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The Department of Tourism (DOT) sees strong interest from international cruise lines increasing their ports of call and expanding visits to more islands in the country.
Speaking before guests and industry stakeholders during the Philippine Cruise Industry Workshop held last week at the Makati Shangri-la, Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. said that cruise arrivals in the Philippines grew by 48 percent in the last two years since 2011 amounting close to 20,000 in 2013. And while the country’s cruise infrastructure is being developed, international cruise lines calling in the country have increased substantially, with 16 cruise vessels last year from just 10 in 2011.
“We are expecting some 18 cruise ships this year that should bring in more than 20,000 tourists. Our country’s proximity to major cruise source markets like China, Japan, and Hong Kong positions us at a competitive and comparative advantage in the Asia-Pacific region. This should give industry stakeholders greater prospects and our local communities new jobs and opportunities,” the tourism chief added.
Secretary Jimenez believes that what is now considered a niche market will see an increase in demand in the years ahead. “Preparation is absolutely essential. And that is what this workshop precisely calls for—to formulate a national cruise development plan that will chart the Philippines’ role in the cruising business in Southeast Asia,” he further explained.
Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya echoed the huge impact of cruise tourism industry to the country’s national economy. “It is the job of the DOTC, the maritime agencies, to ensure that there is sufficient transportation infrastructure and efficient processes to support this growing industry. Interface with DOT has already started particularly in developing the country’s major ports of entry. We are one with the DOT and other government and private sectors in attaining a common goal: to enhance cruise experience and for our tourists to enjoy what the country has to offer,” Secretary Abaya reiterated.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) organized this cruise workshop in collaboration with the DOT, as a result of initial talks on the sidelines of the recently concluded ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting held in Kuching, Malaysia early this year. CLIA Southeast Asia Manager Kevin Leong enumerated the next steps and top priorities outlined by cruise industry stakeholders during the workshop, which included the need to streamline entry requirements and address passenger mobility, convenient, hassle-free, and seamless tourist experience of cruise travelers without compromising security; develop and expand port infrastructure; and implement a strategic cruise itinerary planning.
The CLIA has initially identified five to six ports in the country, which will play a major role in harnessing infrastructure investment that would address the increasing demand for cruise tourism in the country and the development of waterfront activities. Carnival Corporation Vice President for Market Development William Harber and Royal Carribean International Vice President for Commercial Operations John Tercek, both CLIA members, shared their expertise during the workshop. The two cruise companies account for almost 80 percent of the total cruise business globally. Both see great prospects for the Philippines to becoming a major cruise hub once ports are improved and more tourism products and activites are developed. Prior to the workshop, CLIA members have already made the rounds and inspected the ports of Manila, Cebu, Puerto Princesa, Caticlan, and Subic, where they also met with respective local port authorities.
The DOT and CLIA both commit to cooperate in developing the Philippine cruise industry. The DOT has identified in its National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) cruise tourism as one of the product portfolio that the Philippines has competitive and comparative advantage in in the Asia Pacific region, highlighting the country as an ideal playground for many cruise activities, from cultural to nature and adventure destinations. “The most important cruise experience in the Philippines is definitely meeting and befriending the Filipino people who are eager to share various facets of living life to the fullest – one of the reasons why it’s more fun in the Philippines,” Secretary Jimenez concluded.
Aside from the increasing number of vessels calling on the Philippines, there is also a noted demand for non-traditional destinations such as Kalanggaman Island in Polompon, Leyte; Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan; Sta. Ana in Cagayan; and Coron Island in Northern Palawan. An average of 10-12 hours have been tallied from visiting cruise ships in each port of call in the Philippines.
This workshop was also made possible through the United States Agency for International Development under its Advancing Philippine Competitiveness Project (USAID-COMPETE), which has been tasked to follow through on the outputs of this forum. Other guests in attendance included Bureau of Customs Commissioner John Sevilla, representative from the Philippine Ports Authority, and DOT Undersecretary for Tourism Development Daniel Corpuz, Assistant Secretary Benito C. Bengzon Jr, Assistant Secretary Rolando Canizal, and Assistant Secretary Arturo Boncato. There were also representatives from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam led by its Vice Minister Ho Anh Tuan, who inked a Cruise Tourism Cooperation Plan for 2014-2016 with the DOT on the sidelines of the cruise workshop.