DOT to boost cruise industry

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THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is backing the development of ports to boost the Philippines’ capability to host more cruise ships and capture more yield value for the country’s cruise industry.

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The DOT has come up with a National Cruise Development Strategy for the Philippines under a USAid program.

“The main idea here for the National Cruise Tour Development Strategy is to provide strategic direction to both the government and the private sector, so that we will be able to increase the number of cruise ship calls to the different ports, create unforgettable experience for the passengers in the course of their short excursion, and more important than anything, generate revenue, providing economic benefits particularly at the community level,” Tourism Undersecretary Benito C. Bengzon, Jr. said in a press briefing.

“It’s very interesting because we have always maintained that the Philippines has very strong potential to cruise tourism, considering that we are an archipelago with 7,100 islands and conceivably we can be a cruise destination, a self-contained cruise destination. Not only a port of call as what we are seeing currently,” Bengzon said.

Tourism department is looking for the end of 2015 about 40,000 cruise passengers and for 2016 expects to generate about 50,000 cruise passengers.

“But strategically what we should really be working on is to position any of the ports in the Philippines as a home port or a turnaround port meaning a port where the ships can take passengers. The passengers can fly out under a fly-cruise combination,” Bengzon said.

“What we’re seeing now is most of the cruise chips that operate in the Philippines in the program would call early morning, 8 or 9 in the morning, passengers get off on short excursions, but by 5, 6 p.m., they’re back to their ships sailing for their next destinations,” he said.

Bengzon added, “What DOT wants is for cruise passengers from long haul destinations to fly into Manila, board the ship here, sail in Southeast Asian waters, and fly out in another destination if it’s an open-jaw itinerary. Better yet, what we want is for that same passengers to fly into Manila, board a ship, sail Southeast Asian waters, and then return to Manila, and fly back home. That’s what you call a closed jaw itinerary”.

“So as you can imagine, we are able to generate more benefits if it were a closed itinerary,” he said.

The DOT estimates that a cruise ship with 2000 passengers calling on a port in Manila would generate $250,000 in revenue.

“Compare it not to a turnaround ship, same capacity, the revenue would be increased to about $1.2 million. So, that is something we should really work on because number one, the benefits are far larger than what you would generate from the simple port calls, and second is that when you look at the assets of the Philippines, we are positioned more strongly than any other destination in Southeast Asia for inter-island cruises,” Bengzon said.

The DOT has come up with a shortlist for ports to be upgraded.

Manila would continue to be a major port of call, so would Puerto Princesa, Subic, and Boracay, the DOT said.

“We have to attack it on all fronts,” Bengzon stressed. “The first is to make the Philippines part of the strategic direction for cruise tourism by starting with the ports. It’s important for us to make sure that our ports comply with or satisfy the minimum requirements of the big ships. And I say big ships because the trend is towards larger ships. Now you have mega ships carrying 4,000 to 5,000 passengers that are ported in Southeast Asia. And this is fairly new because up until a few years ago, all the big ships are in Miami sailing to the Caribbean et cetera. So the recommendation is if we are going to upgrade or develop new ports, we have to make sure that they satisfy the minimum requirements of the big ships.

The cruise executives would use terms like ‘oasis class,’ ‘quantum class’ to refer to the size of the ship that carries x number of passengers, the 4,000 to 5,000 passenger range. The port has to have a draft or depth of about 13.5 meters, the length of the pier has to be 350 meters, you have to have a turning basin of about 500 meters, you have to have bollards with a capacity of about 150 metric tons; so these are the minimum requirements.”

Bengzon described Boracay as an “interesting” case, since even without “appropriate facilities” one would normally see in big ports, the demand is just so strong that people are willing to put up with the longer disembarkation.

“Because the ship has to be anchored offshore, the passengers have to be tendered to shore,” Bengzon said.

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