By Henrylito D. Tacio
Poverty is no hindrance to success, so goes a popular saying. That seems to be baloney until you meet someone who has proven that it can really happen.
Meet Joel Deligero, who grew up in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, one of the oldest towns in Mindanao. One of the three siblings, he remembered those days when he went to school without any baon from his parents.
But he was determined to get out of poverty. He knew that getting an education was one of the best ways to unlock the bright future he was hoping for. Despite all odds, he finished college and became a professor for six years in one of the universities in Davao City.
Deligero spent another 24 years of his life in the corporate world, working in DHL Express, FedEx, U-Freight Philippines, and Lazada. When he turned 50 recently, he ventured into another challenging field, one where he is the president and chief executive officer of businesses that include a resort.
The man behind Haven’s Dew Resort. (Henrylito Tacio)
The 1.3-hectare Haven’s Dew Resort (HDR) is located in the scenic spot of sitio Balutakay in barangay Managa of Bansalan, Davao del Sur, not far from Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.
Despite being new in the farm tourism business, HDR has already harvested several accolades. Last March 28, 2023, HDR received its first national award when it was named “The Most Outstanding Innovative Hotel/Resort in Davao del Sur” by the Philippine Social Media Awards.
Four days later, the resort was again recognized nationally when the Elite Business Excellence Awards awarded it the “Premier Eco-Friendly Recreational Resort and Events Venue” in Davao Region.
This July, HDR will be named the 2023 Asian Consumers Choice awardee for Best Recreational and Hotel Resort during the Asia-Pacific Excellence Awards at Montien Riverside Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.
But the resort was not meant to be such during its preliminary stages.
“When we purchased the land in 2018, this was an agricultural area,” Deligero said. “We were planning to continue it as a farm; that was the initial plan. We didn’t have the intention of putting a resort.”
However, the plan changed in 2019 when he consulted an architect and asked him what he thought of a good investment in the area. The architect told him that the area is a tourist destination. “So, why not turn it into a resort?” he suggested.
But what kind of a resort would it be? “The first time I came here, I visited those tourist spots in nearby areas and even those in Kapatagan (a barangay of Digos City),” he said. “I saw that the land is very fertile. If you plant something here, it will really flourish.”
From farm to tables
He decided to follow what others were doing: farming. But the concept was different: from plants to tables. “We already had the resort, we had rooms, and we had vegetables grown on the farm like lettuce, carrots, and onions,” Deligero said. “Our visitors can pick and harvest the vegetables they want and then we can cook them. The concept was okay with our guests and visitors.”
People who want to stay for the night can stay at any of the rooms available for rent. (Henrylito Tacio)
]But when his wife visited the place, she asked him what would happen after all of the vegetables had been harvested? “Will it still be considered a tourism area and attractive to tourists when you plant vegetables again?” she inquired.
That was an eye-opener for him.
“Why should I plant vegetables when other areas are also planting vegetables?” he asked. “I think we should be unique from the rest. The pillar of our company is summed up in the acronym FOCUS, which stands for food, orientation, customers, uniqueness and service. Planting vegetables in our resort is not considered unique since we are surrounded by farms planted to vegetables.”
And so, the idea of putting up a flower garden came to be. “Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul,” someone once said. Another one remarked, “Flowers are the music of the ground. From earth’s lips spoken without sound.”
A lot of tourist destinations with flowers as come-ons is nothing new. In the Netherlands, the Keukenhof Gardens— known as the Garden of Europe and one of the largest flower gardens in the world—immediately pops into mind.
In Cebu City, there’s the Sirao Flower Garden located in a mountain barangay just a few minutes from Lahug. In fact, it is dubbed the “Mini Amsterdam of Cebu.”
Deligero visited some flower gardens in the area and looked at what they had. “We have beautiful flowers all over the place. What I did was to gather whatever we have here, since we cannot import. We can utilize whatever flowers are being grown here.”
