Gawad Kalinga launches own 'Disneyland'
MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Tourism (DOT) is looking toward “social tourism” efforts as a way to boost visitor arrivals and deepen a tourist’s travel experience.
Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the GK Social Business Summit at the Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan, last Friday, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. hailed the creation of the organization’s farm, dubbed as a ‘Disneyland for social tourism’ by GK founder Antonio Meloto.
“This is all about social tourism, which is probably the newest and most exciting development in the tourism industry today. I am very happy that the very concept of social tourism is based on people. It just happens to be one of our strengths, so this is very significant development.”
The farm, an education center for tourists and travelers, attracted some 10,000 visitors in 2012 and is targeting 20,000 visitors this year. It is aiming for 50,000 visitors in 2014, and 200,000 in 2015.
The farming population is composed of 50 families, or close to 500 persons, who used to be informal settlers in Metro Manila.
“Over 1 billion people traveled in 2012, so someday all middle- to upper-income people have already traveled. And why do they keep on traveling? The answer to that is someday they travel not just to see places but to meet people. And social tourism is an opportunity to do exactly that, and to encounter people they have not encountered before,” Jimenez said.
He stressed that “anything that deepens the dimension of involvement [by tourists] will help our tourism, because remember, tourism has to be sustainable. “If you’re making friends, then you’re also making sure there will always be visitors, because they will talk about [their experience here] with their friends. They will miss the Philippines and they will come back.”
He added that the visitors, in turn, are also “helping our people discover themselves by bringing their skills and their goodwill here. Overall, it’s a fantastic development.”
The Philippines is trying to attract some 10 million foreign visitors by 2016.
For his part, GK founder and Chairman Antonio Meloto said the Enchanted Farm will be the first farm-village-university in Asia, where tourists interact with locals in education and social initiatives.
With construction beginning in 2010, “this place is a unique ecosystem that provides a convergence platform for government, business, social entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists, farmers and community partners to work together in solidarity in creating solutions to global issues that affect all of us [such as] climate change, food security and extreme poverty,” GK’s web site said.
Meloto added that the farm-village-university will also be a platform for “a new brand of tourism, ‘social tourism,’ that it is not only ‘more fun in the Philippines’ but ‘more fun and fulfilling’, because we are also attracting the brightest, best people who want to do good in Asia.”
With its ambitious aim of ending poverty in the Philippines, GK has undertaken several projects to empower the urban and rural poor to transform their lives into productive members of society.
GK is eyeing to develop 21 more of such “enchanted farms” in other parts of the country, in the next following years.
The GK Enchanted Farm in Bulacan also makes use of recycled materials to enhance the look of the surroundings. Some of the features and upcoming projects on the farm include the 500-capacity Hyundai Center for Green Innovation; a botanical garden being co-developed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agrarian Reform; a food-production center supported by the Berjaya Group of Companies of Malaysia; A People Power Cultural Center/Bamboo Palace constructed by a Singaporean firm; an ube (purple yam) plantation hub by Selecta; a wellness center to be built by a Filipino-American from California; cacao and chocolate farms by a Thai and Malaysian agricultural firms; as well as organic herbs and spices farms to be set up by De La Salle University, the Univeristy of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, Assumption College, etc.
Named after the barangay (Encanto) where it is located, the 34-hectare Enchanted Farm is billed by GK as it’s “innovative platform for experiential learning.”
Meloto explained that the farm incorporates three concepts: a Village University for sustainable community development, Silicon Valley for social entrepreneurship, and ‘Disneyland’ of social tourism. “Through the magical stories of the Enchanted Farm, enchanting not only through stories of fairy tales like that of duwendes [dwarf], but also real life experiences, tourists can see how dreams can become a reality in a nation where its people were once provided to find solutions and greener pastures elsewhere,” he stressed.
The farm will expose students on how to start social enterprise and communities from the ground up, attracting students from all sorts of disciplines.
Fifty of the most innovative social enterprises in the Philippines will not only be conveniently located in the Enchanted Farm to showcase their brands, but will also share in the resources of the farm and facilities.
Meloto has called the community a mentorship hub where those in the know are bound to build a better quality of life for those who have less in life.
Over 500 local and international social entrepreneurs, businessmen and politicians gathered at the Enchanted Farm for the inaugural Social Business Summit, a four-day event which began on October 2, and co-convened by Sen. Bam Aquino.
About 50 foreign delegates from the United States, Australia, France, Singapore and the United Kingdom, attended the summit.