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Philippines aims for bigger share of Asia's cruise tourism

Manila

THE Philippines, a country of more than 7,600 islands where you're rarely more than a few miles from the sea, wants a bigger slice of Asia's growing cruise tourism industry.

For years the South-east Asian country has lagged behind its neighbors in attracting cruise visitors, partly because of spotty infrastructure. That's bound to change as more ports are built and officials look at cruise tourism as a key source of arrivals.

With the economy in danger of notching its slowest expansion since 2011, attracting tourists is a key focus of efforts to boost growth. Tourism accounted for 12.7 per cent of the Philippines' gross domestic product last year, already beating the government's goal of 10 per cent by 2022. Government officials are revising up the targets in the country's tourism development plan.

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"There is great potential in cruise tourism," Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon said. "While our Asian neighbours have the advantage of a regional land connectivity, our archipelago is ideal for cruise tourism."

The Philippines' cruise strategy focuses on Manila, Boracay and Puerto Princesa, as well as potential new destinations in the northern part of Luzon, the country's main island. Salomague Port in Ilocos Sur province, scheduled to open this month, will receive Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd's biggest ship in Asia in December; the Spectrum of the Seas will return again in January and February.

In April 2021, Manila's first cruise-dedicated port is scheduled to open at the Solaire Cruise Center.

"These cruise ports will allow more access to the Philippines and encourage more shorter itineraries from north Asian markets like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan," Mr Bengzon said.

Cruise tourism brings large numbers of people to concentrated areas for brief periods, multiplying and focusing the economic impact. At a recent trade show, government officials and representatives of major cruise lines discussed the possibility of adding the Philippines to Asian itineraries from 2020.

The private sector is on board for the infrastructure push.

"Cruise calls in Manila, and the Philippines in general, have been growing quite strongly," said Enrique Razon, chairman of casino resort operator Bloomberry Resorts Corp. "Aside from Manila, we're looking for one cruise ship facility in the north and possibly two in the south."

International Container Terminal Services Inc, also owned by Mr Razon, is looking to invest 8.7 billion pesos (S$232 million) to upgrade a port in the central Philippine province of Iloilo, which the company says may eventually include a terminal for cruise ship passengers. BLOOMBERG