“Contactless” transactions will remain the norm and home-cooked food products will be bestsellers, while small-scale food and beverage establishments are expected to thrive as the country gets back on its feet even amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Speaking on Thursday at a webinar titled “Re-imagining of Food Tourism in light of COVID-19,” a forum sponsored by the DOT and the World Food Expo, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that despite the challenges now confronting the food industry, there are stories of hope coming out of the health crisis.

“We’ve seen and heard about chefs and restaurateurs preparing meals for front-liners, with support from generous private and corporate donors. Meanwhile, people quarantined at home have blossomed into budding home bakers and gourmet cooks, eager to share their creations on social media as soon as they pop out of the oven,” Puyat said.

The tourism chief acknowledged that the experience of dining out would have to change, taking into account such protocols as physical distancing.

“This will spur the development of contactless products, and the possibility that smaller food companies could gain market share from those who will fail to innovate. I am inclined to agree that innovation will be key to moving forward,” Puyat said.

LUNCHTIME BC (BEFORE COVID-19) Eateries are expected to be among the most resilient businesses in the postpandemic economy, but they will have to adjust and impose social distancing measures. Even with quarantine measures still in force in many areas, many food establishments have reopened but are earning mainly through deliveries. —INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Filipino gastronomy

Puyat expressed confidence that the “imaginative” Filipino gastronomy would remain a strong pillar of the country’s tourism industry under the new normal.

She said the DOT is preparing recommendations for health and safety guidelines for establishments.

Another panelist was renowned chef Margarita Fores, whom Puyat had a project with during the latter’s stint as agriculture secretary during the Arroyo administration.

“We have to reinvent ourselves, to do take-outs and delivery because that’s all that’s allowed for the moment and many of our house staff have shifted to our courier team,” said Fores, who is also United Nations World Tourism Organization ambassador for gastronomy tourism.

“It’s challenging, we don’t know when the catering business would resume so what we’re doing is offer custom-made menu for our clients,” she added.

Must close ranks

The other webinar panelists were Philippine Tour Operators Association president Cesar Cruz, Old Manila Walks and Binondo Food Wok founder Ivan Man Dy, cheesemaker and Malagos Garden Resort cofounder Olive Puentespina and Pinoy Eats World founder JJ Yulo.

Cruz said the tourism sector must prevail against all odds and embrace the protocols under the new normal. He anticipates culinary tours to be a hit, especially with the focus on domestic tourism.

Dy said the food tourism sector must close ranks and use the time during quarantine to prepare for business reopening, learn from webinars and spend time cooking and gardening.

Puentespina cited the example of Malagos Garden Resort, a self-sustaining agro-industrial park in Davao City that usually hosts visitors all year round, and which has focused on marketing its chocolate and artisanal cheese products as well as ready-to-eat meals.

“We were blessed with soil which we turned into a vegetable farm and we raised chickens. We also have aquaculture. The challenge that we are facing now is only a phase in a transformation in which we can come out in better form,” she said.

Food tourism

JJ Yulo, who hosts the online show “Foodtrip,” said he looked forward to going back to business and getting people out to eat in restaurants.

“This is a time of learning to do things differently and, most of all, this is a time for us to support each other,” he said.

The DOT said that in recent years, a country’s food tourism scene has become a leading consideration for potential visitors.

According to the 2020 Food Travel Monitor, a comprehensive market research report recently released by the World Food Travel Association, 7.2 out of 10 travelers choose a destination by its food and drinks.

In the Philippines, close to 30 percent of a foreign tourist’s expenditures is spent on food and beverages, based on DOT’s data.


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