Friday, April 14, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
April 15, 2015 issue

No less than Conde Nast, the travel bible, called the Philippines as “the next great destination after the Mediterranean and Carribean.” In a recent island-hopping voyage to the Philippines, famous travel author Lindsay Talbot mentioned the Philippines as a prime destination most travelers have long been overlooked. 

She raved about the country and admittedly, was enticed by its historic cities and emerald islands. She highlighted that the Philippines, chosen as No. 1 in the World by the magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, lived up to its ranking.

Talbot, a seasoned traveler who has been to more than a dozen cruises, splendidly recalled how the archipelago of many tiny islands surprised her with “seas in shades of blue, so unreal that they could’ve been stolen from screen savers.” 

She then described Palawan’s Underground River as “a journey to a stygian darkness, past cathedral-like caverns, dripping with millennia-old stalagmites. She summarized the trip as full of surprises and recounted, “the thrill was in the voyage itself.”

Speaking of thrill, it was a different kind of thrilla Manila saw with the maiden voyage of Superstar Virgo to the city on the morning of March 19, 2017. The flagship of one of the world’s largest luxury cruise ships officially made Manila one of its homeports. 

In cruise industry term, "homeport" is often used in reference to a ship, which carries majority of passengers from its point of origin, passes through designated destinations and comes back to where it came from. 

This momentous event in Philippine tourism industry was a shared effort of the Philippines and China, aimed at boosting sea travel from Manila to Laoag-Kaohsiung,Taiwan-Hongkong and back to Manila. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Department of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and Manila city officials led the rousing welcoming rites.

“Manila, Boracay, Puerto Princesa and other port-ready destinations in the country are bound to experience unprecedented tourism traffic. And because of increasing number of cruise ships visiting Manila, it may yet become an international cruise hub,” says DOT Director Ma. Corazon Jorda-Apo who represented Secretary Teo on the initial voyage.

“As the first-ever cruise ship to dock in Manila, Superstar Virgo will etch a milestone in our tourism journey, as both ship and our shores will provide vacationers, including locals, the convenience of not having to fly to either Hong Kong or Singapore to take a cruise,” says Teo in her message read by Jorda-Apo.

The 13-storey, 935-cabin, 2,600-passenger capacity cruise ship boasts of many specialty restaurants, bars, game rooms, a shopping mall, gym, massage spa, and a roof-deck swimming pool. It is 268 meters in length and 32 meters in width, with an average of 24 knots cruising speed. It arrived in Hongkong on March 22, carrying 2,200 passengers.

Dubbed as the “Jewels of the South China Sea” voyage, the trip was a 6 Day/5 Night cruise covering the cities mentioned. 

“It is truly an honor for the Philippines to be part of this momentous occasion of Star Cruises’ homeporting in the Philippines. We are grateful for Star Cruises for believing in the Philippines and helping us get closer to our vision as a regional cruise center, and eventually as center for cruise crew training, maintenance services and ship building in the long term,” Jorda-Apo adds. 

Getting to know a cruise ship

A cruise ship is a big luxury recreation vessel with a modern design and equipped with the latest sea navigational technology. 

It is built like a 5-star hotel complete with luxurious amenities found in the same brand hotels. It travels to pre-destined resort cities and returns to its homeport.

Unlike an ocean liner, which only transports passengers across oceans, a cruise ship provides entertainment, recreation and relaxation by taking people on board - from a single day to a week and comes back to its originating port to pick up vacationers anew.

During its initial voyage to Manila, Superstar Virgo management toured this author and DOT people around its ultra modern facilities, from deluxe cabins to its palatial grand lobby, from its gourmet restaurants to jaw-dropping theatres and expensively designed dining halls. 

We were also accorded a sneak preview of the galley manned by multinational chefs, among them a number of Filipinos. 

On both ends of “The Piazza”, the nerve center of Superstar Virgo, one can find a casino, Broadway-like theatre and cinema with comfortable and upholstered seats, Duty-Free shops, and more specialty restaurants. 

