MAKATI CITY Philippines — Ayala Land Inc. property developer in the Philippines is now setting its sights on a potentially lucrative market — foreign retirees.

Thomas F. Mirasol assistant vice president for the land and community development group of ALI;  said “We’re now thinking of developing retirement-specific communities. So specific that it may even be age-restricted. Age-restricted communities are fairly common in the United States. Typically it’s [for people] 50 to 55 years old and up. You’re not allowed to have anyone under 50 living there for six months of the year.”

ALI wants to market its retirement communities to specific foreign retirees such as Japanese Koreans Europeans [Swiss or Germans] and Americans.

It is also in negotiations with foreign companies which could either market ALI’s retirement community or provide health care and insurance to the residents. “One of the biggest challenges in the retirement community is portability of health care. If you’re in the states you have Medicare Medicaid Blue Cross all of those things… and you can’t use them here. If there is a way to provide that level of care here and be able to charge it to Medicare Medicaid that would be great.”

Medicare recipients living on Guam can only receive emergency treatment in the Philippines. Madeleine Z. Bordallo Guam’s delegate to the U.S. Congress in a Nov. 18 2005 press release said “effective November 17 2005 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Internet-Only Manual has been updated to take into account payment reimbursement claims that may be validly filed and processed for Medicare beneficiaries residing in Guam who receive emergency treatment in qualifying Philippine hospitals.” Many of Guam’s insurers have already accredited several Phillippine hospitals — Asian Hospital Medical City St. Luke’s Medical Center Makati Medical Center — to treat its clients.

The Philippine government in 2005 included retirement villages and facilities on its Investment Priority Project list which gives investors tax incentives such as tax holidays and duty-free importation of capital equipment for a certain period of years.

“[There are] estimates that it [retirement industry] could be a 30 billion-peso [$600 million] per annum business within 10 to 15 years ” Mirasol said. “It’s a huge number. But a lot needs to get done before we can really get very close to that.”

Two of ALI’s subdivision developments — the Greenfield Estate in Calamba Laguna and West Grove Heights in Silang Cavite both south of Manila — are currently two of the 60 retirement facilities accredited by the Philippine Retirement Authority [PRA]. These accredited facilities include care homes condominium units condotels/serviced apartments farms/residential lots golf and leisure clubs residential subdivisions [house and lots or just lots] resorts retirement homes sports clubs townhouses and wellness centers.

“Even today we’re addressing a small part of the retirement community although we were never very conscious of that as a targeted group. For us they were just a bonus. In fact if you go to places like West Grove and Greenfield we do have foreigners living there for retirement. These are people who were expats here and lived here a few years some of them married Filipinas. When their term [or tour of duty] ended they just decided to stay ” Mirasol said. He also said that 20% of the sales of ALI’s present developments are from Filipino-Americans who want to retire in the Philippines.

Most of the PRA-accredited facilities are located in Metro Manila or just south of Manila but also in former U.S. military bases and recreational facilities such Clark Pampanga; Subic Bay Zambales; and Baguio City. Quite a few are also located in and around Cebu City in the Visayas region.

Because Filipinos have a tradition of “caring and respecting the elderly ” according to Mirasol “it [retirement communities] should work here.” Filipinos are known all over the world as one of the best nurses and caregivers. Nurses and caregivers comprise a substantial bulk of the overseas Filipino workers’ community a trend that worries many sectors fearing a health-care crisis in the near future. He said retirement communities can encourage those in the health care services to stay instead of working abroad. “Well if we go by the mission of the PRA and we can get this industry off the ground then they [caregivers] don’t even need to take a pay cut because the people who are paying their salaries abroad we will bring them here. They can pay their salaries here.”

Mirasol declined to give a time frame when ALI’s first retirement community project will break ground only that it will be “much much sooner” than five years. He also declined to identify specific sites for the company’s first project but said a “prime candidate” is Canlubang Laguna. “It’s not too far away from Metro Manila. There’s a hospital already in the area although it’s not open yet …. But it’s not the only place. In the Philippines there are many nice places for retirees. It’s not important to be be close to Metro Manila. Cebu would be a nice place. It has many of the conveniences that Metro Manila has [but] not many of [the latter’s] downsides. It’s almost like a Florida of the Philippines. [It could also be] Baguio [north of Manila] even a place like Davao [Mindanao] or Bohol [ Visayas region].”

He said with the level of interconnectivity within the Philippines and with the outside world through cell phones and the Internet “it’s easy actually for people to live some place else for as long as you can stay connected that way.”

ALI is now finalizing the design of its retirement community and is studying various models before building its own. “We’re looking at several different models Asian European and American have slightly different things. The model we end up doing will probably be with the specific market in mind because those would be what those cultures are accustomed to. So that would be the best way to attract them ” Mirasol said. “As the [retirement] industry matures however we may end up developing a completely new model just for foreigners in the Philippines.” MBJ