Story and photo by Henry Empeño | Correspondent
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—At least 20 cruise-ship visits have been calendared this year by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), as the agency aims to cement its newly staked claim as the newest cruise-ship playground in Asia.
SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said five different cruise ships have so far scheduled several port calls here from March to October this year, and that more arrivals are being coordinated with shipping agencies for the latter part of the year.
These visiting cruise ships include MV Costa Atlantica, an Italian-flagged vessel that made its second visit here on Tuesday following its first arrival on February 10, barely a month ago.
A list of cruise-ship visits to Subic showed the scheduled return here of Costa Atlantica on March 20 and the arrival of MV Superstar Gemini on March 13 and March 21, as well as MV Glory on March 31.
The SBMA schedule also indicated Costa Atlantica will return to Subic on April 3 and April 17, May 1 and May 22, June 5 and June 19, July 3, July 17 and July 31, and August 14 and August 28, for a total of 13 trips to Subic starting this month.
Meanwhile, two of the biggest cruise ships operated by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) will be in Subic this year: MS Ovation of the Seas on June 9, and MS Voyager of the Seas on August 26.
“Clearly, Subic is marking a new milestone in terms of cruise-ship arrival. This is not your usual once-in-a-blue-moon accidental port call; this is a surge!” Eisma gushed on Tuesday, as SBMA officials and employees awaited the arrival of Costa Atlantica for its second voyage here.
“Now, Subic is ready to offer the best tourism facilities and services for cruise-ship passengers, and we are betting that our visitors would find their experiences here—as well as in the neighboring areas of Zambales and Bataan—most memorable,” she added.
The 85,619-ton Costa Atlantica, which was also the first cruise ship to visit Subic this year, disembarked 2,500 passengers and crew on Tuesday for a one-day tour of the free port and neighboring communities.
While most of its passengers were taken by buses to various tourist destinations in the free port, some toured the free port’s central business district, with some venturing as far as the souvenir shops and public market in Olongapo City.
SBMA Cruise Ship Committee Chairman Marcelino Sanqui noted that, while the Subic agency spends a substantial amount to ensure the safety and enjoyment of cruise-ship passengers in Subic, it is the local tourism industry that profits the most from the cruise-ship arrivals.
“It is not our business to make profit from what we do; our mandate is to give business to our stakeholders,” said Sanqui, citing as beneficiaries local restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and even vendors and taxi drivers.
“If one cruise-ship passenger spends just $10 while in Subic, that would mean a total income for Subic of $25,000 or P1.25 million for just one day,” he said.
Eisma, who led employees and residents in welcoming the passengers and crew of Costa Atlantica, said the growing number of cruise-ship bookings here manifests the capability of the SBMA to address the demands of the international cruise-ship industry and showcase the vibrancy of local tourism.
“We have been dreaming of becoming the next cruise-ship playground in Asia, and we can see that the dream is being realized right now,” Eisma said.
“We are hoping this initiative by the SBMA to attract cruise ships would further boost the development of the Subic Freeport and the communities around it,” she added.