SAMAR, Philippines – Starting this month, international luxury cruise ships will be making their way to Eastern Visayas, according to the Department of Tourism on Monday, February 6.
The arrival of these vessels, which was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 health crisis, marks a return to sailing for the Philippines’ beach and island destinations.
The first ship to arrive will be Silversea Cruises, a luxury cruise operated by the Royal Caribbean Group, based in Monaco. With 382 guests and 295 crew, all of whom are American, the ship is set to drop anchor on February 10, at Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte.
Maria Catherina Apostol, chief tourism operations officer of DOT in Eastern Visayas, said the guests, most of whom come from Papua New Guinea, will undergo checks from personnel of the Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, and the health department before they are allowed to disembark.
During their stay, the tourists will be able to immerse themselves in local experiences and feast on the offerings of the region.
DOT-Eastern Visayas director Karen Tiopes said the region is almost 100% ready for the arrival of international luxury cruise ships.
Accredited service providers, with the support of the town government of Palompon and the DOT, have made preparations to ensure the foreign guests have a memorable experience.
Tiopes said it will be a “transformational visit,” with the Kalanggaman Island being turned into a festival place, where guests will be greeted with regional cuisine, dance numbers, and other surprise offerings.
Silversea Cruise, which is set to arrive this February 10, will be making its second visit to the island, a place which, Tiopes said, foreigners “immensely fell in love with (given) its long sand bars, uniqueness, and tranquility.”
Estiffi Jahn Gryce Estrella, a coordinator at Estiffi Events Management Services, a Region VIII-based tour provider, confirmed that preparations for the international cruise ship’s arrival are all set and approved by Silversea Cruises.
At least 500 people from various government offices involved in the preparations have undergone training on the Filipino brand of service and repeated checks have been made to ensure all requirements are met.
Kalanggaman Island, located between Cebu and Leyte, is a small island measuring 753 meters long in Palompon Leyte.
Described as a paradise perfect for postcards, the island has a long, white sandbar that is as fine as powder. It is often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of Leyte” and is one of the top summer beach destinations in the country.
The island gained international attention in 2013 when MV Europa Cruise Line, a German luxury cruise, made a stop and its passengers were amazed by the clear waters and serenity of the place.
Since then, Kalanggaman Island has become a regular destination for several Philippine-bound cruise ships.
Despite being devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013, the local government and the locals restored the beauty of the island and it even trended on Google’s search in 2016.
Officials said the Eastern Visayas region would see more cruise ships in the coming months.
One of these ships, the Swan Hellenic Cruises, will visit Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte and Capul Island in Northern Samar this May, with 152 guests and 120 crew members on board.
Another ship, the Cora Adventurer, is scheduled to visit various destinations in Eastern Visayas, including Biri rock formations, Maripipi Island, Sambawan Island, Tacloban City, Cuatro Islas, and Kalanggaman Island, from November 1-13, with 120 guests and 48 crew members.
The Philippines’ tourism industry saw a positive year in 2022, exceeding its target of 1.7 million international arrivals with 2.65 million. This led to a 2,465.75% increase in tourism revenues, amounting to P208.96 billion, and the creation of an estimated 5.23 million tourism-related jobs, according to the DOT.
Most of the tourists came from the United States, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among others.
The tourism rebound was attributed to the collaboration between national and local governments, as well as active participation from the private sector, as travel restrictions were loosened.
Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said, “There is much work that needs to be done.”
She said the government’s goal is not only to bring the tourism industry back to its pre-pandemic level – which used to contribute more than 12% to the country’s total gross domestic product – but to establish the Philippines as a primary tourism destination. – Rappler.com
Ricky Bautista is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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