By Jason Joshua Garcia
SUBIC BAY — Known for being a strategic hub, Subic Bay Freeport Zone’s wharves and ports have been servicing military ships, container vessels, expensive yachts, and even simple dinghies. But this premier Freeport, before Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma took the helm, did not have regular cruise ship visits.
This was quite a peculiar situation when this Freeport has been touted as the best tourist site in Central Luzon, not to mention having multiple access for large ships. It can accommodate large US naval carriers and even submarines from various ally nations – two requisites for a perfect tour for foreign cruise ship passengers.
So why was Subic Bay Freeport not a part of the international cruise ship routes? It was simply that this premier Freeport was not marketed as a cruise ship destination.
Eisma knew that the SBFZ is a potential cruise ship destination, so she had to show international cruise liners that they could take their passengers to this premier Freeport and give them a great time during their tour.
Marketing by Eisma
The SBMA chief had to visit various cruise liners to show them the potential of not just Subic Bay Freeport Zone, but also the surrounding areas as well. Provinces like Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales were highlighted to show that there is more to the Philippine route than just SBFZ.
Areas in Bataan like Las Casas De Acuzar for history buffs, a foodie travel to Pampanga, and beautiful beach resorts in Zambales enticed the cruise liners.
After the presentation of Eisma to various cruise ship liners, Crosta Crociere, Dream Cruises, and Royal Carribbean took notice of the area. These cruise liners made their maiden voyage to Subic in 2018, and were blown away by the many great tourist sites in and around the area.
This year has had a great start as President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 72 on December 18 last year. The EO has included Subic’s piers and wharves as points of entry for businessmen and tourists who could stay in the zone without visa for a maximum period of 14 days.
EO 72 amended EO 271, which was signed by President Ramos in 1995 to provide for the uncomplicated access of foreign nationals to specified areas in the Subic Special Economic and Freeport Zone through the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA).
Eisma said that under the new EO, foreign nationals arriving through cruise ships can simply present marine vessel tickets, along with their passports, in order to be eligible for a 14-day visa-free stay in the zone.
Cruise tourism is born
With the no-visa privilege extended to Subic seaports, the SBMA expects the local tourism industry to flourish under a program of complementation among local tourism sites.
Eisma said there is a need for local communities in Central Luzon to open up more attractions and strengthen each other’s tourism offerings through tactically-coordinated programs. “Our strategy is for Subic to become the anchor cruise ship destination, but it’s actually not only for Subic but for the inclusive growth of all of us as well,” Eisma explained.
“The idea is to come up with curated experiences that we can commonly sell to tourists,” Eisma said. “Zambales will have agro-tourism, Bataan and Tarlac their historical sites, while we can bring cruise ship passengers for a food trip in Pampanga to sample the popular local cuisine.”
Currently, there are seventeen expected arrivals this year, excluding last-minute cruise ship visits in Subic Bay Freeport. With more than 3,000 tourists per ship, expect more business to open inside the Freeport zone.