Filipino company bets big on South Korea's tourism

Published September 14, 2021, 3:00 AM

by Johannes Chua

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected a lot of businesses, more so for those in the tourism industry. More than one year in, hotels and resorts are not able to operate at a full capacity due to a series of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

But all is not lost in the tourism sector. Some of the players in the industry used this pandemic to improve their property’s infrastructure or to enhance the skills of their workers so that they would be better once international travel resumes. Meanwhile, some have implemented innovative solutions to survive and thrive amid the new normal.

In terms of location, a lot of destinations in the country continue to survive the pandemic, either aided by the support of local tourism or that they were able to establish a strong foundation that is resilient to any disrupting worldwide event. One of these destinations is Vigan, the historic city located in Ilocos Sur.

Vigan is one of the most popular tourism sites, often a must-see in the itinerary of first-time visitors to the Philippines. Vigan is unique among other towns because it is the country’s most extensive and only surviving historic city that dates back to the 16th century. This can be seen through its Spanish colonial and Asian architecture.

The “heart” of Vigan’s tourism is located at Calle Crisologo, which is known for its cobblestone streets lined with museums, mansions, and shops. A few steps away is the Vigan Cathedral, which is admired for its baroque design.

Early years of Calle Crisologo

In front of the Cathedral is Plaza Salcedo where most residents and tourists stop, take photos, and watch other people pass by. On the side is Plaza Burgos where food stalls that sell local street foods like okoy, Vigan empanada, and barbecued longganisa.

Vigan does not only take pride in its rich heritage, but also its people. Its governor for a few decades, and now Narvacan Ilocos Sur Mayor Luis Chavit Singson, played a key role in preserving the city’s historical side, its beautification, and its promotion.

The dancing fountain he set up in Plaza Burgos was instantly a hit for both locals and tourists. His contribution to the holding of the 2016 Miss Universe pageant in the country through his LCS Group of Companies was commendable. With 86 international beauties participating in the world’s most popular pageant, he placed Vigan on the global tourism map.

The dancing fountain in Plaza Salcedo

His family owns Vigan Plaza Hotel that sits in the heart of the city plaza. His Baluarte Resorts and Zoo houses thousands of wild animals comfortably roaming around in his more than a hundred hectare property in the city. He also constructed the Safari Hotel and the Safari Villas that surround the zoo giving a complete safari feel to everyone who would love to have the experience. Singson indeed brought South Africa to his hometown in Vigan.

The Safari Hotel and Villa sitting in Singson’s Baluarte property.

Another accommodation he set up is the Forbidden Village. Villas in this hotel have already hosted some international celebrities like Hollywood actor Steven Seagal and South Korea’s Momoland. Right now, ABS-CBN’s six-year old hit drama, Ang Probinsiyano, is taping at his Hollywood-like palatial home in Narvacan, another tourist attraction in the making.

Baluarte Zoo

Being the chairman of LCS Group of Companies, Singson continuously expands his influence in the tourism industry by building more resorts and building complexes here and abroad. Just recently, his group agreed to join a US$1.7 billion resort development in South Korea, marking the first firm from Southeast Asia to invest in a property project in Northeast Asia. Singson just signed a memorandum of understanding to invest and participate in the project in South Korea’s east coast with the Gangwon Province government, East Coast Free Economic Zone Authority, Korea Investment and Securities Co, and Hyundai Asset Management Co. LCS Group is set to invest up to US$100 million.

Signing of MOU for Mangsang Development in South Korea.

The project, which is expected to cost as much as US$1.7 billion, includes construction of resort centers and ocean complexes in Donghae City, about 26 kilometers east of Seoul. The group plans to buy a part of land for its own business. It is also slated to seek a joint business with a developer in which it will buy a stake in another area. After that, it will develop a resort in order to attract more tourists. The LCS Group has not only done groundbreaking projects in our country but is now the first Philippine company to invest in South Korea’s real estate development project.