THE Central Luzon Regional Development Council (RDC-3) has commended the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) for developing the freeport into a premier cruise ship destination in the country.

In a resolution passed during its 9th regular full-council meeting at the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) regional office on September 20, RDC-3 recognized the SBMA for its cruise ship tourism program and pledged its support to the agency effort.

“The growing number of cruise ship arrivals enabled the economic growth in Subic Bay Freeport and its surrounding provinces, namely Bataan, Zambales and Pampanga,” the RDC-3 said.

The RDC 3 noted that the Department of Tourism has identified the cruise tourism industry as one of the economic drivers in achieving the annual target of 7.5 million tourists visiting the Philippines.

It also recognized that the development of the regional tourism sector was one of the key components of the SBMA’s 10-point program.

Neda assistant regional director Agustin C. Mendoza, who is also secretary of RDC 3, presented the citation to SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma on Tuesday, September 25.

In citing the SBMA, RDC-3 pointed out that Subic Bay Freeport “has accommodated cruise ship arrivals in February to June 2018 with an estimated value of more than P85 million of economic activity.”

This came in the form of income generated 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.

Eisma, who started the agency’s cruise tourism program, said that generating additional revenue for the Subic community, as well as neighboring areas in Central Luzon has been the goal of the program.

“That is what the SBMA was planning all along, to develop the Subic Bay Freeport into a premier cruise ship destination in the Philippines, and hence the gateway to other tourism destinations in the region,” Eisma said.

She added that Region 3, with Subic as entry point, has all the potentials for a sustainable cruise ship program because of its diverse attractions that included nature parks, historical landmarks, sports and wellness facilities, as well as tailored experiences

“It is an honor to receive recognition from the Central Luzon Regional Development Council. But we believe that the cruise ship tourism industry here has barely scratched the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are a lot more that Subic and the rest of Central Luzon can accomplish and gain,” Eisma also said.

The Subic Bay Freeport Zone is ideally suited as a cruise ship hub because of its 15 piers and wharves that are capable of handling all types of sea vessels.

Likewise, Subic is prized as a maritime hub because of its strategic location in the Southeast Asian region, and its accessibility via a network of highways that also connect to major air terminals like the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.

Subic has hosted 17 cruise ship arrivals since February this year. The SBMA Tourism Department said that from five to 10 more will be coming before the yearend, while 20 bookings have already been confirmed for next year. (Ric Sapnu)