The Philippines is a growing tourist hotspot, with world-class beach, diving and shopping destinations. The country is now exploring another fast growing segment – agri-tourism – and has recently joined the ranks of the world’s top eight agri-tourism destinations. Will agri-tourism take off in the Philippines and will this help jump-start this industry in Asia?
What is agri-tourism?
The word “agri-tourism” is a mash-up of both “agriculture” and “tourism”. Fundamentally, agri-tourism involves an agriculturally-based operation or activity that draws visitors to a farm, ranch or any natural site like pineapple plantations, orchid farms and bee farms for outdoor recreational activities, education, shopping or even lodging. Many people are now looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life to get back to nature; resulting in agri-destinations gaining popularity among tourists.
The rise of agri-tourism in the Philippines
Agri-tourism has been present in the Philippines since the 1990s, but was not institutionally defined then. In 1991, the Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) came together and formulated the Philippine Tourism Master Plan (TMP); aimed at developing tourism on an environmentally sustainable basis.
As a tropical country with an abundance of natural resources, biological diversity and a strong cultural heritage, the Philippines is well-positioned for agri-tourism. At present, the Philippines has a total of 32 agri-tourism sites, including 27 protected areas consisting of strawberry and organic vegetable farms in Benguet, as well as pineapple and coffee plantations in Bukidnon.
Benefits of agri-tourism
Since farming is considered an integral aspect of Filipino culture, it can easily be cultivated into an agri-tourism activity. It has since gained increasing popularity in the Philippines; becoming a profitable and sustainable sector within the tourism industry. Some benefits agri-tourism has brought about include:
Agri-tourism offers a path to economic development in rural areas. Agri-tourists tend to be more than willing to pay to experience a unique opportunity to get in touch with nature. The direct contribution of tourism to GDP was PHP215.5 billion (roughly USD 5.2 billion) in 2012, and this figure is forecasted to increase by 7.5 percent in 2013. It was estimated that the number of international visitors would hit 5.5 million in 2013 – an increase from 4.3 million in 2012. The tourism industry in the Philippines is clearly on an upward trajectory. On the other hand, the agricultural sector in the Philippines employs close to 32 percent of the population and contributes approximately 14 percent of national GDP.
Experts estimate that the Philippines could create a total of 14.6 million new jobs by 2016 should the country adopt various reforms geared towards improving the business environment, particularly in the sectors of agriculture and tourism. Using the land for agri-tourism, the state can also achieve a balance in tourism development between urban and rural areas; spreading the benefits of tourism and contributing to poverty alleviation.
Heritage and ecological conservation
The majority of the agri-tourism sites in the Philippines have been established as World Heritage Sites. The UNESCO appellation is deployed as a promotional tool for Philippines Agri-Tourism to implement conservation and promotional efforts of such sites.
What the Philippines has to offer to investors
The Philippines is a developing nation with ideal conditions which position it as one of the best destinations for agri-tourism.
The Philippines is the largest archipelago in the world. It consists of around 7,100 islands and covers an estimated 30 million hectares, with about 11 million hectares being agricultural lands. The Philippines offers diverse conditions for agri-tourism. This is evident from its diversified and unique agri-tourism sites, including the vast pineapple and coffee plantation in Bukidnon, strawberry and organic vegetable farms in Benguet, as well as the farms in Batangas.
A relatively English-speaking environment
Filipino Tagalog and English are both official languages of the Philippines. This makes it easier for tourists to communicate with the locals; making the country relatively more accessible and tourist-friendly.
The Philippines has a maritime tropical climate with two distinct seasons – the rainy and dry seasons – making it an ideal place for agriculture. Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, volcanic activities also ensure the fertility of the soil. In addition to abundant rain and sunshine, the wide range of habitats and elevations account for an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
Tourism and agriculture are the topmost priorities of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) from 2011 to 2016. The government has increased investment in this sector by 13.6 percent, from PHP196 billion as of 2010 to PHP222 billion in 2011. The Agri-Tourism Promotion Act was also put in place in 2010 to promote agri-tourism.
Other industry sectors that stand to benefit from agri-tourism
The growing agri-tourism industry has inevitably rubbed off on other industry sectors, including:
Food and beverage
The harvest season in the Philippines spells a boon for farmers; bringing in more tourists, and hence a new revenue source, to agri-destinations. At the same time, food exports from the Philippines including high-grade rice, coconut, mangoes and pineapples, are exported to countries, such as the USA, Europe, Japan and Switzerland.
As most agri-destinations are located in rural areas, the transportation infrastructure in the country is relatively underdeveloped. This could be partly attributed to the mountainous terrain and the scattered geography of the islands. The influx of tourists calls for better modes of transportation to bring them to and from their destinations.
It is vital to have appropriate accommodation arrangements for tourists visiting the Philippines. The hospitality sector is expected to add 11,000 new hotel rooms over a span of five years; including a range of budget and premium hotels.
The future for agri-tourism in the Philippines and beyond
There was a time when the Philippines was considered the second wealthiest nation in East Asia, next to only Japan. Agri-tourism is now seen as a rising star that will contribute to the economic development of the Philippines in the long-term. No doubt the country’s state planners hope to recapture this lost economic glory. The influx of agri-tourists has brought in revenue and created a more ecologically sustainable environment. This will generate employment in rural areas, where the employment is often most needed, to avoid excessive migration and slum-formation in urban areas.
The agri-tourism sector in the Philippines is not necessarily a bed of roses. It is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons.
Nevertheless, there is vast potential for agri-tourism in the Philippines, thanks to the country’s favourable geographical features.