MY PATIENCE ran out when typhoon “Reming” (circa 2009) destroyed my rambutan and lanzones orchard in Majayjay, Laguna.
I was faced with a serious payroll shortfall for two families taking care of my farmhouse, my fruit trees and my ornamentals. I was in a state of panic.
My fancied mini agri-business was in shambles.
How to bounce back?
After days of sulking, an idea hit me. Why not reinvent my farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast business? I got the inspiration from my experience in the United States. While staying in Boston in 2006, I took my family to Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend in that cozy Massachusetts island village where American celebrity politicians (the Kennedys) and media icons (Walter Cronkite) spent their holidays.
We stayed in a Victorian bed-and-breakfast house made of wood and painted all white. No traffic, winding country roads, plenty of trees, meadows, rivers and, of course, a quiet seaside with a lone lobster shack.
We had a wonderful time feeling life in an authentic American locale with the famous Martha’s Vineyard touch. Everything has that neighborly ambiance, the village stores and cozy coffee shops. The picturesque Americana is reminiscent of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations on the cover of Look magazine in the ’60s.
I had an uncanny feeling that my farmhouse and my orchard in Majayjay have the same elements of a good bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Majayjay is a quaint, old town with a big, old church, winding roads and lush rainforests all around, plus the cold weather that induces a deep slumber at night.
In 2002, I personally designed and built my three-bedroom house around the concept of a nature house. I created a house with a provincial character in look and feel, with generous views of the lush greenery and expanse of blue sky.
Its windows and doors usher in the cool mountain breeze, the waft of winds, including the sound of chirping birds, the cicada sounds at dusk, and the cock’s crow at dawn. The frontispiece is a high ceiling of lattice wood under a transparent polyurethane roof that reveals the morning clouds above, and lets the moon’s rays fall all over the sala on full moon nights.
The house is a beauty. It sits on a promontory, bordered by a ravine with a bubbling brook and a waterfall below. The backyard has the high and mighty presence of Mt. Banahao looming like the abode of gods. All around are giant trees, bamboo groves and terraced rice fields at the foot of the mountain.
Far north is the placid lake, Laguna de Bay, glistening under the sun. A concrete fence secures the farm’s privacy on the left side, and on the right side, a natural barrier made of a steep ravine thick with trees, jungle greens and vines. My patch of earth is rustic and serene, a perfect getaway for weary souls. To snooze, I have a rattan hammock under the shade. To read a book, I have a bamboo-roofed Indonesian papag, with a Thai reclining pillow.
With bated breath, we advertised our bed and breakfast in AAVA News, the village weekly of Ayala Alabang Village residents. After a week, voila! We had customers. They were couples in our village curious to experience an out-of-town getaway. The fact that Majayjay is a bucolic, laid-back town with cool weather was a come-on.
Soon youth groups and family friends from Ayala Alabang followed. On our second year our business was getting better, and on our third, customers multiplied mostly by word of mouth, Facebook and Twitter endorsements.
Here’s what I learned from running a bed-and-breakfast accommodation:
a) Customers—City folk yearn for a real getaway place—homecoming balikbayans; families and schoolmates holding reunions; locals with foreign guests; expats who want a taste of local culture; interest groups such as clubs for photography, painting and mountain-climbing; corporate-planning groups, and wedding and birthday party accommodations.
b) Services—A beautiful and hospitable home must come complete with a high standard of facilities. Service personnel must be trained along industry service standards. Bedrooms must provide for a comfortable sleep in a homey atmosphere. Bathroom must be modern and hygienically clean. Breakfast fare must be hearty, generous and delicious.
c) Image—The place must project a wholesome image of provincial hospitality being extended to a guest of the house. A bed and breakfast is neither a motel nor a hotel nor a resort. Running the business requires a personal touch. The owners themselves must act as the friendly, gracious and helpful hosts to their guest.
d) Activities—Local places of interest are available within minutes of Majayjay such as the awesome Taytay Falls, Costales Organic Farm and Dalitiwan River Resort; Lukban’s Pahiyas (every May 15) with its specialty cuisine, pancit habhab, hardinera, longganisa, and bakery products; Liliw’s bustling main street shopping center for footwear and leather goods at the lowest prices; and Nagcarlan’s underground cemetery. For a terrific lunch or dinner, we recommend a short side trip to Arabella or Chef Mao’s Restaurant in Liliw.
Like in all countries with huge tourism revenues, such as France, Italy, England, Japan and the US, the big contributor is local tourism. In the Philippines, it’s local tourism that improves the quality of tourism products without having to wait for the slow rise of government infrastructure.
With lots of high-quality provincial homes now offering bed-and-breakfast accommodations, local tourism will become a huge industry. After all, aren’t we Filipinos the type “na mahilig pumunta sa pistahan sa probinsya, para kumain at magsaya?”
My friend and former partner in the advertising sector, Mon Jimenez Jr., now our bullish Secretary of Tourism, is right. Mon believes tourism is in our people’s culture. Hospitality is second nature to us. There’s nothing more natural than Filipinos enjoying the beauty of their country. Build ’em and they will come!