for days retracing the route taken by St. James as he proclaimed the Word of God in Europe.  Scores of albergues dot the route where pilgrims rest their weary bodies for the night.”   The Albergue de Sta. Ana has actually been discovered as a hidden refuge for families who want to bond together, away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives.  There, “family members can experience serenity and relax in privacy—away from the queues and rush of people in the popular tourist destinations.  Here you can open the gates to your interior life as you keep still, clear your head during your ‘alone’ time while hearing the rustle of leaves and the chirping of birds.  Here, friends and families can truly converse—in a way it used to be before smart phones dominated the scene.  Here, friends and family can share, dream, inspire, heal and nurture each other.”

         The facility can accommodate 15 to 20 individuals in three very spacious air-conditioned bedrooms.    Millennials need not worry about being completely isolated from the world because there is high speed connection of the internet.  Families can prepare their own meals beside breakfast because the kitchen is endowed with an oven, stove, refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, toaster and blender.  The living room has AC, cable TV, DVD and board games.  There is a Gazeebo that sits up to 10 individuals.  There is a tree house beside the swimming pool and jacuzzi surrounded by shaded grassy picnic area.  For sports, there are a lawn volleyball area and basketball court.  There is a full-time service staff very well trained and 24-hour security guard service.  For a separate fee, other meals can also be arranged.  Booking can only be arranged through airbnb.  The facility can be viewed in Facebook and Instragram.

         To complement the bnb is another complex of buildings called Happynest in Pampanga meant for small group team building which is increasingly common among corporations.  A former poultry house has been artfully converted into an events hall that can accommodate 50 corporate employees on a one-day training or planning activity.  For live-in activities, two cottages have been built to enable the participants to experience a distinct farm experience with a rustic ambience.  These cottages are well ventilated and each cottage has two toilet and bath facilities.  Each cottage can house 16 individuals or a total of 32 live-in participants.  Since Central Luzon is fast developing into another Metropolitan complex with numerous business establishments, Happynest in Pampanga can be a very convenient and cost-effective place for the training and planning activities of enterprises in the region.   Bookings can be made with Ms. Ruthie Butalid with email address rgbutalid@gmail.com.

         This complex of buildings is a perfect example of what can be done at the family level in the field of entrepreneurship.  The head of the family, Oliver, is just implementing a lot of the advice he used to give to business people in Region III about SMEs when he was DTI Regional Director.   His daughter, Ruthie, is the typical millennial who is challenged to put up her own business instead of just working as an employee.  She is the very moving force behind the entire business venture.  The mother, Bernadette, is the culinary expert who guarantees quality meals to be enjoyed by the clientele.  The property is owned by the mother of Bernadette, Ms. Remedios Guzon.  Oliver intends to work closely with the Pampanga State Agricultural University to show case agricultural technologies in growing high-value crops in Happynest, with the help of Dr. Norman de Jesus of the university.  The bnb concept illustrates the happy coincidence of a family business catering to families.

         Future developments can include agritourism as part of the property can be used for raising high-value crops like vegetables and fruits as well as livestock like free-range chickens, milking cows and goats, turkeys, ducks and wild boars that can be slaughtered to come out with the  equivalent of the famous jamon jabugo or jamon serrano of Spain.  Especially for children who have never been to a farm, this form of agritourism  can expose them to the potentials of agribusiness that could be another growth sector of the economy once the appropriate rural infrastructures are in place. Some of our youth, especially those born after 2000 (the so-called Generation Z), must be convinced that agribusiness can be a profitable occupation.

         This detailed description of the Albergue de Sta. Ana and the Happynest in Pampanga is meant to encourage small and medium-scale entrepreneurs in the countryside to replicate the creativity of the Butalid family.  The market is primarily for domestic tourists.  As the systems are perfected, these bnb facilities can also increasingly cater to foreign tourists who would want a taste of Philippine rural life instead of just going to the beaches and other tourist attractions that they can find in other countries.  I hope to see many ancestral homes, abandoned farms and other structures in the countryside converted into something like the Albergue de Sta. Ana. Thousands of them sprinkled all over the islands can generate much needed employment in the rural areas.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.