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DOT expands faith tourism program to include Muslims.

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) will be proposing a budget to specifically target the restoration and development of historical shrines and old churches across the Philippines, many of which are key tourist attractions in their respective areas.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo made this disclosure as the country prepares for the 500th anniversary of the arrival of explorer Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu, which paved the way for Christianity in the Philippines. The anniversary will be celebrated in 2021. Also, the fund will be proposed to Congress, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), in the next deliberations on the DOT's budget.

'The Philippines is an ideal destination for religious pilgrimage, not only for sightseeing but to actually experience time-honored Filipino traditions dating back to the pre-Spanish era, and then the Christianization period,' Teo said after attending Iloilo's Dinagyang and Sinulog festivals in Cebu last weekend.

The proposed budget for restoration will still have to be finalized, after the agency consults with relevant government agencies such as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, as well as the Catholic Church, to identify priority churches that need to be restored, she explained to the BusinessMirror.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, about 300 million pilgrims visit key religious sites across the globe every year, with visitor receipts estimated about $18 billion. The largest number of such tourists makes the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, while the rest visit the Vatican, Fatima, Lourdes, Jerusalem and the Bethlehem.

Some of the oldest Catholic churches in Asia can be found across the Philippines, attracting a steady stream of foreign and domestic tourists.

The Dinagyang and Sinulog, two major festivals in the Visayan region inspired by the Santo Nino or infant Jesus, showed the country's potential to attract more foreign visitors to the Philippines looking to explore their faith. Aside from these two, Kalibo in Aklan continues to draw a number of visitors to its Ati-Atihan Festival, which also has the Santo Nino at the core of its festivities.

'Plans are under way to make the Philippines a destination with unique spiritual significance that will attract millions of pilgrims from all corners of the world, as shown in popular religious festivities in Cebu, Iloilo and Bohol,' the tourism chief added. Last year the DOT established a faith tourism program, which is overseen by an undersecretary, underscoring its importance as an emerging tourism product.

She said the program will also be expanded to attract the Muslims in neighboring Asian countries, who may want to visit the historic mosques in Mindanao. Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque in Tawi-Tawi, for instance, is the oldest mosque in the Philippines founded in 1380, predating the arrival of the Spaniards in the country.

'This will go hand in hand with our ongoing halal program that seeks to train and certify restaurants and other commercial food establishments in cooking and serving halal dishes. With more halal food available, our Muslim brothers in Asia will be more encouraged to visit the country, see our beautiful mosques and travel to our other exciting destinations,' she stressed.

While the DOT has yet to finalize its target number of visitors under the faith tourism program, Teo noted that there are 6.6 million Catholics in Asia. In South Korea alone, which is the Philippines's top source of tourists, there are 5 million Catholics. In Malaysia there are 800,000 Catholics; Japan, 500,000; Thailand, 200,000; and Singapore, 185,000.

She also pointed out that in Southeast Asia, there are 257 million followers of the Islam faith, most of whom live in Indonesia (225 million). Other countries in Southeast Asia that have a significant Muslim population are Malaysia, 19.5 million; Thailand, 3.4 million; Singapore, 721,000; and Brunei Darussalam 295,000.

'We are coordinating with the stakeholders, particularly tour operators, to come up with attractive spiritual tour packages,' former Faith Tourism Director Marissa Diploma said in a news statement.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Jan 23, 2018
Words:733
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