The number of passengers and cruise ships that called at Philippine ports has plunged between January and September 2019 over the same period in 2018 – 83 ships with 90,571 pax made port calls in 2019, down from 143 ships with 149,272 pax.
Tourism undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr blamed the poor performance on the lack of cruise facilities in the country and Boracay’s six-month closure in 2018, plus the subsequent restrictions on ships docking at the island during high season to maintain the island’s carrying capacity.
The news, however, was met by nonchalance among the country’s DMCs – a response that highlights the limited business opportunities cruises bring to local tourism players. Philippine inbound travel specialists told TTG Asia that cruise tourism is considered low-yielding for their business.
Sid Santiago, Jeron Travel and Tours’ senior travel coordinator, said groundhandlers generally do not earn much from cruise ships as they dock in the port for a day and require mainly buses, tour guides and restaurants for shore excursions.
DMCs in the Philippines, like his, typically focus on higher-yielding segments such as business events and corporate accounts, Santiago added.
A Philippine travel consultant who requested anonymity said that the inbound cruise business is “quite complicated” as bookings come mainly through the GSAs of the cruise lines, and for the burgeoning Chinese cruise market, groups prefer to engage a tour leader from China.
Lyn Karay, CTPH Travel outbound manager, whose business was unaffected by the dismal cruise tourism performance last year, explained that her company only does cruises when there are promotions from Star Cruises.
“They have other tourism offerings (through parent company Genting Group) and cruising is just a small part of their business,” said Karay.
According to Benjie Bernal, tour operations manager at Sharp Travel Services, the decline in cruise tourism numbers for the Philippines is not unexpected, as cruise itineraries are seasonal. However, their exit from a port has a big impact on overall passenger numbers because big ships handle a large volume of people each time.
On his part, Bengzon is optimistic that the numbers will increase. “The fact that we’re able to get Superstar Virgo to homeport with us is a major achievement as ordinarily, the requirements are quite stringent,” he remarked.
Bengzon said that while the strategy is to maintain an optimum mix of big and expedition ships, the tourism authority’s ultimate task is to “work on homeport opportunities”.
His team is also working on increasing cruise passengers’ expenditures in Boracay, as a resolution for local travel trade’s common gripe that cruises bring limited income with just a day’s call while congesting the beaches.