Philippines launch farm and faith-based tours to draw tourists

(Photo: REUTERS / Erik De Castro)Pupils sing a religious hymn "Hosana," meaning Savior, as they throw confetti from a truck during Palm Sunday in Mogpog town on Marinduque island in central Philippines April 13, 2014. Filipino Roman Catholics flock to churches with palm fronds as they observe Palm Sunday, marking the start of Holy Week.

Philippines Department of Tourism has launched a farm- and faith-based tourism program as part of the agency's plan to entice sector-specific foreign and domestic tourists.

The southeast Asian nation is known for its Roman Catholic roots, where Catholics make up for more than 80 percent of the 104 million people, with Muslims accounting for five percent of the population.

Then there is a growing number of evangelical Christians and members of the homegrown Iglesia ni Kristo.

"Farm tourism is not only about the farm produce but more importantly the experience in the farm," Tourism Assistant Secretary Eden Josephine David said at the launch of two programs at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City.

David said that farm tourism aimed to showcase the best crops of the country, while faith-based tourism planned to attract visitors interested in the Philippines' religious diversity, the reported.

"Farm tourism is the practice of attracting visitors and tourist to farm areas for production, educational and recreational purposes," David explained.

The initial farm tour projects unveiled at the launch were for Davao City fruits, focusing on durian, pomelo, banana and cacao with the support to local tourism and business groups.

One of the packages unveiled was the "City Chocolate Tour Overload" developed by Cacao Industry Development Association in Mindanao Inc. and Visit Davao Consortium.

Travelers can visit cacao farms to join in the harvesting of cacao fruit and help process the produce into chocolate.

Marissa Diploma, DOT director for the faith-based tourism unit, said that the country's budding faith tourism programs seeks to develop the Philippine tourism product "from the pilgrim's eye."

There are already prominent pilgrimage sites in the country such as Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño and Magellan's Cross in Cebu; Padre Pio Shrine in Sto. Tomas, Batangas; Divine Mercy Shrine in Cagayan de Oro City; Our Lady of Manaoag Church in Pangasinan; and Shrine of Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan.

Initial faith-based tour packages include Paoay Church, a Unesco-recognized heritage site; Kamay ni Hesus in Lucban, Quezon; and Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Ramos, Tarlac, and Monasterio de Tarlac in San Jose town.

Tour operators in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea have already expressed interest in promoting faith tours in the Philippines.

Diploma said that the Department of Tourism will next focus on developing faith tours for Muslims, non-Catholic Christians and even indigenous faiths.

Agribusiness groups have also expressed interest in developing coffee farm tours in Cavite and "coffee crawls" in urban centers.

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