Thursday, 30 October 2014

First Homestays of the World Summit

This coming December 3-5, 2014, the First Homestays of the World Summit will be held at Nature’s  Village Resort in Talisay City, Negros Occidental.  Organized by the Homestay Philippines (HPI), Homestay Philippines Services Cooperative (HPSC),  the Department of Tourism (DOT);  International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) and the Province of Negros Occidental, in partnership with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the cities of Bacolod and Talisay, this 3-day event aims to have networking among individuals and institutions involved in homestay programs; to have an exchange of best practices to continue to upgrade the services provided to homestay guests; and to create a database for easy retrieval and use by those involve in the industry in order to strengthen marketing efforts. 
Nature's Village Resort
Taleb Rifai
Invited inspirational speaker during the first day of the summit is Mr. Taleb DRifai, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) while keynote speaker is DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. who will deliver his address “Homestay: Positive Contribution to Cross-Cultural Understanding & Inclusive Growth.”  A Mabuhay Lunch will later be hosted by the DOT.
Speakers on “Global Presentations I: Homestay Standards – Global Outlook, Local Charm” are Prof. Dr. Zalnab Binti Khalifa (Malaysia Consultant for Homestay) for ASEAN; Engr. Francisco Silva de Calheiros (President: Turihab) for Europe; and Ms. Rebecca Chopp (President: University of Denver) for the Americas. 
Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr.
For “Country Presentations II: Homestay Best Practices – Sustaining Earth, Heart & Hospitality,” speakers are Mr. Chirag Tolia (Project Supervisor: Kapan Monastery & Homestay Village, Nepal), Mr. Rashidi Hasbullah (Secretary-General: Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia), Mr. Patrick Farjas (Director: International Relations “Gites de France”) and Ms. Rose H. Libongco (President: Homestay Philippines, Inc.) while for Country Presentations III: Strengthening Homestay Marketing & Promotions in the New Millennium,” speakers are Mr. Domingo Ramon Enerio (Chief Operating Officer: Tourism Promotions Board) of the Philippines, Ms. Angeles Alarco Canosa (Presidenta Consejera Delagada: Paradores de Espana de Turismo) of Spain, Mr. Jean-Luc Petit (Gen. Manager: ALIZE Voyages & Adventures, Inc.) of France, and Mr. F. Widayanto (Owner: Rumah Tana Baru) of Indonesia. In the evening, a Governor’s Night” will be hosted by Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Maranon.  It will feature a “Noche de los Bailes de Luces.” 
On the second day, interactive breakout sessions will be held in the morning.  Session 1 (Organizing Homestays) will chaired by Mr. Allan Canizal (Asst. Secretary: DOT) and co-chaired by Dr. Mina T. Gabor (Chairman: Homestay Philippines Service Cooperative); Session 2 (Pricing Homestays) chaired by Mr. Miguel Gulogulo (Treasurer: International School of Sustainable Tourism) and co-chaired by Dr. Roberto Kalugdan (Owner: Ibulao, Ibulao in Kiangan, Ifugao); and Session 3 (Security & Safety Concerns of Homestays) chaired by Mr. Austere Panadero (Undersecretary: Department of Interior & Local Government). 
Penalosa Organic Farm
In the afternoon, visits will made, with participants divided into three groups, to a number of Negros Occidental homestays – Rapha Valley Nature Homestay (Don Salvador Benedicto), May’s Garden Homestay (Sitio Aning, Brgy. Pahanocoy, Bacolod City) and Penalosa Organic Farm Homestay.  In the evening, “Talisay by Night” will be hosted by Cong. Alfredo Benitez and Talisay City Mayor Eric M. Saratan. 
On the third and final day, an interactive plenary session and Partner’s Time will be held.  Mr. Paul D. Lazaro, First Vice-President of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), will speak on “Financing Homestays.”  A Question and Answer session will next be held followed by a farewell lunch with the awarding of prizes to the biggest delegation. 
Nature's Village Resort:  Talisay City, Negros Occidental 6115. Tel: (034) 495-0808 and (034) 495-3368 to 69 . Fax: (034) 495-3368. Mobile number: (0922) 851- 2231  and (0917) 300-7576. E-mail: Website:

Homestay Philippines, Inc.

