Food trips could drive growth of Philippines tourism
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2019 - 12:00am

On April 13 last year, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 469 that declared April of each year as the “Filipino Food Month” to recognize and preserve the country’s culinary tradition. Popular native Kapampangan, Bicol, Ilocano, Cebuano and Tagalog, among other Filipino dishes, are always the favorite gastronomic adventure that foreign and local tourists include in their travel itinerary around the Philippines.

“Our vast culinary tradition and treasures should be appreciated, preserved and promoted to ensure their transmission to future generations and to support the various industries, farmers and agri-communities which benefit therefrom,” Proclamation 469 stated. In Proclamation 469, the President designated the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to lead the “Buwan ng Kalutong Pilipino” observance every year.

To help promote the Filipino Food Month this year, the Department of Tourism (DOT) headed by Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat re-launched the government’s farm tourism program as mandated under a three-year-old law. This is Republic Act (RA) 10816, or the law mandating the Development and Promotion of Farm Tourism in the Philippines.

Farm tourism, as defined by RA 10816, is the practice of attracting visitors and tourists to farm areas for production, educational, and recreational purposes which involves any agricultural or fishery-based operation or activity and may also provide a venue for outdoor recreation and accessible family outings.

As provided for by RA 10816, Romulo-Puyat cited, the formulation and implementation of a Farm Tourism Strategic Action Plan that would spell out the comprehensive set of programs, projects and activities for the growth of farm tourism in the country that is integrated and consistent with the National Tourism Development Plan is required.

RA 10861 created the Farm Tourism Development Board that was attached to the DOT. Romulo-Puyat heads the seven-man Board following her appointment on May 11 last year to become the new DOT Secretary.

It was then former president Benigno Simeon Aquino III who signed into law RA 10816 on May 16, 2016. At that time, Romulo-Puyat was still Agriculture undersecretary. Actually, she began as DA undersecretary during the term of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo since January 2007. Like Mrs. Arroyo, Romulo-Puyat was once an economics professor at the University of the Philippines.

Thus, when she took over the top helm of the DOT, she shifted the focus and priorities of the agency to fully maximize the multiplier impact of the tourism industry and help drive the economic growth of the country. As she observes next month her first year in office as DOT Secretary, Romulo-Puyat disclosed she has tweaked the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 18016 to make the law more effective in achieving the goals of promoting inclusive growth and development of farms found in our country’s tourist destinations.

“Farm tourism is now our tenth tourism product which we’ve been promoting,” Romulo-Puyat announced.   

The DOT Secretary made the announcement during her appearance yesterday in our weekly breakfast news forum Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate. She was joined in the panel by DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. and assistant secretaries Roberto Alabado III and Maria Rica Bueno.

According to the DOT Secretary, they revised recently the IRR of the Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016 to ensure that the roles of agencies involved are more clearly defined. “The IRR had to be clear so the different agencies would give a budget for farm tourism because it is a law,” she pointed out.

Springing into action, the DOT Secretary suggested possible farm tours for a different summer vacation experience for Filipino families as indicated by the latest travel data showing that domestic tourism volume reached 97 million last year. Tourists can choose from numerous farms all over the country where, she said, they can pick fruits and other local farm products they may fancy to buy and eat. They could also learn more about organic farming and other food production techniques as well as composting. 

Offhand, the DOT chief suggested grapefruit picking in La Union, or go to Guimaras for mangoes, or fly to Davao for durian harvest. 

“If you want your family to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, learn what to eat and how to eat it and at the same time do some sustainable tourism activities, then I think farm tourism is valuable,” Alabado said.

For his part, Bengzon cited farm tourism fits perfectly into the DOT’s vision for tourism to be “sustainable and inclusive” because it helps local farmers and communities.  “Whether foreign or local tourists, when they come and visit, they buy or eat right at the restaurant. That’s the beauty of farm tourism, (it’s impact is) direct, immediate,” Bengzon noted.

Coincidentally, the LJC Restaurant Group that included Café Adriatico – where we hold our Kapihan sa Manila Bay every Wednesday – is also observing its 40th founding anniversary this year. LJC president and chief executive officer Lorna Cruz-Ambas thanked the DOT for spearheading the promotion of Filipino foods in the overall tourism program of the government. She cited Café Adriatico is regarded as having started the bistro culture in the country and has become a significant food landmark in the tourist district of Manila.

As the summer season draws near, Puyat told our Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, tourists destinations around the country are ready to be visited with better connectivity and new travel routes developed by the DOT. For those who opt for “staycation” in Metro Manila, she pointed to a tour around Intramuros which offers both historical and religious attractions, especially during the Holy Week when there is less traffic here.

While the “sun and beach” travels remain to be the top choice for both domestic and international tourists, food trips could be the next driver of tourism growth in the Philippines.

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