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Built on trust: Kambal Group of Hotels Rome

Built on trust: Kambal Group of Hotels Rome


Two Filipino expats in Italy did not let fear and doubt stop their dream of owning the first Filipino bed and breakfast in Rome.

Fear.  One emotion that prevents many Filipinos to venture into business,  particularly overseas. That and the fact that most of us were raised to strive for  the security of a good job to provide for our families. The idea of losing everything we worked hard for if the business fails makes many us give up before we have even started. 

Two friends did not let fear stop them from starting a business where their experiences proved very handy.  Expats Elbert Evangelista and Randy Sebastian, pooled their savings together and mustered enough courage to become the first  Filipino owners of a bed and breakfast in Rome called Kambal Bed and Breakfast

Since our interview in 2014, they have added two new locations in Rome called Kambal Luxury Suites and Kambal Holiday Inn and two bed and breakfasts in the Philippines.

Elbert Evangelista and Randy Sebastian are the owners of Kambal Bed and Breakfast, the first Filipino bed and breakfast in Rome.
Friends, and life partners Elbert Evangelista and Randy Sebastian were the first Filipinos to start a bed and breakfast business in Rome, Italy.

STARTING OUT 

Like many Filipinos in the 90s,  Evangelista went to Italy to seek for a  better life for him and his family. He  wanted to be a doctor but his parents  couldn’t afford to send him to medical  school. So he packed his bags and  decided to try his luck in Italy following  in the footsteps of his relatives in Batangas. His first two months were the  hardest. 

“I was working as a live-in  housekeeper in a family whose house is  situated on a mountain. Since they all go  to work and to school, I’m usually alone  with the dogs. I was not able to survive  the loneliness up in that mountain. I would sometimes cry there,” narrates  Evangelista.  

 He decided to find a job in Rome. For  eight years, he had several part-time  jobs as a housekeeper. 

Meanwhile, Sebastian was just 13  years old when his parents migrated to Italy. He grew up in Catania, Sicily and moved to Rome to pursue college education through a scholarship grant at the La Sapienza University. He finished Cultural Language Mediation with majors in English and Spanish. 

“Thanks to the scholarship grant, I was able to pursue a degree in Rome  despite the high cost of education. Still, I took a part-time job in a small hotel to  support myself here,” recalls Sebastian. Sebastian got introduced to the  Scala Santa Filipino community where  Evangelista was a group leader. The two bonded right away because of  their shared interests in music and  singing. They also worked together as translators and interpreters at the  Regional Trial Court in Rome.  

“I was working as a live-in  housekeeper in a family whose house is  situated on a mountain. Since they all go  to work and to school, I’m usually alone  with the dogs. I was not able to survive  the loneliness up in that mountain. I would sometimes cry there.”

Elbert Evangelista, co-owner Kambal Luxury Suite

VENTURING INTO BUSINESS

Their friendship, and love grew stronger while working together for various jobs  in several organizations. Their bond became the foundation for their soon to-be business venture.  

Feeling burnt out in 2012, Evangelista  pitched the idea of starting their own bed and breakfast to his friend. Little  did they know they would actually be  doing it the following year. He had  been working as a househelp since  arriving in Italy while Sebastian as  a part-time manager at a bed and  breakfast. Combining their knowledge  and experience in housekeeping and  management, they were able to start their dream without a hitch.  

“I really wanted to have a job that  was less labor-intensive and would  allow me to enjoy life a bit more. While I was helping Randy in the other bed  and breakfast, I thought that this kind of  business would be very easy to manage  [because] there were no very heavy  tasks involved. And I saw how easily  money came in. So I suggested to him  that we partner and start our own bed  and breakfast,” says Evangelista. Kambal Bed and Breakfast was born, thus named as a tribute to the twins in  their families.  

Kambal Bed and Breakfast I the first Filipino bed and breakfast in Rome.
Kambal Bed and Breakfast group of hotels has now three locations in Rome.

FIRST FILIPINO BED AND BREAKFAST IN ROME

Evangelista did not expect that their  dream would be realized so quickly.  “Everything just fell into place at the time  we were thinking it,” says Evangelista.   While the business partners were leisurely scouting for a place to lease,  they stumbled upon a property which  was just handed over to the real  estate agency. The owner, they found  out, wanted to turn it into a bed and  breakfast. They saw it as a sign.

“The property has a central location.  It’s located on the first floor so guests  would not have a hard time lifting their luggage to the top floor,” says Sebastian.  That same afternoon, the real  estate agent showed them around the  property.  

They learned that the house was previously occupied by 12 immigrants  who apparently did not take care of it. Almost everything was damaged: the heater was not working properly and serious renovations from floor to ceiling were needed to be done. 

 Sebastian and Evangelista were not  discouraged. 

 “If the Lord did not give this  [property] to us, we would have been  discouraged right away. When we first saw this house, it was very ugly dirty and  broken down,” shares Evangelista. 

Aside from fixing the plumbing and  doing electrical repairs, the couple did the interior design themselves choosing  colors and designs for the rooms with  the help of the internet. They were very hands-on in the restoration of the place.  

Finally in September 2013, Kambal Bed and Breakfast, the first Filipino bed and breakfast in Rome opened its door. But even before opening day, Sebastian got busy promoting their business to several prospective guests. They also registered in different booking  sites. Needless to say, they were fully  booked for several weeks on their first few days of operations.

SOUND ADVICE 

Sebastian admits that his previous work at a bed and breakfast helped enormously not only in setting up their business venture but also in getting  clients.  

The partners suggest to have the proper documents ready and keep a good administrative record, particularly in paying taxes so that banks will be more lenient in  giving you a loan. 

 Make sure also your business partner is willing to take risks. 

 “There are a lot of Filipino expats who have money and who want to start their  own businesses. But they do not go on with it because they lack courage and  they are more focused on the negative,”  laments Evangelista.  

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He adds, “They would be pre occupied with thoughts like, ‘What if the  business goes bankrupt?’ They should  think on the line of, ‘What if the business  succeeds?’ They should be thinking  instead of how they can grow their  money and their business.”  

Most important to keep in mind is to maintain good quality of service to make  your business last. “What we are offering  to clients is not only a bed to lay their  heads on after a full day of sightseeing  but also memorable experiences that  they would look back to years from  now,” says Sebastian. 

MONEY MATTERS 

“What we are offering  to clients is not only a bed to lay their  heads on after a full day of sightseeing  but also memorable experiences that  they would look back to years from now.”

Randy Sebastian, co-owner Kambal Luxury Suites

Starting a bed and breakfast in Rome can be very profitable because of the captured market in the city. Here are  the figures if you are thinking of setting  up your own: 

Business: Kambal Bed and Breakfast  

Location: Rome, Italy 

Capital: €50,000 (savings and bank loan) 

Main Expenses: Renovations, Deposit , Rent (€1,600/month), Supplies 

Estimated income: €5,000 to €11,000 depending on the  season 

Expected return on investment: One year and a half 

Business tips: 

  • Filipinos are very hospitable and clients appreciate this.  
  • Small things matter.  
  • Be attentive to your clients like sending them emails containing tips before they arrive and even during  their stay.  
  • Personalized services go a long way.
This article was first published in the 2014 Summer Issue of The Filipino Expat Magazine.
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