(Photo grabbed from headlinezambales.com)
CLARK FREEPORT – The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) is seeking to integrate tourist destinations in the neighboring provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, Bataan and Zambales to further sweeten the pot for the cruise tourism program of the Subic Bay Freeport and create inclusive growth in the region.
In the News@Hues media forum of the Pampanga Press Club at the Park Inn by Radisson Clark recently, SBMA chairman Wilma T. Eisma said there is a need for local communities in Central Luzon to open up more attractions and strengthen each other’s tourism offerings through tactically- coordinated programs.
“Our strategy is for Subic to become the anchor cruise ship destination, but it’s actually not only for Subic but for the inclusive growth of all of us as well,” Eisma explained.
She pointed out that cruise ship passengers disembarking in Subic have frequented various destinations in Clark Freeport, as well as attractions like Las Casas De Acuzar in Bataan and mango farms in Zambales.
“The idea is to come up with curated experiences that we can commonly sell to tourists,” Eisma said.
“Zambales will have agro-tourism, Bataan and Tarlac their historical sites, while we can bring cruise ship passengers for a food trip in Pampanga to sample the popular local cuisine.”
“There is a lot of opportunity, and a lot of dreams that we can realize through the cruise ship program. The key is complementation and the strategy is to sell your own destinations as well as those of your neighbor’s,” she added.
As of now, the SBMA’s cruise ship tourism program is running smoothly, Eisma said, with Subic hosting 17 ship arrivals since February and expecting up to 10 more arrivals before the end of the year.
She added that Subic has already confirmed the arrival of 20 trips for next year, including “Spectrum of the Seas”, a 5,000-capacity cruise ship being built for launching next year by Royal Caribbean International, one of the biggest cruise lines in the world.
Last month, the Central Luzon Regional Development Council cited the SBMA for developing Subic into a premier cruise ship destination in the country and noted that cruise ship arrivals in Subic this year had generated more than P85-million worth of economic activity.
These came in the form of income from cruise ship passengers’ visits to theme parks, local transportation costs, port fees, purchase of local products, dining, and other services provided by tourism-related establishments.
To further build up the Subic cruise ship program, Eisma said the SBMA is seeking the approval of a visa-free scheme for tourists arriving at the Subic Bay Freeport that would also invigorate the tourism industry in neighboring areas.
She said the Subic agency is now working with the Office of the President and concerned agencies to amend EO 271 signed by President Fidel Ramos in 1995 that allows foreign nationals visiting Subic to stay within the free port for a maximum of 14 days without visa.
“I’m very, very hopeful that our visa-free proposal will be granted soon, because once that happens Central Luzon can expect a deluge of tourists and we would surely get our hands full,” Eisma said.
She said the SBMA is continuously working with officials of Clark Freeport and government executives in Zambales, Bataan, Pampanga and Tarlac to plan out tourism cooperation programs, including the hosting of the Southeast Asian Games next year.
In the same forum, SM Clark public relations manager Venus Manalang noted that the renowned mall chain has been accommodating cruise ship passengers who arrived from the Subic Freeport and expressed support to SBMA plans to promote tourism in Central Luzon.
“If the SM Olongapo City branch opens their doors earlier than the scheduled work hours to accommodate cruise ship passengers, the SM Clark branch will also find ways to heighten the interests of cruise ship passengers who will visit our branch,” Manalang said.