Faith farm and sports tourism – are we ready?


PHILIPPINES – Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo reads the future well that the fate of tourism anywhere lies in addressing sector-specific wants.

And right now zeroed-in targets are Faith, Farm, and Sports-based Tourism.

This message was raised on her behalf by Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 7 Director Sha Tamano in a speech during the inauguration of new high-end villas of the renowned world-class boutique hotel Eskaya Beach Resort and Spa in Panglao last week.

Of the three, Faith-based Tourism exhibits the most promise- considering the 90 million Catholics in the country and 6 million more from among our neighbors. That includes our top tourist group the Koreans (5 million Catholics) 800,000 in Malaysia, 500,000 in Japan and 185,000 in Singapore.

We are reminded of the statistics provided by the United Nations World Tourism Organization that 330 million people worldwide go a “religious tour” during the year -producing a huge US$18-B business worldwide. This explains the tremendous popularity of places like Mecca, Rome, and Jerusalem.

The DOT says it will aim to secure a budget to rehabilitate and develop religious and heritage sites in the country in line with the forthcoming majestic 500th anniversary of Catholicism in the nation by 2021 – after Ferdinand Magellan first landed in Mactan, Cebu bearing both cross and sword in the year 1521.

Secretary Teo said that the recent “Sinulog Festival” in Cebu- 2 million visitors were recorded. Not only are tourists attracted by the historical and spiritual aspect of the tours but also of “experiencing religious tradition dating back to the pre-Spanish era.”

The DOT is developing tour packages “from the pilgrims’ eyes” point of view. After the Catholic routes, the focus will shift to Muslim, non-Catholic Christian and even indigenous people markets.

Right now, the most visited pilgrim sites are the Basilica Minore del Sto Nino (Cebu), the Padre Pio Shrine in Sto Tomas Batangas, the Divine Mercy Shrine in Cagayan de Oro City, Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, and Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan.

Bohol has enough heritage and non-heritage iconic churches in almost every town. The churches destroyed by the past earthquake have even become themselves tourist attractions. The fabulous islet developed into a devotional enclave for the Healer, Padre Pio by businessman Ramon Rodriguez is fast becoming a major come -on for tourists. What about the Station of the Cross complex on top of a city hill?

Boholanos themselves are die-hard Catholics, producing many men of the cloth and sisters among them, and have their individual very expressive stories about their town patron saints and churches.

Every month of May, almost all the days are filled with fiesta celebrations across Bohol. That is a red-letter month for visitors longing for food, festivities, and reunions. Many towns also have their own tales of faith healers, spiritists, and soothsayers.

The Sandugo feast in July is a small rival of Cebu’s Sinulog (Pit Senor in January) and street dancing is its culminating point.

On the other hand, Sen. Cynthia Villar is championing the passage of the “Farm Tourism Development Act” to institutionalize “farm tourism” in the country given the agricultural nature of most of our rural economies. Tax incentives are being worked out of developers.

In fact, currently, there are 100 accredited tourism farms but are mostly found in Luzon. Organic plant and medicine and perfumery development are part of the so-called “Nature Tourism” which is now 20% of the total tour business.

There are now coffee tours in Cavite and the so-called “coffee crawls” in metro cities like Manila (where is the best coffee in town?). Davao has its fruits and chocolate cacao farm tours.

Farm Tourism is not just about farm produce but also farm experience. A tourist participating in the harvest of corn and witnessing coconut harvesting, fishing on rivers for fish and shrimps, crablets and shells and cooking them inside the nipa hut is one example of “farm experiencing.”

Culinary delights are one of the country’s trademarks – it is a melting pot of various cultures since the Spanish era. Our Ubi Festival in January and visiting our Dairy Farm in Ubay are agri-related activities that will merit not just a cursory interest of tourists wanting both educational and recreational harmony in their travels.

Finally, “Sports Tourism” is also on the list. Because of Bohol’s excellent diving spots and shores for snorkeling, blue waters for Jet Ski and the like we are not behind in this category. We also now have the Adventure Tours in Danao and somehow some physical activity can now be experienced within the area of the scenic Chocolate Hills.

Because of our excellent and picturesque highways across Bohol, we can always qualify for a Bike Tour Round Bohol and many times Dragon Boat contests have been held in the Panglao area.

Just look at Mactan which hosted the 2017 Cobra Triathlon international event that drew close to 3,000 participants from 52 countries. We can hold the same in Panglao – what has Mactan got for triathlon purposes that Panglao does not have?

Secretary Teo had promised to make 2018 a year where she will be physically visiting many of the island provinces; targeting her next Bohol visit in August.

Meantime, we have a passionate, sportsminded Region 7 Director in Sha Tamano who is indeed a very approachable fellow.

As we deliriously await the first jet plane to land soon at the Panglao Airport, Bohol must not lose in the race to develop our sector-specific programs based on faith, farm and sports tourism.

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