That’s a wrap! PH’s hosting of first regional forum on gastronomy tourism lauded

The global culinary tourism market is estimated at $11.5 billion and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of almost 20% until 2030.

In a region rich in culinary traditions and characterized by a wide array of cuisines, the Philippines is leading the push for food tourism or gastronomy tourism, a growing niche as travelers are seeking authentic and memorable experiences beyond traditional sightseeing.

According to the World Travel Association (WTFA) 2022 Report, “34% of tourists visit places that attract them in terms of cuisine.” The culinary tourism market size worldwide is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.9% from 2024 to 2030 due to “tourists’ desire to try food products made of locally sourced ingredients, and increasing food travelers who explore new cultures through food worldwide.”

Amid this exciting trend, Cebu’s sights, sounds and flavors welcomed over 600 global delegates to the inaugural UN Tourism Regional Forum on Gastronomy Tourism for Asia and the Pacific at Shangri-La Mactan.

The forum was co-organized by the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT), UN Tourism, and the Basque Culinary Center. It gathered participants from UN-member states, affiliate members, and tourism stakeholders from national and international organizations. 

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco opens the forum at Shangri-La Mactan, Cebu.
UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili

A first of its kind in Asia and the Pacific, the forum celebrated the power of gastronomy tourism by bringing together destinations and international experts in an exchange of knowledge and best practices to harness the transformative power of gastronomy tourism, especially its benefits to local communities and the environment.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco, UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, BCC Director of Masters and Courses Idoia Calleja, Lapu-Lapu City Lone District Representative Ma. Cynthia “Cindi” King Chan, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan, UN Tourism Ambassador for Gastronomy Tourism Chef Vicky Cheng of VEA Restaurant in Hong Kong, and foreign dignitaries led the ceremonial pouring of rice into a giant pusô, a rice cake made by boiling rice in a woven pouch of palm leaves that serves as a major culinary pride of Cebuanos, one of the diverse gastronomic offerings that can be found in the Philippines.

The Philippines was chosen to host the forum as it was elected Chair of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific at the 55th Meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission in Cambodia on June 16, 2023. “We’re deeply honored by the confidence conferred upon our nation by United Nations Tourism and its member states to host this inaugural global event that celebrates gastronomy and cultivates the symbiotic relationship of gastronomy and tourism,” Secretary Frasco said.

Educational Gastronomy Center for the Philippines eyed

Over 600 global delegates attended the inaugural UN Tourism Regional Forum on Gastronomy Tourism for Asia and the Pacific at Shangri-La Mactan.

In his speech, the Secretary General said,  “This event here is a historical day because we are celebrating the first ever gastronomy forum in the region, and it’s not only gastronomy, it’s culture,” he said.

Polikashvili added that under his helm, he wants to leave a legacy to the organization and among his proposals is to establish an educational gastronomy center in the Philippines, particularly in Cebu. 

Calleja, meanwhile emphasized gastronomy tourism’s massive potential in promoting communities’ wellbeing, transforming society’s socio-economic needs. “Gastronomy is one of the sectors that show the way of life. When we travel we like to discover local cuisines, destinations, restaurants, the taste, products, traditions, and to be able to have an authentic experience,” she said, citing the many destinations which have brought gastronomy front and center, driving employment and business opportunities for the entire value chain.

Also speaking at the forum opening, Mayor Chan welcomed the delegates and said, “Allow me [in] behalf of the peace loving Cebuanos to formally welcome you all to the historic city of Lapu-Lapu, Cebu. Looking forward to your memorable stay while you’re enjoying our food, the sun, the sand and the sea, our rich culture and history, and our warm reception and accommodation. Enjoy and have fun in Cebu. Love Cebu! Love the Philippines!”

Cebu, a fitting host for a historic forum

UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili is shown some Cebuano food.

According to Secretary Frasco, Cebu, with over half a millennia of recorded history and deeply embedded cultural heritage, serves as a ‘fitting venue’ for the delegates’ gastronomic explorations and discussions. In her opening remarks, she then took guests through a journey through Cebu’s rich history and its significance in Philippine history.

The country’s vast and varied cultural and culinary influences including from the Spanish, the Chinese, and Americans, Secretary Frasco noted, have complemented the foundation of the country’s Malay heritage and indigenous origins that have come to define the Filipino identity.

“Filipino cuisine is a diverse tapestry of flavors, reflecting regional characteristics from across our beautiful archipelago of 7,641 islands, from the globally renowned Cebu lechon and the comforting tastes of adobo and sinigang to Mindanao’s distinctive dishes like curacha, pastil, our culinary heritage is rich and varied. We also host delicacies such as balut, a fertilized duck egg, and halo-halo, a refreshing dessert composed of crushed ice, sweet beans, fruits, and leche flan.

Through our food, the DOT chief added, we tell the story of the Filipino. We narrate the victories of our people, our homeland, our history.

“Food tourism is of course a growing and dynamic sector, offering enormous potential for economic growth and advancement and cultural exchange among nations. By showcasing our local flavors and culinary traditions, we invite the rest of the world to experience the heart and soul of the Filipino, the heart of the Philippines,” she added.

Exciting activities lined up for delegates

Chefs from all 16 regions of the Philippines showcased their native dishes at the forum held in Shangri-la Mactan, Cebu. 

Secretary Frasco and Secretary General Pololikashvili, along with the delegates of the forum ate their way through the Philippines through the Regional Lunch which featured a remarkable coming together of regional chefs from all 16 regions of the country to showcase their native dishes and exemplify the richness of Filipino flavors. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) participated with partners from the private sector such as Mang Inasal, Destileria Limtuaco, and Chocolate Chamber.

In addition to the UN Tourism Regional Forum on Gastronomy Tourism for Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines is hosting the 36th Joint Commission Meeting of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the Commission for South Asia (CAP-CSA) on 28 June 2024.

“Finally, on Friday, we will host the prestigious 36th Joint Meeting of the UN Tourism Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the Commission for South Asia. This event will be honored by no less our President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. His attendance underscores the Philippines’ stature on the global tourism arena and our commitment to fostering international cooperation and sustainable tourism development,” the DOT chief enthused.

Thanking the public and private stakeholders whose efforts have contributed to the successful launch of the forum, Secretary Frasco concluded by saying “Thank you, daghang salamat, for joining us here today and for visiting us in the Philippines. We join you in our shared aspirations to advance tourism and gastronomy in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Let us embark on this delicious journey together with open minds, eager palates, ready to savor the rich and diverse flavors that our region has to offer.”

The new lifestyle.