Inclusive tourism: Halal certification project launched

Growing up in a country where pork is a staple in many feasts and is readily available in many dining establishments, one can imagine how challenging it is for people who hail from non-pork eating groups of Mindanao.

Sabran Ahmad-Padilla and Nurhanina Jalali-Sapie, both 31, know too well this dilemma. The two ladies are proudly Tausug, growing up in the ethnically diverse city of Zamboanga. Even there, there are times when eating halal food can be challenging. Halal, as Islam would state, requires its followers to consume food prepared according to the strict observance and guidelines indicated in the Quran. Pork, in particular, is forbidden.

They share that this dilemma became more challenging when they had to move to a new place to study and work. Nurhanina, who took her post-graduate studies in Cebu, recalls the times when she had to search for establishments serving halal food. She would often find herself eating the "usual fried chicken with rice" in fast food outlets.

Sabran, who relocated to Tarlac, loves cooking and is good at it. She has yet to find a dining establishment that offers halal foods in Tarlac.

Their dilemma does not stop there as they may go to dining outlets and choose to order non-pork items, but there will always be that nagging thought about how it was prepared, such as if in the process the food that they ordered was stained with pork or was not prepared in accordance to the strict preparation guidelines.

Thankfully for these two ladies and for the many Muslim Filipinos, the Department of Tourism (DoT) has worked with the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), Halal International Chamber of Commerce and Industries of the Philippines Inc. (HICCIP) and CrescentRating, to prepare the kitchens and facilities of 43 hotels, resorts, restaurants and other tourism-related establishments in Manila, Cebu, Boracay, Davao, Bohol, Zamboanga City, General Santos City, Koronadal, Cotabato City, Surigao City, and Siargao Island, to be halal-certified.

DoT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. said that it is about time for a project like the halal-certification to take effect. He underscores the importance of making Filipinos and tourists welcome in the country as well as tapping into the $200 billion global halal market.

Speaking at the launch of the project during the opening ceremonies of the second edition of Madrid Fusion Manila held last April 7 to 9 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, the tourism chief shared that as the country's tourism numbers are increasing, it is important that visitors who belong to the Islamic faith will truly feel welcome.

Latest figures released by the DoT showed that the total number of inbound visitors recorded from January to February 2016 is already at 1,091,983 or a 16.71 percent growth from the same period in 2015. The top 10 inbound tourists come from the South Korea, United States, China, Japan, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, United Kingdom, and Malaysia. The latter is quite telling because it is known to be a predominantly Muslim country. There were 23,990 arrivals from Malaysia in the said period.

As a mark of progress, 16 out of the 43 have been awarded with the halal certification. These are Berjaya Hotel, M arriott Hotel (Metro Manila), Crimson Resort and Spa Mactan, Dusit Thani Manila, Marco Polo Davao, Pearl Farm Beach Resort (Samal Island), Hijo Estate Resorts (Davao), Zabadani restaurant (Davao), FB Hotel (Koronadal City), Greenleaf Hotel General Santos, Hotel San Marco General Santos, Villa Margarita Hotel Davao, Tinhat Botique Hotel and Restaurant Davao, Al Sultan Restaurant Davao, Southern Philippines Medical Center Davao, and Family Country Inn & Hotel General Santos (Davao).

The secretary highlights that by the end of May, they are expecting their list of certified establishments to increase to 70.

"The best and most important welcome to the visitors is with food. And if you are not halal, then there is a very important segment of society in the world that you are not extending a proper welcome to," explains the tourism chief.

For Nurhanina and Sabran, the project is most welcome.

"This project will mean so much. It is highly appreciated. At least, we can go to decent hotels and restaurants to eat healthy and delicious meals," said Nurhanina.

Source: Tribune