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CEBU, PHILIPPINES – A grand display of Cebu’s sights, sounds, and taste welcomed over 600 global delegates of the inaugural UN Tourism Regional Forum on Gastronomy Tourism for Asia and the Pacific as it formally opened on Wednesday (June 26) at The Marquee of Shangri-La Mactan.
Co-organized by the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT), the UN Tourism, and the Basque Culinary Center, the event gathered participants from UN member-states, affiliate members, and tourism stakeholders from national and international organizations.  A first of its kind in Asia and the Pacific the forum seeks to become a platform to celebrate the power of gastronomy tourism by bringing together destinations and international experts in an exchange of knowledge and best practices, in order to fully 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 holds the honor of hosting this inaugural UN Tourism forum, after its election as Chair of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific during the 55th Meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for East Asia and the Pacific held in Cambodia last 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 brings together ministers, heads of delegation, heads of mission, experts, stakeholders, enthusiasts from over 40 countries from around the world and Asia Pacific to celebrate gastronomy, to develop and promote tourism, and to cultivate the symbiotic relationship of these two sectors that assures their and our mutual success,” Secretary Frasco said.
Educational Gastronomy Center for the Philippines eyed
In his speech, the Secretary General lauded the leadership of Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco for hosting the inaugural event, noting the warm welcome he received on his first visit to Cebu.
“This event here is a historical day because we are celebrating the first time-ever gastronomy forum in the region, and it’s not only gastronomy, it’s culture,” he said.
Polikashvili said 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 as the country hosts the prestigious event for the first time.  “We know that education is the top priority for your tourists, and we will support this initiative to help the progress of UN Tourism,” he added.
Calleja, meanwhile emphasized gastronomy tourism’s massive potential in promoting community’s well-being, transforming societies’ socio-economic needs, saying “Gastronomy is one of the sectors that show the way of life. When we travel, we like to discover the local cuisines, destinations, restaurants, the taste, products, traditions, and to be able to have an authentic experience,” citing how many destinations have brought gastronomy front and center, driving employment and business opportunities for the entire value chain.
She likewise expressed gratitude to the DOT under Secretary Frasco’s leadership in making the high-level forum possible.
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 historic forum
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 complimented 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, we tell the story of the Filipino. We narrate the victories of our people, our homeland, our history,” the DOT chief shared.
Fast forward to present day, the Philippines, Secretary Frasco shared, has embraced food as a way to tell the story, victories, and history of the Filipino people.
“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 of UN Tourism meetings in 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 together with partners from the private sector such as Mang Inasal, Destileria Limtuaco, and Chocolate Chamber.
In her remarks at the opening program, Secretary Frasco provided delegates with a rundown of the exciting activities lined up by the DOT in partnership and through the relentless support of the Province of Cebu and stakeholders.
“We will treat all of you to a regional lunch that has been prepared by our chefs from all over the Philippines, from all regions of the Philippines, where you will get an opportunity to taste the diverse flavors of this vast tapestry of our nation. As well, our regional offices of the Department of Tourism have prepared products that reflect of indigenous culture of various influences and will give you a preview into the many reasons to love the Philippines,” Secretary Frasco said, rallying the delegates behind promoting and developing gastronomy tourism within the region through the endorsement of the Cebu Call to Action.
“Tomorrow, you will have the opportunity to get to know the Province of Cebu, in the technical tours that have been prepared in collaboration with the Cebu Provincial Government that will take you to the islands of Camotes, to the history and heritage that is well-represented in Argao and Dalaguete, as well as to our ecotourism offerings in Aloguinsan. You’ll also have the opportunity to pass by our Tourist Rest Area in Carcar City and not only will you be given a preview into the municipalities and cities that I have mentioned, but a preview into the entire Province of Cebu as under the leadership of our Governor Gwen Garcia, she has mobilized the entire province and all mayors of Cebu to give all of you the most memorable experience that you can have in Cebu here in the Philippines. That will be concluded by a gala dinner to which all of you are invited at the Cebu Provincial Capitol, the seat of power in the province, as well as a fashion show by world-renowned designer Furne Amato hosted by the Cebu Provincial Government,” Secretary Frasco revealed.
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.”
Courtesy of: Department of Tourism—Office of Public Affairs and Advocacy
Courtesy of: Department of Tourism—Office of Public Affairs and Advocacy

Published:June 26, 2024

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