Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, October 27, 2006

Retirement villages next tourism hot spot

Retired general Edgar Aglipay may be relatively new in his post as chairman of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) but the former chief of the Philippine National Police now knows the critical role of his agency in the tourism business. Retirement villages are the next tourism hotspot and a major potential source of steady dollar inflows.

Many foreigners, among them Japanese, Americans and Europeans and balikbayans are dying to spend the rest of their life in the Philippines, scouting for investment opportunities that could well serve as their retirement home. At an exchange rate of P50:$1, these retirees with a monthly pension of $2,000 or more could live a luxurious life here. They could spend the same amount in Japan or the US but they would not live a life of comfort because of the higher cost of living in their native land.

A Dutch friend of mine, Adrie, an employee of Philips Semiconductors who often troubleshoots for his company’s factory in Cabuyao, Laguna province, has come to love the Philippines and decided to invest in Timberland Heights, a 677-hectare agroforest farm estate and residential resort community project of Filinvest Land Inc. in San Mateo, Rizal. Adrie is still in his early 30s but he saw the wisdom of investing in an upscale Philippine retirement village.

“I will forever be an ordinary citizen in The Netherlands and cannot enjoy the comforts and luxuries offered by a modern residential community with a complete country club despite my salary. But here in the Philippines, I can live the life of a king,” says Adrie.

Aglipay’s challenge

Offering retirement villages to foreigners is not an easy task. Like tourists, retirees look for amenities that they have grown accustomed to in developed countries. Retirees are concerned about healthcare, security and sub-standard public utilities [in the Philippines]. The Philippines, for one, still lacks medical equipment to address the health concerns of these potential residents, who will likely be in the late 50s or early 60s.

Aglipay, in a rare press briefing with trade reporters, disclosed that executives of US-based hotel operators Hyatt Group and Hilton Group would visit the Philippines by yearend or early next year to look for possible investment opportunities in the retirement sector. “They will look at our facilities and the properties that we are offering [as possible locations]. Their intention is to put up retirement villages in the country,” he said.

Hyatt and Hilton, which are among the biggest hotel chain operators in the world, have ventured into retirement homes. “Old buildings in the US are being taken over by Hilton and Hyatt to be converted to retirement villages. They have expanded from just catering to tourists, who only stay for a limited time, [unlike} retirees [who] stay for the remainder of their lives,” says Aglipay.

The PRA has identified Baguio City, Clark, Subic, Tagaytay, Cebu and Davao as key locations for retirement communities. Basic healthcare facilities within these communities, however, will be the decisive factor in luring this new breed of tourists.

Private sector response

The private sector, ultimately, will be at the forefront of this new tourism hotspot. The Ayala group and Filinvest Land Inc. of property tycoon Andrew Gotianun have set up marketing offices in the US to convince balikbayans and Americans to make their home here when they retire from their jobs.

Gina Aguilar, senior sales manager of Timberland Heights and her boss, Jake Colmenares, have received many inquiries about retirement communities from foreigners and balikbayans alike. The two busy marketing executives have offered Timberland Heights, which they promote as an eco-sanctuary and mountain retreat nestled amid San Mateo’s rolling hills and forested valleys.

Over 13,000 foreign retirees, meanwhile, are officially registered with the PRA. Around 500 retirees come over here each year, a far cry from the 10,000 that go to Thailand. The Philippines, thus, has every reason to promote retirement villages before these tourists are lured away to Vietnam or Cambodia. -- Manila Standard Today


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