Dr. Mina T. Gabor
In the 1990s, then DOT undersecretary (and later Secretary) Dr. Mina T. Gabor, HPI founder and ISST president was inspired by the unique concept of homestays during her visits to Paradores (Spain) and the Pousadas (Portugal), some of the best known affordable chain of traveler accommodations in the world.  This inspired her to have something similar established in the Philippines but more attuned to the country’s lifestyle. According to Dr. Gabor, “Homestays are homes away from home.”  

Now a popular trend in 37 countries worldwide, local residents accommodates tourists as transients in their houses for a particular period. A lot of travelers, aside from requiring more affordable accommodations, demand the same amenities they have at home and many prefer homestaying.  In doing so, they also get to learn the language, lifestyles and real culture of the country or place where they are staying. In 2011, homestaying began earning acceptance in the Philippines. 

A homestay is a living arrangement wherein a host family or organization offers extra private room or space, at a reasonable rate, for an out-of-town guest. An unoccupied room in a house, the whole house, apartment, condominium, campsite, or a restored cultural or historical site can qualify as homestay accommodation. 
Ms. Corazon Alma G. De Leon
On May 2008, Dr. Gabor, Dr. Alberto Fenix, Mr. Felipe M. Nava, Ms. Beatrice Franco and Ms. Alessandra Marie Libongco established Homestay Philippines, Inc., a private-led corporation composed of stakeholders in the hotel and airline industries that will market homestay accommodations, located in an initial list of 29 tourist areas, to local and international students, families and visitors needing comfortable and affordable accommodations, specially during vacations. Its role is to match guests and host family, provide advice and financial assistance, and conduct site inspection as well as training and monitoring.  

To be part of the HPI homestay program, interested parties must apply with the HPI subsidiary, the Homestay Philippine Services Cooperative (HPSC) and should have certain traits before they will be considered as homestay franchisees. Gabor said they will also hired a food specialist to ensure the food served to the tourist would be authentic. 
The host family or organization is expected to extend the world-renowned Filipino warmth and hospitality, providing clean and well-lighted rooms with basic amenities, ensuring guest’s safety and security, and complying with the quality set forth by the HPI. The homestay program thus allows guests to learn the lifestyle and culture of the community plus it further provides income and job opportunities for local residents. This interesting thrust thus maximizes the tourism potentials of rural areas which cannot take in as much tourists and guests because of lack of hotels and pension houses. 
Many host families, according to Mr. Alberto Fenix, HPI Chairman, earn money in Asia and Europe by providing safe, comfortable, accessible and affordable accommodations. According to Dr. Gabor, existing monthly rates for homestay packages are from US$500 to US$1,000.
According to former Department of Social Work and Development  (DSWD) Secretary and now HPSC President Corazon Alma G. De Leon, the coop will screen and train host families to meet and maintain standards before they become part of the HPSC chain.  Franchise applicant should be respected in the community and knowledgeable about the area and their accommodation should be near a hospital and have good security measures. If necessary, a site inspection by a team from HPS Cooperative will be scheduled. Spot inspection of the homestay accommodation will also be conducted every six months to ensure that the member-establishments maintain quality service.  Homestay dwellings will be classified under six categories: nature/ecotourism, heritage, cultural/festival, beach, city and sports/adventure. 
Homestay Philippines, Inc.: Website:  

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Hotel and Inn Review: Hotel H2O (Manila)

Date of Stay: October 18-19, 2014
RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: *******
Rooms: *******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ******
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: *****
Value for Money: ******

It was Jandy’s 28th birthday and, as a surprise and much appreciated treat, my daughter Cheska booked us, via Deal Grocer, in an iconic aquarium-themed, third floor Aqua Room (Room 3212) at Hotel H2O, the only one of its kind in the country. This chic urban getaway is located behind the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park, is noted for its iconic aquarium-themed Aqua Room, the only one of its kind in the country.
Hotel H2OHotel H2O
L-R: the author, Jandy, Kyle and Grace

The package included a set breakfast for two.The hotel itself shares the same entrance as the Manila Ocean Park and we had to take an elevator ride to the 3rd floor for check-in. The team at the front desk were friendly.

