The Department of Tourism (DOT) is looking at developing more tourism products, including promoting the Philippines’ historic heritage towns.

Under the National Tourism Development Plan, the DOT plans to develop more tourism products, which covers accommodations, tours, transportation, recreational activities and historic sites.

“Tourism products are not food, handicraft, nor clothes; rather, they are services and destinations. The products are merely incidental. We are talking about package tours and what a place can offer like health and wellness, and heritage tourism,” said DOT Region 3 Assistant Regional Director Leona Nepomuceno.

Nepomuceno helps plan the tourism sector in Region 3 or Central Luzon, which is a short ride away from Manila and an hour by plane from the rest of the country.

The region comprises the seven provinces of Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Zambales, with 14 cities and 116 towns.

Region 3 is very popular among culinary tourists because of Pampanga and Bulacan, two provinces known for their delectable cuisine.

“A very important function of the regional office is to help each of the local governments to develop their own tourism product,” she explained.

“Domestic tourism is one of the really strong cash earners for the rural area, that’s why we have domestic tourism. We are now about to reach 46 million tourists by this year. President Aquino is very optimistic that he elevated our target to 56 million local tourists for 2016 and 10 million for international,” she added.

The DOT is targeting an 8 percent increase in domestic travelers to some 52 million in 2015, from the projected 48 million this year. The domestic tourists are seen contributing P1.61 trillion receipts in 2015, up 14 percent from the targeted P1.41 trillion this year.

Meanwhile, foreign visitors are projected to generate tourist receipts of P350.4 billion in 2015, up almost 30 percent from 2014’s target of P270 billion.

“The tourism receipt is composed of how much people spend for accommodation, food, souvenir, and transportation. They get the average from tourists. For example, for international tourists, we have an average of $150,” Nepomuceno said.

The Tourism department also aims to boost employment in the tourism sector to 6.3 million, which will represent a 16.2-percent share of nationwide employment. For 2014, the DOT has set a target of tourism employment at 5.4 million, accounting for 14.2-percent of employment at the national level.

On August 2, the DOT Region 3, together with the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), conducted a tour in Bustos, Bulacan to introduce heritage towns to the concept of cultural or heritage tourism.

“With Bustos, Bulacan what we are doing is developing a new product for the municipality which is heritage tourism. We’re doing this together with the local government because according to Tourism Secretary Jimenez, the local government has a very strong contribution to the development of tourism,” Nepomuceno said.

“It is not about what the national government can do for the local government, but rather what the local government can do to support the projects of the national office,” she added.

“Finally with heritage tourism, we can do also Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We can finally invite corporate excursions. We call that incentive travel. For example, if Bustos is ready, they can work with travel agencies and sell package tours to companies. It can serve as CSR for them,” she said.

“While heritage tourism can only contribute minimal money to the local government for now, but it can still boost awareness of the heritage area,” she added.

For his part, Ivan Henares, president of HCS, said the heritage structures in Bustos are good anchors for cultural tourism because they are able to package, prepare, and present these attractions to the general public.

“We are also very pleased to see the St. Martin’s Children’s Village which can also be another anchor for cultural tourism because the children have been trained to play the violin. I also hear they are training in folk dance,” Henares said.

“People think that heritage structures have become expenses because of maintenance but we can actually turn that around. They are actually investments towards the future. We’ve seen what other towns in the Philippines have been able to do like Vigan,” he added.

Another example Henares cited is Taal, in Batangas, which is preparing a cultural tourism program with their Spanishera ancestral homes as tourism anchors. Taal also boasts of a popular market, restaurants, and heritage houses that have been converted into bed and breakfast places.

“There are so many towns in the Philippines that can benefit from that and they just don’t realize it yet because they still do not understand the concept of cultural tourism or it hasn’t been introduced to them completely,” Henares said.

“This is why we will continue doing these tours to be able to show the communities and the local government that heritage actually has a potential for economic growth,” he added.

Photo Credit: Taal Cultural Center in Taal, Philippines. Roberto Verso / Flickr