The Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, continues to embrace inclusivity and is positioning itself to become Asia’s next top Muslim-friendly destination.
Tourism Undersecretary Myra Paz Valderrosa-Abubakar said the government is working on a series of programs to attract Islam travelers and for hotels and resorts to get recognized as “Muslim-friendly accommodations” and eventually get Halal-certified.
“When we talk about Halal it really has to have a certification when we talk about the kitchen and the food, so that’s why we’re starting with becoming Muslim-friendly, that’s step by step,” she said in an interview on the sidelines of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) General Membership Meeting on Wednesday.
An establishment is entitled to a “Muslim-friendly” certificate from the Department of Tourism (DOT) provided that they meet the agency’s criteria, including having at least 5 percent of its total rooms complete with a Qiblah directional sticker, a prayer mat, a Qur’an with provision for its proper storage and clean water supply in bathrooms, with bidets or hand showers for Wudhu or Ablution.
“Under the memorandum circular of the DOT, an accommodation establishment can be certified and recognized as Muslim friendly, but only twice. The first is after application and then one after renewal,” Valderrosa-Abubakar said.
“On the third time, when they see that it attracts more visitors, then that’s the time that we require that their kitchens be Halal-certified already,” she added.
The DOT can issue a Muslim-friendly recognition to a facility but only a third-party certifier can grant a Halal logo, which certifies that a food prepared is permissible for consumption according to the teachings of Islam.
“A Muslim-friendly (facility or service is) not certified by a certifier but as long as you are not serving haram then we can consider it as Muslim-friendly,” Valderrosa-Abubakar said.
To further attract Muslim travelers, the DOT is looking to launch the first Philippine Halal Expo this 2023; create a travelogue for Muslim travelers; establish a Colors of Mindanao Museum; and partner with Grab for a “Halal App,” among others.
‘Spotlight on Mindanao’
PHILTOA president Fe Abling-Yu, for her part, backed DOT’s efforts and at the same time touted the potential of Mindanao, where majority of Filipino Muslims live.
“For now what we are promoting highly is Zamboanga because it is complete, complete with beach, with forest, and good food,” she said.
“Our only advice to our potential tourists is to book through a travel agency,” she added.
In a separate interview, Mayor Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of Isabela, Basilan said the city is also witnessing an increase in tourist arrivals after the pandemic.
In 2022, Turabin-Hataman said the city’s heritage sites and beaches lured some 300,000 tourists, up from the 20,000 visitors they recorded in 2019. (PNA)