Estrella Mai Dizon Anonuevo speaks at the Pinoy WISE International Conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday. She wants to encourage Filipinos to make wise financial decisions. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Many big houses in the Philippines remain empty as their Filipino owners live abroad with their families. The number of such empty houses is more in Calabarzon Region, which is home to around 1.8 million of an estimated total of 10 million overseas Filipinos across the globe.

As the region around metro Manila is a popular tourist destination, overseas Filipino groups in the UAE have decided to use those empty houses for a tourism project, which was discussed at a two-day conference in Abu Dhabi.

“Most of those big houses are occupied by a caretaker only. We made a proposal to train those caretakers and use the houses for bed and breakfast service for tourists, and expatriate groups have welcomed the idea,” a leader of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) told Gulf News on Saturday.

Eco-tourism

Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiative Inc is already running an eco-tourism project for the local community in the region in partnership with the tourism department of the Philippine Government for past two years, which can be extended for overseas Filipinos also, Estrella “Mai” Dizon-Anonuevo, Executive Director of Atikha, said.

She spoke to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Pinoy Wise International Conference themed “Engaging Overseas Filipinos in Migration and Development Initiatives” organised by the Philippine Embassy and Filipino community organisations in the UAE. The conference that ended on Saturday mooted several practical proposals to engage Overseas Filipino Workers [OFWs] in developmental activities.

Spending most of their lifetime savings on big houses as a status symbol is a social problem in some countries with a high concentration of migrants. As Gulf News reported earlier, around 1.19 million big houses are empty in the south Indian State of Kerala, whose estimated three million people are living abroad for livelihood, including around one million in the UAE.

Financial literay

The NGO leader said many Overseas Filipinos take an average 20 years to clear the debts accumulated for house construction. “We teach them in our financial literacy programme that a big house is a dead investment,” she said, referring to their programme for OFWs in several countries, including the UAE.

A Philippine Congressman told Gulf News that many people consider the big houses as a trophy. “It is a social problem,” Rico B. Geron, a member of the Philippines House of Representatives, said.

The NGO finds that the proposed tourism project will offer multiple benefits to OFWs and the Philippine economy. “Many overseas Filipinos said they are very keen to visit the beautiful tourist spots back home but they cannot afford the high prices of star hotels,” Dizon-Anonuevo said.

B&B Service

The bed and breakfast service at the empty houses of Overseas Filipinos will give affordable accommodation to such prospective tourists, while earning an income for house owners. The Overseas Filipinos will market this service in their countries of residence, which will attract more OFWs and foreigners to tourism destinations in Philippines, she said.

Antonio Morales, Chairman of Bayanihan Council, an umbrella organisation of Filipino community groups in the UAE, said the tourism project will be promoted among the expatriates in the UAE.