I have always been awed by Sen. Cynthia Villar every time I watch her on TV or read about her. She is one senator I tip my hat to. She never ceases to impress with the wealth of knowledge she has about anything and everything. Small wonder she is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, the Committee on Agrarian Reform, the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, and the Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development.
Not too long ago, I had lunch with her, together with a few friends, where she gave me more reason to idolize her, as she announced a new development that is close to my heart---her family’s entry into the tourism industry.
She principally authored Republic Act 19816 or the Farm Tourism Development Act, paving the way for an increasing number of farmers, farm owners and farming communities to benefit from converting their farms into tourist destinations. This sets the stage to make farm tourism more popular in our country, the same goal that former Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor is also working on.
Sen. Villar is aware of the sad plight of our country’s farmers. Their meager income of only P150 a day is way below the poverty threshold of P5000 a month. What’s worse, the farmers’ children prefer to leave their farms to look for better opportunities in the big cities, which makes the future of the farm industry look very bleak. This does not bode well for our future either, because 80% of food on our table comes from these small farms.
Because of this alarming situation, Sen. Villar is putting up farm schools all over the country, with the full support of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), which teaches farmers modern methods of crop production to augment their income. In fact, she has her own Villar SIPAG (Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance) Farm Schools in Las Pinas-Bacoor-Cavite area, and another one in San Jose del Monte City.
These schools serve as training centers for farmers and farm owners, at the same time, as an exhibit farms for foreign tourists interested in obtaining a deeper insight into our culture, beyond the usual natural and modern attractions the country offers. Farm tourism is now gaining ground all over the world, although it is still far from being a major contributor to tourism receipts. But, this sustainable segment of the Industry, which is low-impact and empowers local communities socially and economically, attracts those travelers who want their tour packages to include planting, harvesting, and interacting with locals, for them to experience and appreciate better the true culture of the country.
Early this year, Sen. Villar launched a directory of farm tourism destinations and training schools, including a list of TESDA-accredited courses on Agriculture, which these farm schools can teach, and which farmers or farm owners can avail of for free. The directory is a project of Villar SIPAG, in partnership with TESDA, Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Training Institute, Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Tourism.
The Villar family already lays claim to a formidable list of businesses that are among the leading enterprises in the country. Vista Land operates several subsidiaries including Camella Homes, Communities Philippines, Crown Asia, Vista Residences, Brittany and Starmalls. It has also ventured into the retail industry with their All Value Holdings Corp, listing under it: AllHome, a one-stop shop for home essentials, AllDay, a convenience store, AllShoppe, a department store, and the newest addition, The Coffee Project, a chain of full-service coffee shops.
But what interests me the most is the Villar family’s plan to develop four hotels under the Mella brand in Las Pinas, Boracay, Tagaytay and Bataan. These hotels will have around 150 rooms each, with three-star to four-star accommodations and services.
The family officially joined the tourism industry when it acquired the Boracay Sands Hotel in 2015. This 55-room property will soon be rebranded. Sen. Villar says they are now constructing their second hotel in Boracay near the Shangri-La Resort and this will be much bigger and will include a beachfront. Next in line will be a Mella hotel beside the family-owned Crosswind Estate in Tagaytay, and the hotel projects will continue through the years.
With the Department of Tourism’s expected increase in tourist arrivals in the coming years, I’m glad the Villar family’s heart also beats for the Tourism Industry.
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