This year marks a significant milestone for us. Marlyn and I are half owners of a student boarding house in Bayombong, the provincial capital of Nueva Vizcaya. We have now been in business for 10 years.
Back in 2003, Marlyn, her sister, and brother-in-law were looking for a business investment in the Philippines. They knew that many schools and colleges operated in and around Bayombong. This meant that there was a market for student lodging. Their plan was to offer a better environment and better service than the typical “bed space” accommodations. After a suitable location was found, and a builder who would follow our specifications, MGM Pension Haus opened for business in 2004.
The finished building has a spacious common area surrounded by two floors of rooms. Each room houses up to four students. Each floor has a large communal toilet and shower room. The rooftop patio houses a small laundry facility. There are five small, private rooms with private bath and toilets. The ground floor has a communal kitchen and dining area, and also a private kitchen reserved for staff.
Business was slow getting started. We wanted to avoid as much trouble as possible, so we had established a very strict code of conduct for the tenants. The local college students apparently preferred more freedom from rules. Fortunately, the Philippine Science Academy liked our rules. They are a high school with a student body of high achievers drawn from all over Region 2. The school also liked the idea of having a fair number of their students housed in the same facility. This arrangement worked well for a number of years. We were often booked to capacity, and hired a number of staff for cooking, cleaning, and laundry. We also began to attract a few college students.
A few years ago, the Science Academy built its’ own dormitory and we lost our primary customer. It wasn’t a total wipeout. The new dorms were closed on weekends. The parents of a number of our former tenants found it more practical to rent from us for the weekend. Many of these lived in remote areas of the province and transportation back and forth would have been expensive and inconvenient. We offered discounted rates to parents who wanted to stay in house with their children.
Our reputation as a safe and well run establishment finally brought in more college age boarders. In addition, we have attracted some short term residents. Adults from all over the province who are in the capital to take the civil service exam. We are also now considering a bed and breakfast type service. So after a big drop in business, things are beginning to pick up again.
For staff, we went through the obligatory “you must take care of your relatives” phase. A number of these folks drifted away when they found that they actually had to work in order to be paid. We now hire freely from qualified people outside the family. But when business is slow, we cut back to minimal staffing. Our core staff is made up of loyal, hardworking, and honest members of the extended family. In good years, the business has provided employment for a small staff and put a few pesos in the bank for us. In the lean years, it requires the occasional cash infusion from the U.S. to keep the building maintained and to pay the minimal staffing.
I would not say that we could live off of our share of the income. But it has not been a financial burden to us either. We’ve adapted to the new conditions and things are beginning to roll along again. We are fairly proud of our accomplishments there.