Guests can always take the pictures as souvenirs. (Henrylito Tacio)
Deligero got the initial stocks of his flowers from houses near the area. He also went to other areas where flowers are being sold like Magsaysay and Digos City, both in Davao del Sur and in Makilala, North Cotabato. “We purchase only a few,” he said. “Our purpose was to propagate them. From our mother plants, we can grow as many as we can, which are then grown in our flower garden.”
To have those flowers all year round, he built a mini nursery. “When there are flowers that are already old in our garden, we replace them from the new plants we grow in our nursery,” he said.
All in all, more than 30 kinds and different varieties of flowers and ornamentals were planted, including sunflowers, bougainvillea, roses, African daisies, and dahlias. The place became a haven of colors: red, yellow, orange, blue, violet, and white.
Although it occupies only 2,500 square meters, the flowers are the resort’s attraction. “The flowers are dazzling if not incandescent,” says Jeannyline T. Arriaga, who has visited the place. “It is inhabited by flowers, several kinds and different varieties, and they come in various kaleidoscopic colors. So, you can take your souvenir photos here and there.”
To make the garden more unique, Deligero placed some sculptures in various places. “I came across Dubai Miracle Garden, which is known for its flower gardens. I saw how the plants are being planted and the sculptures it has,” he recalled.
What got him interested was the peacock sculpture. So, he looked for someone who could execute a replica. When he found someone from Davao City, he asked him if he could do it. The sculptor answered affirmatively.
Again, Deligero wanted it to be unique. “The peacock should be in a pair, a male and female, facing each other,” he told him. “I would like to have a mini waterfall as a background.”
The ideas of other sculptures in the area also came from other countries like the Merlion, a famous attraction from Singapore and a fountain from Italy. There are also old bikes and Volkswagens scattered all over the flower garden. There’s also two swans facing each other, forming the shape of a heart.
LED flowers and glamping
Interspersed around the area where the sculptures abound are 11,000 LED flowers that illuminate the night. It was inspired by the garden with 10,000 roses in Cordoba, Cebu City. “But I wanted ours to be unique,” he said. “I don’t want to put the roses with no design. So, we made a design and put different and colorful flowers.”
It’s good to see these LED flowers at night time. (Henrylito Tacio)
Put “glamorous” and “camping” together, and you have glamping. “Glamorous camping is very popular in Tanay, Rizal,” he said. He thought of putting up glamping in his resort but before doing so, he wanted to know if there’s already glamping in Mindanao. He found one in barangay Lorega of Kitaotao, Bukidnon.
“But is there a glamping in Davao del Sur?” Deligero asked. So, when he learned that glamping is not yet practiced in the province, he built three dome tents. “I want to be the first to do so in the province.”
The Haven’s Dew Resort is the first in Davao del Sur to have glamping. (Henrylito Tacio)
The resort continues its vision of uniqueness. Before the first anniversary, HDR introduced its sky bike, zipline, and function hall which can hold special events and gatherings. It also started its koi restaurant with a glass floor that serves non-pork dishes for its Muslim siblings and non-pork eaters.
When asked what his future plans are for the resort, he replied: “I have several in mind but I don’t want this to become an amusement park. I don’t want to lose that feeling that this is a resort. If you add more activities to do, then it becomes totally different from the concept we have in mind in the first place.”
What Deligero looks forward to is innovation. “We keep on thinking about our next move,” he said. “Because we need to be unique. In tourism, if you focus only on one thing and you don’t have any innovation, then people will not come back. So, we keep on innovating. However small the innovation is, at least there are changes.
This can be done by changing the landscape. “The flowers being grown can be rearranged later,” Deligero said. “Right now, the flower garden is Instagrammable, and if you rearrange the flowers, those pictures you had taken before are already old. That’s the entire concept: do I need to change the area? No. But do I have to improve it? Yes. The original concept should still be there. It will still be flowers, but the arrangement is totally different from the previous one.”
Photos by Henrylito Tacio
published 2023-07-28 23:23:15