On the uppermost deck are the following: a fitness center, beauty salon, spa, swimming pool, spiral tube ride that spits you out (not to the sea) but to another pool, hot tubs, lounges, library, and more clubs. In a nutshell, cruise ships like the Superstar Virgo pamper passengers with the best of hospitality set along the sea.

The global cruise tourism picture

Over the last decade, cruising has become an integral part of tourism, contributing over $25 billion yearly to the industry’s booming sector. The major bulk of the business comes from North American and European regions but other areas, like Asia, are also catching up.

In 2016, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the unified global organization of the cruise industry, released the State of the Cruise Outlook, revealing that global cruise travel is continuing to grow and evolving at a record pace. 

The outlook provides a snapshot of the cruise industry while also highlighting trends impacting cruise travel. It has a voice in each of the following location: Alaska, North America, Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Netherlands, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Northern Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The Facts: 

There are currently 62 cruise lines in the world. 275 are Executive Partners (key suppliers and cruise line affiliates in ports and destinations, ship development and business services. 20,000 are travel agencies, which include the largest, hosts, franchises and a consortia of 30,000 travel agents.

24 million passengers cruised in 2016, 23.2 million in 2015, 22 million in 2014 and 21 million in 2013. 33.7% passengers went to the Carribean, 18.7% to the Mediterannean, 13.8% to other cities in the world and only 9.2% went to Asia. The industry provided 939,232 jobs, paid $39.3 billion in wages and salaries from an average of $134.72 daily passenger spending.

In 2014, cruise ship tourists from Canada numbered 800,000, 840,000 were from Italy, 700,000 from China, 590,000 from France and 450,000 from Spain. Demand for cruising has increased by 68% in the last 10 years and Asia is slowly showing on the map

8 out 10 CLIA-member travel agents stated that they are expecting an increase in sales over the previous year (2015). Between 2008 and 2014, cruise travel outpaced general leisure travel in the US by 22%.

At a glance, here’s an example of how cruise tourism rewards Canada with substantial economic growth. Why are we making use of Canada as an example? The world’s biggest number of cruise ship passengers comes from the country.

. Canadian ports received nearly 2 million passengers on hundreds of cruise calls over the last three years

. Ports in Nanaimo, Prince Rupert, Victoria and Vancouver account for over half of all Canada’s cruise passenger traffic

. Cruise business in Canada generates over 440,000 hotel night stays and some 6,000 direct and indirect jobs. The arrival of each cruise ship in Vancouver, British Columbia stimulates more than $2 million in economy activity

. Canada’s New England ports collectively welcomed more than 1,300 ship calls from 25 different cruise lines and more than1.5m passengers in 2014. Cruises generated an economic impact in excess of $1bn for the region

. Ship turnarounds in St. John’s, Newfoundland led to an economic impact of approximately $1.36 million dollars for 2014. Annual overall impact of the cruise industry in Newfoundland and Labrador is estimated to be over $11 million.  

US cruise tourism industry

The annual cruise industry revenue for the US economy was valued at 37.85 billion dollars. The number of cruise industry jobs generated annualy 314,000. The yearly number of cruise ship passengers is 20,335,000. 

Below are other interesting facts about the cruise ship business in the US

Percent of cruise passengers that originated in North America
60 %
Average annual growth rate of the cruise industry since 1980
7.4 %
Number of children 18 and under that sailed with their families
Number of new cruise ships that debuted in 2009
Number of new cruise ships currently on order
Amount being spent on new ships
$15 billion
Percent of cruises that were in the Caribbean
37.02 %
Average length of a cruise
7.2 days
Number of North American embarkation ports
Number of embarkation ports around the world
Average ship capacity utilization
104 %
Number of cruise ships that have sank since 1979
Total number of passengers who died on a cruise ship since 1979
*Death count includes all causes of death
Cruise Passenger Demographic Statistics
Average age of a cruise passenger
50 +
Average household earnings
Percent of passengers who are college graduates
86 %
Percent who are married and work full time
62 %
Percent of people age 25+ with earnings of $40,000+ who have taken a cruise
44.6 %
Percent of the total US population who have taken a cruise
19.9 %
Average spent per person per week on their cruise
Average spent per person per week on a non-cruise vacation
Cruise Passenger Behaviors & Attitude Statistics
Percent of cruise passengers who think its a great way to sample destinations
80 %
Percent of would return to the Caribbean for a land based vacation
50 %

More revenues, more jobs for Filipinos

The Department of Tourism (DOT) expects to rake in more earnings from cruise tourism. Secretary Tulfo-Teo stressed that Genting’s flagship vessel will provide the government, private operators and host areas, a consistent stream of revenues and employment opportunities.

