PROP UP: A snapshot of Bicol through the eyes of Robert Obiedo

Published October 23, 2021, 4:54 AM

by Joseph C. Tay

Plan a visit to Naga City and chances are you will choose to stay at the city’s most well-known hotel—the Villa Caceres Hotel. What may not be immediately clear is the decades of ambition that has gone into this establishment, which incidentally goes hand in hand with the development of the Bicol region. We talk to Robert Obiedo, one of Bicol’s most successful and respected entrepreneurs, to discuss with him his story and the real estate opportunities that Bicol has to offer to property investors like him. 

The Bicol region has remained resilient to the effects of climate change through investments on infrastructure and flood control.

Obiedo’s first venture in Bicol was a 90-square meter department store in Legazpi City in 1980, which was the first store in the city to have air conditioning. “We brought the conveniences of Manila to the province,” he recalls. From there, he expanded to a 6,000-square meter, four-story building in Naga, which housed a “self-service” supermarket (a departure from the general store format of the past), department store, and cinema—all firsts in the city.  

Obiedo opened the first “self-service” supermarket, department store, and cinema in Naga City in 1985.

After forays into diverse industries including radio, cable TV, and transportation, Obiedo found himself an accidental hotel owner. When a borrower could not pay him back, Obiedo was left with a 28-room hotel in 1993. Gradual expansion over the years to keep up with a growing economy led to the 260-room, 10,000-square meter property we know today as the Villa Caceres Hotel. 

Obiedo’s flagship property is Villa Caceres Hotel in Naga City, which has grown from 28 rooms in 1993 to 260 currently.

Looking back at his four-decade growth story in Bicol, Obiedo has some valuable advice to investors. “I went back to Bicol because I wanted to focus on the place with few competitors,” says Obiedo, who spent his childhood years in Manila but returned to his home province as a young adult and found success there. 

A hallmark of Obiedo’s strategy has been to invest in property when the business needs it, not because it’s cheap. “We expanded our hotel by purchasing surrounding properties only when we needed to, not because neighbors were offering it at a low price.” This ensures that demand can support the business through its expansion. He applied the same logic to his department stores, paying high rents in the city center to be closest to his customers.

To Obiedo, Bicolanos are the greatest asset of the Bicol region due to their kind, respectful, and enthusiastic nature.

But why should investors be excited about Bicol? Aside from its stunning landscapes and fertile farmland, “Bicol’s greatest assets are its people,” says Obiedo. “Bicolanos are not only kind, respectful, and God-fearing, they have an enthusiasm to learn.”

Since the pandemic, the influx of people coming back home to the province has led to a boom in new businesses. “People are opening flower shops, cafes, online businesses, and much more, particularly young entrepreneurs,” he observes. 

Robert Obiedo is one of Bicol’s most successful and respected entrepreneurs, and an important contributor to the economic growth of the region.

Infrastructure projects are also improving transport and communication links both within the Bicol region and beyond. Cities have undertaken road-widening initiatives that are reducing congestion, while a newly inaugurated P5 billion airport just outside Legazpi City will bring international flights to the Bicol region for the first time. Train lines are also being constructed that will connect Metro Manila to Bicol in a matter of hours. 

And what about the typhoons that Bicol is famous for? “Climate change is actually making typhoon paths more unpredictable,” says Obiedo. “So they are covering a much wider swathe of the country as opposed to affecting the same few regions in the past. Regardless, the Bicol region has been taking purposeful steps to mitigate the effects of stronger typhoons.”

In Obiedo’s city of Naga, drainage systems installed by the late mayor Jesse Robredo have significantly reduced flooding, despite its location along the Bicol river basin. 

When asked about what Bicol will look like in the next five to 10 years, Obiedo is exceedingly optimistic. If it’s any indication of the region’s potential, the country’s largest developers like SM, Ayala, and Filinvest have all invested on various projects across the region. While the pandemic has slowed the pace of development, Obiedo also admits that it has strengthened governance as LGUs have had to deal with the challenges of balancing public health with the economy. 

Above all, it has made people realize the importance of health and security. “Everything is already moving in the right direction, we’re just waiting for the go signal,” says Obiedo. “COVID has taught us important lessons on prioritizing health and safety, but once this pandemic is over, Bicol will be ready to seize our next chapter of growth.”