The Aqua Room
The Aqua Room

The hotels’ fabulous Aquarium rooms and suites are luxuriously appointed, chic and modern, with soft, crisp, lush linens and pillows, and ultra-comfortable beds.  Its upscale, meticulously chosen features and amenities include a wall-mounted, 37″ flat screen LCD cable TV; IDD telephone; coffee/tea making facility, electronic locking system and work desk with high-speed internet access.
It is also the first hotel I know that that says that snacks (soft drinks in can, oatmeal cookies and peanuts) inside and above the personal ref is complimentary. The free shopping bag inside the closet is also a nice touch. Our quite small, 25-sq. m. room, more of a boutique hotel size, also didn’t allow for another extra bed.  However, the slightly larger Aqua Classic Room, with its sofa bed, could accommodate an extra person. Our room also didn’t have a window.

However, their glass-enclosed bathroom, with its rain shower head but no bidet, did not allow for much privacy as their dual-purpose  glass enclosure (which doubles as the bathroom door), though frosted, was translucent. It was quite embarrassing to use in the presence of others and it is not a good idea if you are staying with a friend. An old-fashion shower curtain would be a band-aid solution. 

Hotel lobbyHotel lobby
What sets this apart from other hotel rooms is the life-size, waist to ceiling high aquarium (with blue background and man-made coral) running along the length and breadth of room’s main wall and spanning across all the Aqua Rooms, providing a relaxing window into the calm and mesmerizing beauty of the marine world. A whole new and totally out of the ordinary experience that will surely be enjoyed by the whole family, young and old.
Reception areaReception area
My grandson Kyle loved watching beautiful saltwater fishes of myriad colors, shapes and sizes gliding by while lying down on our queen-size bed.  Their very soothing effect also lulled him to sleep.  The aquarium lights are shut down by 9 PM and are put on again at 6 AM. There is a remote control which lowers a screen to cover the aquarium.
Makanmakan Asian VillageMakanmakan Asian Food Village
We all savored the best of Southeast Asian cuisine, for lunch and breakfast the next day, at Makan Makan Asian Food Village, Hotel H2O’s main food and beverage outlet located at the second floor.  Here, we could choose from more than 150 culinary delights from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan and the Philippines.


Some of the quintessential Asian favorites prepared fresh everyday by the chefs include roti prata, dimsum, coffee spareribs, chili crab, Hainanese chicken rice and sticky rice with mango.  Just off Makan Makan is its 77-sq. m. function room, ideal for small gatherings of up to 50 people in a banquet set-up or 60 for cocktails. Its floor-to-ceiling glass panels provide a soothing view of Manila Bay.
Chili crabChili crab
Lechon kawaliLechon kawali
The Club Lounge, a relaxing nook perched on the third floor, is a cozy rendezvous point with many comfortable lounge chairs.  Here, you can savor a cup of coffee or hot chocolate plus a slice of cake while browsing a newspaper and enjoying the commanding and sweeping view of Manila Bay and the city’s skyline.  You can also surf the internet via computer terminals.  Come evening, the lounge transforms into an after-hours hot spot, with wine, beer and cocktails flowing,  During weekends, cool lounge music is provided by the Metro Manila’s finest acoustic and jazz bands.
Club LoungeClub Lounge
Because the hotel is located right at the entrance to the adjoining Manila Ocean Park, there are lots of shops and food outlets (Pancake House, North Park, Dencio’s, etc.).  It is also walking distance from Rizal Park and Intramuros.

