The fate of faith tourism
It appears that the much-awaited rolling out of faith-based tour packages by the Department of Tourism is on hold with the entry of the new Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
In last week’s Tourism Innovation Forum hosted by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, not a single word was heard from Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon on this, the oldest form of tourism, during his keynote address. And so it was a wee bit awkward for me to talk about it as the last speaker in that forum, which was part of the continuing Cebu Business Month events of the Cebu Chamber.
Faith-based travel is the oldest form of tourism, as old as the building of the first cathedrals in Europe and the pilgrimages to visit birthplaces and relics of saints. But our country lags behind her neighbors in this aspect—and may even lag further if this is not given attention.
It was a friend from my college journalism years, Thaddeus Bentulan, licensed environmental planner and an accomplished radio host, who correctly pointed out the potential of faith tourism especially for Cebu and Bohol which are dotted with heritage churches in between white sand beaches and other natural attractions.
Nevertheless, I am gladdened by the very brief tete-a-tete we had with the undersecretary where he congratulated me for my ‘passionate’ presentation on the topic. I take that as a glimmer of hope.
There is so much potential to conduct local pilgrimages for the faithful and cultural appreciation for the curious who want to know more about the history and artistry behind so many of our churches. This is an untapped resource that is just waiting to be harnessed and I hope my good friend Alice Queblatin, who fortuitously was the master of ceremonies during the forum, and her group of tour operators will still pursue this.
If all else fails, as I jokingly told Alice and the packed audience in that forum at the Marco Polo Hotel, faith tourism can be as simple as praying for more tourists. I would prefer them of course to visit churches and convents with deep reverence and healthy appreciation for the beauty of Christian artistry over the centuries.
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