“We look forward to many years of fruitful, mutually-beneficial relationship with Star Cruises. Moreover, there is a bright future ahead for the cruise industry, as passengers in the future will want to travel more often,” she says.

For the 94,000 PDD (Passenger Destination Days in 2015, an estimated US$ 21.2M was spent by foreign tourists from 77 local port calls. This was direct contribution to the Philippine economy, the Philippine Department of Tourism says. The amount is expected to increase to 120,000 PDDs as it targets 117 fully operational local ports this year. 

According to DOT, the city government also earns additional revenues from pre-and post-cruise services, like provisioning, bunkering, garbage disposal and sludge removal.

It also mentions a most important aspect of the industry. Crewing. Whether in transit or homeporting, Filipinos comprise the bulk of the liners’ manpower and are regarded as the most sought-after among other nationalities. Filipinos comprise more than one third of Superstar Virgo’s crew, with a good number serving as supervisors. 

Confidence in the Philippine market

Star Cruises President Ang Moo Lim said, the new itinerary was in support of the Asia Cruise Cooperation (ACC) to help promote Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Hainan and Xiamen.

In an exclusive interview, Jorda-Apo puts it succinctly: “With the completion of our National Cruise Tourism Strategy, this will serve as a roadmap for the country and its players in achieving our long-term goal of being, not only as a destination or port of call, but as a homeport that can generate more jobs for Filipinos. We hope to see the Philippines as a preferred market, see the economy improve and boost the Filipinos’ capacity to spend for recreation.” 

Development of soft and hard facilities is crucial, according to the infrastructure-savvy Jorda-Apo. She foresees that by the end of the Duterte administration, Filipinos will see the realization of the Philippines’ first dedicated cruise terminal, including the parallel building and upgrading of other harbors. 

“This would increase our capacity to serve more and bigger ships, which can bring in as much as 5,000 passengers. Our ultimate goal is to be as seamless as possible, and to gain competitiveness as a major cruise hub in Asia,” she says.

DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon thanked Star Cruises and its parent company Genting, for including Manila a part of the cruise. He said, Star Cruises also plans to add more Philippine destinations, like Boracay and Cebu in its future cruise itinerary.

Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) Deputy Director Dr. Wayne Liu and Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lau also gave their congratulatory speeches to Star Cruises.

Vital for the economy

When tourist comes in, whether by ship or air travel, the country without a doubt, benefits from the top to the bottom of the food chain. The entry of Superstar Virgo, thus, ignites a new interest for cruise tourism. 

Low-wage earners like Aling Esang, for example, a souvenir item worker for a supplier in Laoag, will get more pesos for her trinkets and bracelets. Seasonal tourist guides will be busy adjusting to fully booked schedules. 

Ana Tonogbanua, who used to treat the job as ‘raket’, will become a full-pledged tourism specialist. As tourists start to pour, college teacher Macopa Lacio and her students will be more proud of their community’s history and cultural heritage. The chain reaction goes on and on.

Eateries, dining areas, cafes, restaurants, transportation, what-have-you, all thrive when tourism flourishes. Standards become upgraded, roads and infrastructure improve, forex money rings merrily at the cash register. In the end, the economy grows from the revenues that flow in.

Picture the multiplier effect. Businessmen will source goods locally, giving the local industry and supporting industries a big boost. Income is felt quickly, triggerring local spending. The multiplier effect steamrolls and the tourist dollar earned, cycled back to the economy.

Stylish travel minus the hassle

Why cruise? Cruising takes the stress out of travelling. You need not pack and repack your luggage and encounter long queues at the immigration counter. With a cruise ship, you don’t arrive at your hotel exhausted, suffer jetlag and starve.  You stay in the ship built like a hotel and everything is arranged for you.