Hotel H2O: Manila Ocean Park Complex, Luneta, Manila, Philippines 1000.  Tel: (632) 238-6100. Fax: (632) 238-6188. E-mail: reservation@hotelh2o.comand

Friday, 3 October 2014

Concert Review: Trending Music & Magic The Reunion

Music & Magic

(Excerpt from my article featured in

Last Oct. 3, memories of Music & Magic (M&M) performing at the Alibi Bar of the Regent of Manila, Tavern on the Square in Greenbelt Makati, the Peppermint Park and Atlantis in Singapore, or the Pyramid Club in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia were re-lived when original members of this iconic band reunited in a one-night only concert held at the PICC Plenary Hall. This band changed the landscape of Manila’s lounge entertainment and catapulted singing sensation Kuh Ledesma in the music industry when she went solo with her first hit song "Dito Ba?" 

Kuh Ledesma
This 1980s group had its beginnings in 1979 when Jet Montelibano, Toto Gentica, Kuh Ledesma and Nonoy Mendoza got together to form this exciting show band. 

Butch Elizalde (lead guitar) and Hector Pedero (bass) were also introduced by Nonoy to the group. 

Fe de los Reyes and Eva Caparas (from Ateneo University) and Angeli Pangilinan (from UP Diliman) joined in when auditions were held for three new female back-up vocalists.  

Jet Montelibano
After Kuh and Angeli left, new members Bobby Taylo (of the ASAP Band), dentist Vicky Sevilla-Pangilinan (who replaced Angeli when she married pop star Gary Valenciano) and Jeannete Casuga-Trevias (who replaced the late Maricor Perez) joined the band. 

When they disbanded in 1986, M&M went on to produce musical directors, song writers, artist managers and a comedian.

Fe de los Reyes
Thus this reunion concert, titled “Trending Music & Magic The Reunion,”a joint production of Viva Live and Artist House, was an event to look forward to because it brought them back onstage once again to relive the excitement of yesteryears. 

The concert venue was almost packed to the rafters and many of the crème de la crème in the music and entertainment industry were present, including Zsa Zsa Padilla, Gary Valenciano, Lou Bonnevie (wife of Toto Gentica) and Donita Rose plus Anthony Pangilinan and Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, both brothers of Angeli, all looking forward to an evening of beautiful music and a lot of fun.  

The band did not disappoint as they performed live, to its loyal fans, their repertoire of dance hits, party anthems, and power ballads of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.
Vicky Sevilla
The ladies performed “If My Friends Could See Me Now” (a Sweet Charity hit), “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” (a Four Tops hit), "Heaven Must Have Sent You" (a Supremes hit), “How Deep is Your Love” (a Beegees hit), “Material Girl” (a Madonna hit), “It’s Raining Men” (A Geri Halliwell hit), “Fire” (a Pointer Sisters hit), “Diamonds” (a Rihanna hit) and “Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend” (a Marilyn Monroe hit).

Kuh, on her own, sung “Betcha by Golly, Wow” (Stylistics hit), “Price Tag” (a Jessie J hit), “My Song” (Elton John hit) and her hit song “Dito Ba?” while Eva sung “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (a Beatles hit), Angeli the “One Note Samba” (an Antonio Carlos Jobim hit) and Vicky “Together Again” (a Janet Jackson hit). 

Jet performed, with the ladies, “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” “Only You,” “Welcome in Cabaret,” “The Great Pretender” (a Platters hit), “I’ll Be There” (a Jackson 5 hit), “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (a Diana Ross hit) and a Beatles medley (“Here Comes the Sun” and “I'll Get By With A Little Help From My Friends”) plus “Money Makes The World Go Round” with Kuh.

A touching and poignant segment during the concert was when the group performed, with their spouses and their children joining in, the songs “Sing” (a Carpenters hit) and “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (The Mamas and the Papas hit).

