Positioning Philippines to be premier cruise destination 

The Philippines, with its archipelagic nature and 7,641 islands, is emerging as a prime cruise destination, offering many beautiful locales.

The country, renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, pristine beaches, diverse marine life, and warm hospitality, provides a variety of cruise experiences, from exploring picturesque coastlines and coral reefs to immersing in rich cultural traditions. 

In fact, private sector and industry leaders have advocated for the Philippines to become a regular stop on various cruise liner routes, aiming to elevate the country as a premier cruise hub. 

According to Rachelle Bataclan Lopez, president and CEO of WMOC Group of Companies and organizer of Expo Maritime Philippines 2024, the potential for cruise tourism in the Philippines is enormous. 

“To tell you honestly, it’s huge. Foreigners we talk to from other countries say the Philippines is a gem,” Lopez said, emphasizing the strong interest from foreign investors and shipping companies eager to establish regular cruise routes in the region. 

Lopez noted that cruise vessels will visit destinations like Boracay, Palawan, Coron, Bohol, and Ilocos. “But of course, we will open these to other destinations in the country. To encourage other cruise vessels, they need to have voyages here.”

Rachelle Bataclan Lopez, president, CEO of WMOC Group of Companies. Photo credit: Expo Maritime Philippines 2024

Call for government support

However, Lopez underscored the challenges cruise companies face due to complex entry processes and limited infrastructure. 

In recent years, many shipping companies have pointed to the country’s lack of cruise infrastructure as a major concern, also citing issues with the disembarkation process, such as obtaining permits and managing passenger documents. 

“These cruise ships do not stay overnight here. They only have barely eight hours to stay at a port,” Lopez explained, advocating for streamlined procedures and a one-window policy to facilitate easier access for cruise lines.

Lopez urged the government to prioritize infrastructure development in major tourist destinations to attract more cruise companies to make the Philippines a regular stop. 

Capt. Ronald Enrile, SVP of PTC (Philippine Trans Carrier) Ship Management, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the need for efficient processing of ship entries and tourist disembarkation. 

“We have a lot of nice tourist spots, but the issue is the infrastructure. We need government assistance for us to promote our country as a destination,” Enrile said. 

Earlier, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) general manager Jay Santiago told Maritime Fairtrade that the government has long recognized the country’s limited cruise infrastructure and is now working on improving existing ports and constructing more cruise terminals dedicated to tourism sites nationwide. 

Santiago, along with the Department of Tourism, sees cruise tourism as crucial for boosting the national economy.

Capt. Ronald Enrile, SVP of PTC (Philippine Trans Carrier) Ship Management. Photo credit: PTC Ship Management

Expo Maritime Philippines 2024

To further promote cruise travel and maritime tourism, Expo Maritime Philippines 2024 was held on June 11 to 12 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. 

“This event is designed to serve as a melting pot for innovation, career development, and strategic industry discussions. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to explore new horizons in cruise travel and maritime tourism while paving the way for sustainable growth,” Lopez said. 

The expo aimed to showcase the benefits of cruise tourism for the country’s economy, including job creation for Filipino seafarers and boosting local economies where ships dock. It brought together government agencies and stakeholders to present the Philippines as a top-tier cruise destination.

Last year, the Philippines was recognized as Asia’s Best Cruise Destination at the World Cruise Awards in Dubai, beating strong contenders such as India, Japan, and Singapore. The expo wanted to build on this success, attracting more tourists and cruise operators to the region. 

“This maritime expo is one avenue to help the government. The private sector has already highlighted these issues. What we are asking the government to do during the convention is to showcase what we can offer to the world, what we are doing, and what improvements we have made to become a top destination,” Enrile said. 

The convention drew prospective tourists who wished to experience the luxury and tranquility of sea travel, as well as government and stakeholders working together to make the Philippines a favored option for cruise tourists. 

Job creation and industry growth

The convention also aimed to create many job opportunities for Filipino seafarers and professionals in the maritime, tourism, hospitality, and cruise sectors. 

Lopez stressed the importance of collaboration between the government and the private sector to achieve tourism goals, highlighting the significance of enhanced infrastructure and streamlined processes to establish the Philippines as a regular cruise destination.

The Department of Transportation will play a crucial role in promoting the Philippines’ strides in cruise tourism to a wider audience.

Lopez emphasized: “We need to work together to showcase the tourist destinations in the Philippines and create jobs for our fellow Filipinos. Every Filipino is an ambassador of the Philippines, as President Marcos said. This is our advocacy — to ensure our countrymen have stable employment.”

According to Lopez, this project will benefit various stakeholders, from local government units (LGUs) to souvenir vendors, by providing them with steady jobs. The initiative also supports Filipino seafarers and hospitality graduates by creating more opportunities for them aboard cruise liners.

Lopez added: “Once cruise liners establish regular voyages to the Philippines, it will create jobs not only for our seafarers and those in the tourism and hospitality sectors but also for the LGUs where the ships dock.” 

Despite challenges, Lopez is optimistic about the future of the cruise industry in the Philippines, noting that neighboring countries have increased their port calls. “For example, Taipei has 480 port calls this year. Our aim is to secure at least half of that number for the Philippines,” she said.

The expo focused on enhancing the travel experience by upgrading facilities and raising awareness of the country’s unique archipelagic character.

By addressing these challenges and capitalizing on its natural and cultural assets, the Philippines is poised to become a premier cruise destination in Southeast Asia, attracting tourists from around the world to its stunning islands and vibrant communities.

Photo credit: iStock/ bugphai

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