By Vina Medenilla
Agritourism sites are venues where anyone can learn agriculture, participate in farm activities, eat meals made with farm-fresh ingredients, and sometimes stay overnight for training or recreation.
What is not known to many folks is the existence of bee tourism (aka apitourism and meliponitourism), which has to do with visiting apiaries and meliponaries.
Two farms that promote bee tourism in the Philippines are Milea Bee Farm and BEEngo Farm.
Milea Bee Farm
Milea Bee Farm first welcomed visitors in 2010. Prior to the pandemic, the farm attracted up to 1,000 visitors per month, which is impressive given that it is not easily accessible, requiring one to cross a narrow path in a jungle before reaching the farm, not to mention the lack of signage directing visitors to the place.
Despite the pandemic, the bee farm fared well.
“A really big part of it was the fact that we already had a personal care brand, to begin with,” said Bettina Omoyon, the daughter of Milea Bee Farm’s owners, during a webinar that’s part of the World Bee Day 2022 celebration.
She adds, “When we started to sell honey, pollen, and propolis, that’s when people became really interested in seeing how it was made.”
Omoyon stated that word of mouth and participation in government-led programs, partnerships, and events played a significant role in building their network.
They also made the farm “highly searchable.” She explained, “That means having to ask the visitors to leave a review on either Tripadvisor, Google, or Facebook just because normally, people would just look up [something like] ‘what’s the best thing to do in Batangas or Lipa’ so that’s when we were able to gain a lot of traction.”
This Batangas bee farm also became an inspiration to many of its visitors. One of which even built his own bee farm called BEEngo Farm.
Gary Avila Ayuste of BEEngo Farm has been raising stingless bees for five years already. Before turning to this beekeeping, he worked as an OFW for seven years.
When he returned, he felt out of place in his own country, unsure of where to start over. That is until his agriculturist aunt urged him to visit Milea Bee Farm.
“The moment I entered Milea Bee Farm, I knew one day, I’ll become a beekeeper. So during that [first visit], I made sure to get the attention of the owners. I talked to them and I got really interested [in beekeeping.]”
He went on, “I came back again and again to learn how to take care of the bees, stingless bees in particular. Then the rest is history.”
In just less than 500 sqm, Ayuste was able to build BEEngo Farm.
For Ayuste, more than the beauty or aesthetic of the farm, people look for the experience that they can get out of it. Learning while having fun is the kind of style that Ayuste has always been aiming to implement ever since he started the business.
“We always involve our visitors to experience things that we do. We encourage them to make their snacks and be with the bees. Sometimes, we also allow guests to harvest bees for their teas.”
BEEngo farm also offers honey tasting and educational walks.
Word of mouth is also quite beneficial in getting people to come to BEEngo Farm, said the owner.
Adjustments made during the pandemic
Milea Bee Farm used to receive frequent visits from students, however, owing to the health crisis, all field trips were stopped. Currently, they receive more inquiries from families who would wish to visit the farm to destress and relax.
“We just make sure that their route around the farm is different from other guests’ to ensure that they have as minimal face-to-face interaction as possible.”
In line with the pandemic protocols, there’s also a limit on the number of people they accommodate on the farm per day.
Everyone, particularly the staff, is fully-vaccinated. They also follow the safety guidelines such as providing soap, tissue, and alcohol in all sinks and areas where guests can stop to disinfect. This also means additional operating costs on the agripreneurs’ side.
Ayuste agreed and believes that businesses should continue to employ this practice even after the pandemic is over.
Despite the adjustments, Milea Bee Farm did not see the need to increase its product prices. Their beauty products allowed them to still generate money amid the pandemic.
In the case of BEEngo Farm, their package tour price increased to P275 (from P250), but this is inclusive of lunch and healthy snacks.
Selling herbs became BEEngo Farm’s bread and butter in recent years, allowing them to recover from the financial losses during the lockdown.
According to Ayuste, as travel restrictions eased, the number of guests also doubled. Despite this, they are not letting their guards down by limiting the volume of tourists coming in.
Expanding services online is not for them
Despite the fact that everything is going online, neither farm recommends nor offers virtual programs or services.
Omoyon revealed that one learning institution approached them to teach the craft, but she declined. “It’s really hard to translate the experience. We want [the kids] to be able to see the bees, then touch the plants, and to see how they are grown. It is not something you can do online.”
Ayuste had similar queries but, for the same reasons as Omoyon, never considered offering online services or workshops for beekeeping.
Tips for apitourism and meliponitourism practitioners
“It’s really important to seek out new partnerships. You can partner with Klook, other travel agencies, or even establishments in the [vicinity] just so you’re able to kind of promote yourself and your farm,” said Omoyon.
“As a beekeeper, you cannot harvest honey overnight so you really need to be creative about how to earn while you are waiting for the harvest,” Ayuste explained. “Otherwise, you will likely lose motivation to continue [since you would have] to wait for a long time, especially if you are located in an area with frequent rain.”
Is it a good time to enter this business?
It’s a yes for Omoyon. Here’s why: “Because of the new normal, people are more hesitant to go abroad for a vacation. They prefer to travel local, therefore, there’s more demand for various kinds of local establishments.”
She added that agripreneurs “can reflect on how they want their business to operate or how they can impart the full farm experience to their guests. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re aiming for, it is to teach people about the world of bees and how food is made as well.”
Ayuste also believes that now is a good time to get started in bee tourism because “people are more interested in visiting farms than malls.”
The information provided is from a webinar titled “Apitourism and Meliponitourism in the New Normal,” which is part of the World Bee Day 2022 celebration.
For more updates or information, visit World Bee Day -Philippines