Cruising is now the fastest growing part of the travel industry. Around 24% of Americans have cruised at least once before and more and more people are now realizing the value-for-money cruising offers.

Like what Filipino tourist Maria Nelly Apostol said: “It was well-worth the money we paid for. Our bags were taken cared of, we were treated to different shows every night, food great, the crewmembers and staff were friendly, and there’s no time to get bored. You just relax, because that exactly what you came for,” she said.

Cecille Autajay and her husband travelled all the way from Antique to catch Virgo’s inaugural tour in Manila. She praises the ship’s efficiency, from the moment she stepped onboard. “The trip was smooth as silk, although there were hiccups (like immigration passport clearances), we enjoyed the food, amenities, city tours, not to mention the nightly entertainment presentations that were just a super as the ship’s name,” she said.

“With a library, world-class Filipino singers and entertainers, cinema, spa, pubs and nightclubs, cafes, internet access, medical facilities, and plenty of stores for shopping, I will definitely go back and cruise again,” says businessman Jake Pantaleon of a real estate company.

The world’s largest cruise ships

In his “Now Boarding” website, author Les Shu mentions that thirty of the world’s largest cruise ships measure more than 1,000 feet in length (roughly the length of four Boeing 747s or nearly three football fields. 

“Allure of the Seas”, for instance, the largest ship ever built, can carry up to 6,296 passengers, making it more of a floating town (filled with stores, restaurants, museums, and plazas) rather than simply an ocean vessel. It’s even longer than the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier,” he says.
Some experts think the “Allure of the Seas” (and a similar-sized sister ship (“Oasis of the Seas”) could be the biggest ships the world will ever see.

Here are five of the world’s largest cruise ships.

Allure of the Seas: At 1,187 feet, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and sister ship “Oasis of the Seas” are the world’s largest, weighing 225,286 gross tons. It has a skating rink, theater featuring Broadway musicals, carousel, zip line, casino, park with real trees, shops, and 25 restaurants (including a Starbucks), and is divided into seven neighborhoods. The ships are also equipped with solar panels to generate energy for various areas.

Quantum of the Seas: Also from Royal Carribbean, the newest of the fleet – is a bit smaller than Allure and Oasis, measuring 1,139 feet and weighing 168,666 gross tons. With a max capacity of 4,905 passengers, what Quantum lacks in size, it makes up for with crazy amenities, such as a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, open-air park, and 360-degree views from a hinged capsule that floats over the water. 

The ship is also one of the most high-tech: there’s the Bionic Bar with a robotic bartender that mixes drinks, mobile check-in and boarding, RFID used for purchases (via wristband) and luggage tracking, virtual concierge, iPad photo gallery, USB charging, virtual theater, and satellite-based Internet that’s robust enough for streaming videos and multiplayer games.

The Epic: Measures 1,081 feet and weighs 155,873 gross tons, claims the largest bowl slide in its water park. For sports buffs, there’s a center equipped with rock climbing and basketball court, and a bowling alley. 

If you’re into off-Broadway productions, you can partake in a Blue Man Group performance. There are dedicated rooms and a lounge for solo travelers, and an Internet cafĂ© if you must check your e-mail. Royal Caribbean must have an obsession with building big ships, because the company also owns these three (all measuring 1,112 feet and weighing 154,407 gross tons). 

Freedom of the Seas: From 2006 to 2009, it was the world’s largest, and as one of the Royal Caribbean’s “older” ships. Its amenities may not sound as impressive but the ship boasts of 10 pools and whirlpools, a surfing simulator, skating rink, mini golf course, and 3D theater.

Queen Mary 2: When it made its maiden voyage in 2004, it was not only the world’s largest (1,132 feet, 148,528 gross tons), but was arguably the most luxurious. Its size pales in comparison to Royal Caribbean’s big ships, but its unique livery and services make it still one of the grandest. 

It was also the first to have a planetarium, as well as a library and live-performance theater. Inside its stately exterior are desalination plants for providing fresh water and a sophisticated engine system.