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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
- 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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Dheza Aguilar is the Managing Editor of The Filipino Expat Magazine. She was a former Netherlands correspondent for ABS-CBN, and freelance writer for other publications. She works for a supply company in Rotterdam and is eternally juggling passion and career.