By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada
LAST WEEK, Ilonggo officials launched a campaign to promote Iloilo City as a convention hub in the country in an effort to push tourism and investments. This is one initiative that should set aside politics among Ilonggos; everybody should contribute to the attainment of its goals. After all, the biggest winner if this campaign succeeds is Iloilo itself.
It’s not hard to see why there is so much excitement about promoting Iloilo City as a major MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) destination. The last three or four years have seen the opening of several big hotels, notable among which is the Courtyard by Marriott. There are smaller hotels like Park Inn by Radisson, Zuri, J7 and Gateway that significantly raised the number of hotel rooms.
In the past, a shortage of hotel rooms was Iloilo’s biggest handicap in tourism development. During the Dinagyang Festival, pensions and inns were mobilized for the accommodation of tourists who flock to Iloilo City to witness this world-class event. The last few years saw this problem melt into the background as more hotels opened in the city.
Hand in hand with the hotel industry boom is the rapid growth of the real estate sector.
Most prominent in this boom for real estate is the development and opening of malls outside Iloilo City. In Pavia, three malls – Robinsons Place, GT Mall and City Mall – changed the landscape of the municipality from rural to urban instantly. A few kilometers away, along the Circumferential Road, Vista Mall also gave residents a modern shopping and entertainment center. The work at Vista Mall is just half-finished, and the second phase that would house restaurants and stores is expected to open next month.
Of course, in the city, Festive Walk perked up social life in the old airport area, complementing the Richmonde Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott as well as the buildings that house BPOs to turn it into a major area for nightlife.
Several condominium buildings have also risen in the Mandurriao area. Not too long ago, the idea of people buying condo units didn’t seem feasible. Iloilo City and its suburbs have seen the development of subdivisions, and conventional thinking until about five years ago was that people would prefer a house and lot unit to a condo.
But to the surprise of the pessimists, the major developers aggressively pursued the construction of condominium buildings and targeted OFWs and out-of-town residents. The condo units sold like hotcakes, contrary to what they believed. The condo-building frenzy hasn’t seen its peak yet.
The growth of BPO companies is another driver for the real estate sector. Iloilo City has been identified by Colliers International, a property development research company, has the ideal place for BPO expansion. Most of the buildings now under construction literally have the spaces booked by tenants, according to Colliers.
Indeed, there’s plenty of reasons to be excited.
I must inject a word of caution to our officials, though. Iloilo still lacks the manufacturing base that could only be drawn by special economic zones. Most of the real estate sector’s sales come from OFW and service sector money. That is a rather thin market that might not be able to sustain this growth.
It would be nice to see the congressional representatives of Iloilo city and province pool their clout to push for a special economic zone in Iloilo. For me, the most ideal area for such development is the coastal area from Iloilo City toward Dumangas. Perhaps they can work with Edgar “Injap” Sia on drawing the blueprint for this undertaking. Double Dragon has become a leader in real estate development, and Injap can play a big role in this ambitious project.