A couple of weeks ago, an active and well-known investor in Subic Bay’s tourism industry invited us to her city. Josephine Floresca, managing director of the beautiful Le Charme Suites, known for its supersized rooms and very convenient location, wanted to hear from us, heads of the various tourism organizations in the country, random feedback on how to further increase tourism to Subic.
She also invited the Tourism Director of Region 3 and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Tourism Officer, just in case they find our feedback valuable.
The afternoon session started with the Tourism Regional Director telling us what is currently being done in Subic, and the SBMA Tourism Officer followed with her own version of current tourism activities. However, right after their talk they both left without any regard to the individual presentations each of us painstakingly prepared for the occasion.
Although it was quite disheartening to see them go, we proceeded with the program as our host was still very much around, and interested to hear from us, thus, today’s column is actually a written version of what I presented.
As an airline veteran, having been the Commercial Account Manager for PAN AM for 12 years and as Country Manager of the Northwest Airlines GSA for 18 years, it pains me to see that the 9,000-ft runway of Cubi Point, now Subic Bay International Airport, is not being used to bring loads of passengers to Subic. I know that during the 1996 APEC, the private Airbus 340 of the Sultan of Brunei, the Boeing 747 of the Japanese Prime Minister, and the Air Force One of President Clinton landed on that airstrip.
If that runway could accommodate those large aircraft, why aren’t the airlines taking advantage of it? Could it be that they don’t see the potential of the destination as a tourist draw?
Right now, the airport is being used only by commuter aircraft and by small courier companies. I find this a waste of resources. What’s worse is that Subic-bound passengers have to depend on Clark Airport’s availability as they have to transit there first before reaching Subic.
If the airlines don’t see any potential for Subic as a tourist magnet, I may have an explanation for that. I took a close look at tourist attractions Subic currently offers and decided to segregate them into two categories—those appreciated by foreigners and those appealing to domestic tourists.
Foreigners may be attracted by Inflatable Island because it is supposed to be the biggest in Asia. Foreign deep sea divers will also be thrilled by the USS New York Wreck because it offers a combination of history and meaningful diving.
They will also like the El Kabayo Waterfalls cliff dive because cliff diving’s popularity is now surging. The most popular cliff diving destination used to be only in Cancun, Mexico, but now there are new ones in other parts of the world.
The natural beauty of the Pamulaklakin Trail gives foreigners an idea of the exotic flora and fauna our country offers, with bird watching showcasing our various species of fowl. The Tree Top Adventure is quite unique and seldom found in other countries.
All the other published Subic attractions are also offered by many other countries abroad, thus, may appeal only to local tourists. The purpose of this segregation is for those involved to market them effectively, with their money well-spent on promotional campaigns of each of the attractions which should zero in on the corresponding market.
If it is confirmed that potential foreign tourists see a dearth of crowd-drawers in this destination, then an extensive marketing campaign should be conducted at those popular trade fairs here and abroad.
But what I would like to see is a tourist site that is uniquely Subic.
Just like in Thailand, they have an authentic Thai village in the outskirts of Chiang Mai, inhabited by Thai folk in their traditional attire, going about their daily lives. One sector of the village has an orchid garden while another part shows women weaving silk and producing items that are sold to tourists.
They have the same thing in Plymouth, Massachusetts where the Mayflower unloaded the first Pilgrims from Europe. In that village, all the residents are dressed in their period costumes, and even their language and diction are those of the early American settlers. It definitely is fascinating for tourists to see how early Americans lived.
For Subic, why can’t there be an honest-to-goodness Aeta Village so that tourists can see how the early Filipinos who settled in the area approximately 10,000 years ago lived. The village must be real and not something that’s just for display. It must show the Aetas cooking their meals, hunting for their food, doing their daily chores, etc.
If marketed properly, this uniquely Subic attraction might just appeal to foreigners, especially when juxtaposed with our having become a nation of Miss Universe beauties.
I know there is an existing Aeta Village that is open to tourists, but it’s something that’s just for display. The visitors see it as just a “put on” and not a real one. Furthermore, the authenticity of the attraction is negated by the presence of a Chinese temple right where the village is.
Of course, I am very happy to note that Subic is getting its fair share of the cruise line market. There were 19 ocean liners that docked there last year, and the authorities are expecting a hefty increase in those numbers this year. Ninety percent of last year’s ships were from Costa Cruises while the remaining 10 percent were from Royal Caribbean. It is quite encouraging to note that the latter has confirmed to double up the calls their ships will make on Subic Port this year.
Taking into consideration the increase in cruise arrivals, I think it’s time Subic builds a cruise terminal. Meantime, the authorities must monitor the merchandise being sold in stalls at the wharf for arriving passengers. When Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas docked there last year, I saw stalls selling silk scarves (which are aplenty in China) and leather bags (which Thailand also sells many of). Why can’t these stalls sell uniquely Filipino or Subic handicraft items?
Going around Subic, I noticed that the streets are too dark at night. Traffic discipline must always be enforced. In fact, I like driving in the SBMA area because it makes me feel like driving in the US. These days, however, friends have mentioned to me that vehicular discipline is enforced off-and-on, which should not be.
Lastly, why doesn’t Subic have an annual festival that attracts the whole family, like the Sinulog of Cebu, the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, the Panagbenga of Baguio, etc. The Subic festivals that are currently in place are niche events, appealing only to a select group of enthusiasts. A family-type festival during the low season could easily fill up all of the city’s accommodations for several days, if marketed properly.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to share with our gracious host, Jho Floresca, my thoughts on Subic’s tourism potential. With somebody as committed and as proactive as she, I have no doubt it will always be on the upswing.
For feedback, I’m at email@example.com.
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