THE Network of Independent Travel Agencies (Nitas) will be working with Tony Meloto’s Gawad Kalinga (GK) organization to promote social tourism in the country. GK is planning to replicate and expand its Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan to 28 more sites across the country.

According to Consul Robert Lim Joseph, chairman emeritus of Nitas, Meloto sought his assistance in creating a travel campaign for GK’s Enchanted Farm. Called MAD (Making A Difference) for Social Tourism, the campaign aims to raise awareness on social tourism among students and tourism stakeholders.

It also aims to bring in more local and international volunteers to expand GK’s social projects.

The GK Enchanted Farm is the organization’s platform to raise social entrepreneurs, help local farmers and create wealth in the countryside.

The 34-hectare farm in Bulacan is the first of several planned Center for Social Innovation (CSI) sites around the Philippines. It will follow three concepts: Village University for sustainable community development, Silicon Valley for social entrepreneurship, and Disneyland for social tourism.

The farm, which is open to the public, offers activities like farm tours, buffet lunch sourced freshly from the farm, social enterprise demos on farm-based products and farming activities, which include planting and watering among others.

In Cebu, Joseph said he already sought assistance from Vice Governor Agnes Magpale to provide GK with a six-hectare property that they can turn into an Enchanted Farm of Cebu.

Joseph said this new tourism development will not only attract volunteer-tourists around the world to come to the Philippines but also create social entrepreneurs here.

The GK Enchanted Farm is home to 14 social enterprises, including Bayani Brew, Cream of the Crop, Human Nature, Theo and Philo Artisan Chocolates and Enchanted Farm Cafè.

“Social tourism provides tourists a more meaningful tourism experience or visit while in the Philippines because they get to immerse themselves in the daily lives of ordinary Filipinos,” said Joseph, who also heads other tourism organizations like SKAL, League of Tourism Students in the Philippines and Tourism Educators And Movers (TEAM) of the Philippines.

“European tourists, for instance, keep on traveling not only to see places but to meet people. With this, we would be able to attract not only the high-spending tourists but also the brightest who wish to ‘make a difference’ in their travels,” he said.

The European market is projected to be the country’s biggest market for social tourism.

He believes we have a high advantage in drawing more volunteers and tourists with the new tourism product especially that it coincides with the “It’s More Fun Campaign,” which is centered on the Filipino people and our unique brand of hospitality.

According to Joseph, the Department of Tourism (DOT) welcomed the development, saying that this is an added strength to the country’s tourism sector. He said the Tourism Promotions Board of the DOT is now in dialogue to include a booth on social tourism in their travel fairs abroad.

In Thailand, social tourism alone attracts 60,000 tourists every year, said Joseph.