Kuh, Jet, Angeli, Eva, Vicky and Fe closed the concert, with the crowd on their feet and dancing, with a medley of dance anthems – “Sweet Inspiration” (a Vonda Shepard hit),“Souvenirs” (a Voyage hit), “I Love the Night Life” (an Alicia Bridges hit), “Bad Girls”  (a Donna Summer hit), “Never Can Say Goodbye” (a Jackson 5 hit), “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” (a duet by Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer) and “We Are Family” (a Sister Sledge hit).
Truly, the chemistry, passion and positive energy was still there and everything just came naturally for the group with the lyrics, the melodies and the “voicing” just rushing out of their lips and their hearts as if it was only yesterday.   The nearly 3-hour concert was punctuated by flashy and almost theatrical choreography (thank God they can still move despite their age), comedy skits (especially the “Abakada ng Pasko” and squeaky version of “Let It Go” by Fe, a natural comedian) and nice costumes (the icing on the cake), a huge component of their performances, which spiced up the entire experience. 
Broadway musicals were also an inspiration for some of their acts with Kuh rendering the song “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” (from “Evita”) and the whole group singing “One Night Only” (from Dreamgirls”). There was always something different happening in each number. Let’s hope this reunion concert isn’t their last.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Aplaya Restaurant (Panglao, Bohol)

The full service Aplaya RestaurantThe full service Aplaya Restaurant
After checking in and freshening up at our rooms at Panglao Bluewater Resort, we all proceeded for dinner at Aplaya Restaurant. The restaurant is just a 2-3 minute leisurely walk from our rooms but we chose to go there via a golf cart.  We traveled along a bamboo-lined gravel path, to a small bridge, underneath which is a small pond, leading to the clifftop restaurant.
Al fresco dining by the beachAl fresco dining by the beach
Dinner wasn't served in the restaurant though.  Instead, tables were set up along the beach for us to experience some al fresco dining with the cool white sand beneath our feet.  Nice touch.
Eggplant SaladEggplant Salad
Spring RollsSpring Rolls
The menu that night was even nicer - eggplant salad, spring rolls, grilled squid, fried rice topped with lechon kawalipinakbet and chicken inasal and pork humba.  All these I washed down with fresh buko juice.  Later on, we were served with glasses of red wine.
Chicken Inasal and Pork HumbaChicken Inasal and Pork Humba
Grilled SquidGrilled Squid
Come morning, the guys and I again took the golf cart to the restaurant, this time for breakfast inside the restaurant.  Choices here include ham, bacon, congee, pancakes. siomai, ramen, sotanghon soup, plain or fried rice, dilis, fish fillet and chicken.  They also have several kind of bread to choose from such as ube ensaymada, croissant, soft roll, cinnamon roll and pan de sal.
A typical breakfast menuA typical breakfast menu (photo: Melo Villareal)
They also have several choices of jam.  One can request for their eggs either boiled, sunny side up or scrambled. They also have rice cake, puto, delicious native hot chocolate, sausage, cereals and  milk plus fruits and juice like orange, watermelon and pineapple.
Bluewater SaladBluewater Salad
The restaurant's ceiling is made from recycled pieces of rattan, arranged in a repetitive pattern, which are "unusable" short tips from the manufacture of outdoor furniture.  An infinity pool is located beside the restaurant.
Lechon kawaliLechon kawali
After our Pamilacan Island tour that day, we had a late lunch at Aplaya.  Served ala carte with generous servings, it included the signature Bluewater salad and the main course of hinalang na manok, pansit canton, lechon kawali and steamed rice.
Pancit cantonPancit canton
The restaurant also serves, among others, their version of spicy chicken curry, ube cake with vanilla ice cream, adobo rice served in bamboo, nasi goring and kinampay - a specific variety of ube (purple yam) found mostly in Bohol.
Fried rice topped with slices of lechon kawaliFried rice topped with slices of lechon kawali
On Saturdays, 6 to 10 PM, the restaurant also offers a Barrio Fiesta theme dinner buffet (PhP900 net per person) of Boholano specialties (including the popular lechon kawali, lechon manok and adobong baboy plus desserts such as biko and leche flan) and featuring a colorful and upbeat Philippine cultural dance show (starts 7:30 PM) with dancers in FIlipiniana costumes and a rondalla band.
Panglao Bluewater Resort: Bluewater Rd, Sitio Daurong, Brgy. Danao, Panglao, 6340 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 416-0702 and (038) 416-0695 to 96. Fax: (038) 416-0697.  Email: Website:  Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, Rufino cor. Valera Sts., Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 817-5751 and (632) 887-1348.  Fax: (632) 893-5391.