Senator Sonny Angara has urged port authorities to speed up the improvement of cruise ports and terminals in the country to make the Philippines one of the top cruise destinations in Asia.
During a recent hearing of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Tourism (COCT), Department of Tourism (DOT) Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. cited poor port infrastructure as one of the major constraints for the development of cruise tourism in the country.
Sea tourist arrivals, mostly via cruises, rose to 52,820 passengers in 2014 from 41,624 in 2013 and 23,857 in 2012, DOT data showed.
Cruise tourism is one of the strategic sectors identified under DOT’s National Tourism Development Plan.
“While we are all pushing for the development of our airports, let us not forget that a number of tourists also arrive by boat. Our archipelagic geography beams with immense opportunities for a cruise tourism industry to grow and flourish,” said Angara, vice-chairman of the Senate tourism committee.
Based on the 2014 WEF Global Competitiveness Index, the Philippines’ port infrastructure ranks 101st out of 144—the lowest among the ASEAN-6 with Singapore ranking 2nd, Malaysia 19th, Thailand 54th, Indonesia 77th, and Vietnam 88th.
“That our neighboring countries are way ahead of us only means that we need to double, quadruple even, our efforts. If we do not speed up infrastructure development, we’ll be missing out on a lot of opportunities. Clearly, the strong demand is there. We need to step up. Sayang naman kung tayo mismo ang humahadlang sa sarili nating paglago o pag-unlad [It would be a shame if we set up obstacles to our own path to progress],” the senator said.
The Philippine Ports Authority and the DOT have listed eight ports as the country’s top international hubs for cruise liners, the ports of Davao, Bohol (Tagbilaran), Boracay, Cebu, Metro Manila, Puerto Princesa, Subic, and Zamboanga.
National blueprint needed
Angara urged the DOT to prepare a cruise blueprint for the country that would include all areas of the Philippines so as to ensure benefits would be shared with all regions.
“As some of the world’s leading cruise companies have already expressed interest to help develop the Philippines as a cruise ship destination, we must upgrade our ports, terminals and facilities to meet international cruise shipping standards,” Angara said.
Last year, some of the luxury cruise ships that have called at Philippine ports include Costa Victoria, which visited Puerto Princesa with over a thousand passengers in January; M/S Europa 2 with almost 300 passengers, which explored Bohol in January and March; M/S Costa Atlantica, with 2,600 passengers, which had a stopover in waters off Boracay in March; and, Star Cruises’ MV SuperStar Aquarius, with over a thousand passengers, which dropped anchor in Puerto Princesa in November.