THE TOURISM department on Wednesday said it was developing domestic cruise routes to help the industry recover from a coronavirus pandemic.

“We are exploring the development of the Western Visayas domestic cruise tourism circuit,” Gina Marie Liberty N. Esmaña, head of Cruise Team at Tourism department told an online symposium.

The routes may include Bohol-Siquijor-Dumaguete-Bohol, Iloilo-Sicogon-Boracay-Iloilo and Cebu-Boracay-Puerto Princesa-Cebu, she said.

“This is in coordination with our private sector stakeholders and partners and maritime experts,” Ms. Esmaña said.

The Tourism department is also developing a domestic tourism product called the Soul Circuit: Manila, Bataan, Corregidor — three adjacent destinations that form part of Mega Manila.

Ferries will be used to transport tourists from one area to another, she said. Accommodation won’t be part of the package because it will be land-based, Ms. Esmaña said. The program may be launched as early as next month.

The agency sees Metro Manila as the main source of tourism arrivals under the new normal.

Ms. Esmaña said the country lost 203,000 passengers from January to November last year as 109 cruise calls got canceled amid the global health crisis.

The Philippines had 72 cruise arrivals in 2016, 130 in 2017, 178 in 2018 and 102 in 2019, or before the pandemic.

Cruise passengers to the Philippines hit 72,350 in 2016, 68,075 in 2017, 181,350 in 2018 and 128,252 in 2019.

The government seeks to develop domestic tourism routes, enhance existing tourism products and lobby for the resumption of domestic travel to help the sector during the pandemic, Ms. Esmaña said.

The Tourism department had tried to strengthen cruise tourism so it becomes a driver of foreign visitor arrivals. As an archipelago with more than 7,000 islands, and with one of the world’s longest coastlines, the Philippines should be a natural market for the industry.

But the country has historically been overlooked as a destination because of its underdeveloped facilities and a lack of promotion. The Southeast Asian cruise map has been dominated by Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as by Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. — Arjay L. Balinbin

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