Boracay, the tiny island in the Philippines off the tip of Panay Island, has long been grouped among the world’s best vacation and beach destinations. The soft powdery sand of the appropriately named White Beach (probably due to the strict no smoking policy) has been ranked as the best in the world by scads of travel magazines and Travel + Leisure dubbed Boracay itself Best Island in the world in 2012. Take that Seychelles.
“I’ve done three developments in Boracay already,” says Marco Biggiogero, chair of Aqua Boracay, now under construction. “I went there for a vacation ten years ago and fell in love with the island. I thought I’d make a career there. My family has developed property in Italy for generations, so it’s in my DNA. The community is extraordinary.”
A Rising Star
Despite its vaguely under the radar status, the island of 20,000 is in the midst of a tourism boom sure to expand further when its closest airport (at Kalibo) completes its upgrade in 2014 in order to accommodate direct flights within Asia. As yoo co-founder John Hitchcox says, “Boracay is going to be 90 minutes from Hong Kong in two years.” While Hongkongers regularly take long weekends in Koh Samui, Taiwan or perhaps Bali, Boracay’s airport upgrade will make it accessible in about half the time it takes to get to Phuket. “It’s got James Bond scenery, the people are lovely the language is English. It’s sporty, party, and from where we are, on the quiet side, you can walk to the action.”
And 2014 is just in time for owners of the new Aqua Boracay by yoo. Ultimately comprising 144 units on a 1.6-hectare beachfront plot, its first two phases are currently on sale, with a third phase (96 units) set to begin construction in 2014 to launch in the near future. The lowrise development (nothing can exceed the tree line) boasts residences ranging from 860 square feet to a whopping 6,400-square foot penthouse. Prices for furnished units begin at just under US$300,000 (HK$2.3 million).
Hitchcox and Biggiogero agree most buyers are going to be in the second or vacation home market buying in Boracay for all that makes it, well, Boracay. Whether they want the activity (more tourists), which could cast a pall (garbage, sloppy development) on the island overall, becomes the $64,000 question. “I grapple with this all the time,” admits Hitchcox. “The sad reality is we have a finite planet and there are seven billion of us and it continues to grow. Development has to occur. If you accept that as a premise, from then on you simply behave as a caring developer.”
“I believe what we do elevates the quality of construction on the island. We don’t cut trees down; we transplant them and we encourage that in others,” adds Biggiogero, who is committed to the island to the degree that his fourth development was a school for local children — Brits, Australians, Italians, Canadians and Japanese (as a start) in addition to Filipino kids. “There are still many areas that are set aside for preservation, and so people who want to see Boracay as it was, it’s still there. We don’t build higher than the palm trees and we try and use natural materials always. I would say we’re the benchmark for developers coming to the island.”
So what exactly does $2.3 million get you in the new project? Either a one- (starting at 861 square feet) or two-bedroom (1,800 square feet) suite designed precisely for indoor/ outdoor living, dominated by glass that lets in natural daylight and maximises views over the preternatural blue of the waters around the island — all with a distinctly yoo touch. Just don’t say “branded residence” around Hitchcox. “Something about the word ‘branded’ residence is just … yuck,” he scoffs with a shudder. Regardless of how much luxury or style is woven into Aqua Boracay, they are home first and foremost.
Aqua Boracay by yoo will also function as a hotel (managed by yoo Collection) and so will include the state-of-the-art amenities, fixtures and appliances expected in a development like it. A comprehensive clubhouse as well as dining and shopping outlets will complement the residences when the project is complete. And as is the case with most branded resort residences, there’s also an optional rental programme that’s likely to do well given the island’s tourism status. The Philippine Information Agency reported a 54 percent increase in arrivals in Boracay in the second quarter of 2012 and projects over 1.2 million arrivals in 2013.
“In my experience our investors enter the rental pool not just for the rental but because your unit will always be perfectly maintained. Boracay can be very hard. We haven’t decided yet on what the rental plan will be for owners,” beyond the complimentary 30 days per year notes Biggiogero. Just don’t expect plastic water bottles in your room. Not from yoo. That’s yuck too.