Luxury cruise ship visits Bohol

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Sunday, January 12, 2014


THE non-stop rain last Saturday did not stop passengers of luxury cruise ship MS Europa 2 from exploring Bohol Province.

Out of the 280 passengers aboard the cruise ship operated by Hapag-Lloyd, about 180 joined the shore excursion and visited tourism sites like the Chocolate Hills, Loboc and Abatan River cruises and the Tarsier Conservation Area.

Bohol is the cruise ship’s fifth and last stop in the Philippines. It visited Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, Manila, Boracay and the Kalanggaman Island in Leyte.

Summet Sengal, who runs Designer Tours based in Germany, said he had a good experience in the cruise in the Philippines. Despite the gloomy weather, he brought with him his wife and three children to join the shore excursion but on a separate tour package.

The family’s tour was facilitated by a local tour guide.

“We’ve been traveling in the Philippines for five days now and it has been a good experience, people have been very friendly, very welcoming.

We’ve been having a good time,” said Sengal, who is a first time visitor in the country. “It’s our first time to visit Bohol, we’ve hoped for a better weather but we are still having a good time.”

Sengal said they did research and studied the places the cruise ship would visit. He admitted he had concerns visiting Bohol because of the Oct. 15 earthquake but, despite everything, he said they are “pleasantly surprised.”

Recommendation

Aside from family vacation, Sengal said they went cruising to explore potential destinations in Asia, which they can offer to their clients back in Germany. He said he would definitely recommend traveling to the Philippines.

“The hospitality and the friendliness of the Filipinos is the biggest attraction of the Philippines for us,” Sengal told reporters on board the Loboc River Cruise.

Sengal wished the country will be spared from natural disasters because it has “so much natural beauty to offer to foreign tourists.”

“The cruise ship’s visit in Bohol will surely help the continuing promotion and awareness of Bohol’s readiness as a destination after the calamities in 2013,” DOT 7 director Rowena Montecillo said in a text message.

Cruise tourism is identified as one of the country’s strategic tourism products identified under the National Tourism Development Plan.

MS Europa 2 is a five-star plus rating cruise ship constructed last year. The 15-storey cruise ship has a length of 225.38 meters and a gross tonnage of 42,830. It can carry a maximum of 500 passengers. It has 280 crew members of which, 130 are Filipinos. Martina Greif, shore excursion in-charge of MS Europa 2 said the cruise started in Hong Kong and will sail for 14 days until they end up in Singapore.

Passengers on board the cruise ship are mostly Germans who are on a long vacation.

Greif said this passengers paid 600 euros per day per person to join the cruise.

Given the ship’s size and length and the shallow water at the port of Tagbilaran City, passengers were shuttled instead, via the ship’s own taxi ferry. They were welcomed by Bohol and DOT officials and students, who performed local dances even under the rain.

Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto told reporters that the visit of MS Europa 2 to Bohol is a strong indication of the fast recovery of the province’s tourism sector.

Robust industry

“This signals the robust tourism industry of Bohol that continues to rise even after the challenges of the earthquake and typhoon Yolanda,” said Chatto.

He noted that Bohol had been hosting international cruise ships in the past. In fact, a cruise ship was expected to make a port call in Tagbilaran City last Oct. 17 but this was cancelled due to the earthquake. It diverted to Coron, Palawan instead.

Bohol was hit by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake last Oct. 15. It killed more than 200 people, including those in neighboring provinces, and destroyed millions worth of properties including historical churches and tourism sites.

Chatto was thankful that amidst the natural calamities that hit his province, Bohol’s tourism has quickly recovered.

“Boholanos would like to forget about the earthquake and keep on moving and contributing to regional and national growth of the country,” he said.

Recognizing Bohol’s potential to become a cruise ship destination, Chatto, when he was still in the House of Representatives, supported the move to develop a cruise ship port in Loon. The government completed the Phase One of the project but this was destroyed by the strong earthquake.

Chatto pledged, however, that they would rebuild this. Once developed, the Loon cruise ship port would be linked to a new highway connecting to Chocolate Hills.

“Bohol is one of the new discoveries in the cruise ship industry,” he said. “We will continue to support this market as this is a good magnet for international tourism,” Chatto said.

Bohol logged a total of 321,431 tourist arrivals from January to October in 2013.

Raul V. Austria, president of Sharp Travel Service (Phils.) Inc., said the exposure of the Philippines in the global cruise ship industry has been growing in the past five years, with more cruise ship players picking the country as one of their destinations.

“There is a growing interest from the Europeans and Chinese market,” said Austria, whose company brings international cruise ships to the country.

He credited this growth not only to the government’s efforts in selling the Philippines in the international travel market but also to Filipino’s individual promotion through social media sites.

Increase

The DOT earlier announced that there would be 23 cruise ships expected to make a port of call in the country this year. This is an increase from last year’s 17 cruise ships that visited various destinations in the Philippines, including Malapascua Island, Cebu City and Bohol.

The incoming 23 cruise lines are expected to bring in more than 23,000 tourists to more than 10 destinations in the country, including Bohol.

Asked what could be the government’s contribution to sustain the growth, Austria said investments in improving port condition will be a major factor. He said the Philippines is one of the countries in Asia with passenger terminals that are not matched with international cruise ships standards.

MS Europa 2 will return to the Philippines next month with a new set of routes covering Pangasinan, Manila, Coron and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

The luxury cruise ship will return to Bohol in March.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 13, 2014.

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