This February 2020 file photo shows AIDAvita passengers disembarking from the cruise ship to tour the city. | Photo by Michie Meneses

Approximately 50,000 crew members and passengers are expected to arrive this year when their cruise ships drop anchor to Puerto Princesa, a tourism official in the city said.

Demetrio Alvior Jr., head of the City Tourism Department (CTD), told Palawan News that after the crippling COVID-19 pandemic, 21 cruise ships will return to the port of Puerto Princesa this year, beginning on February 9.

A total of 16 will be making their first trips to the city.

“Yan pa lang yong confirmed. May possibility pa na madagdagan yan kasi yong kausap natin na agency para sa mga darating ay isa pa lang. May isa pa na may hawak din na mga cruises,” Alvior said Saturday.

Travel People, the marine travel solutions company in charge of the expected cruise ship arrivals, has dispatched representatives to the city to personally inspect the tourist attractions that can be offered to their clients.

They will remain until next week to complete their tasks and meet with Alvior and the CTD to discuss how best to welcome cruise ship passengers.

The first cruise ship to arrive on February 9 will be Seabourn Encore of Seabourn Cruises. According to available information online, the mega yacht “is designed to be as elegant as she is luxurious, with graceful lines that invite guests into her spacious accommodations and expanded public spaces.”

It can accommodate over 630 passengers and comes equipped with 302 suites, each of which has a private veranda and one-of-a-kind personal touches that elevate it to the status of a work of art rather than merely a mode of transportation.

Health safety vs COVID
Alvior assured that the city is prepared to make certain that no cruise ship passengers are infected with COVID-19, as stipulated in their agreement with the agency responsible for cruises.

He explained that all cruise ships are subject to stringent health inspections at every port they visit. In the event that anyone on board contracts the illness, it will be prohibited from proceeding to any other location.

“Ganito ang process nyan—sa last port, for example Malaysia, bago pumunta yan sa atin, nasalubong na yan ng Bureau of Quarantine—nag-o-onboard yan sila. Pagdating dito, sure na yan na clear. Kasi pag hindi clear yan, hindi ipapa-dock yan. May mga doktor na sumasalubong, sa Malaysia pa lang sumasakay na sila,” he said.

“Kung saan yong last post of origin nila, doon yan sasalubungin ng quarantine natin, lalo na kapag malalaki, kasi talagang sinusuri nila ng husto yan,” he added.

He said the cruise ships are focused on Puerto Princesa because of its safety protocols against COVID. To date, it remains under Alert Level 1.

Tour spots readiness
Alvior said Travel People will make rounds of the city’s destinations and evaluate their readiness to accommodate cruise ship travelers.

Accessibility, parking availability, and safety are a few of the factors that will be evaluated at tourist spots such as Underground River and the ziplines in Sabang, Brgy. Cabayugan; Ugong Rock in Brgy. Tagabenit; Honda Bay in Brgy. Sta. Lourdes, and the beaches located in the west coast.

“May mga target na sites lang silang gustong puntahan. Nag-start na sila today (January 7), and pagkatapos nila ay mag-uusap kami kasi February pa naman yon. Para kung may improvement na kailangan, yan ang tututukan namin,” he said.

“Isinama na namin ang west coast kasi back-up yan kapag close yong Honda Bay. Kasama din dyan yong mga ziplines—pati yong isa sa mga restaurants, yong Cacaoyan, isa sa mga titingnan nila,” he added.

Tricycle tour
Alvior acknowledges that the city lacks sufficient transportation, specially shuttle vans, because many were repossessed during the pandemic, and many are not yet accredited by the Department of Tourism (DOT).

However, he stated that they are considering offering the buses because the agency responsible for the cruises requires them.

“Sabi ng agency, may naka book na sa kanya na 100 vans, pero sabi ko parang kulang pa yan. Pero ang maganda, kasama sa part na yan yong mga tricycles kasi sabi nila, dito lang sa Puerto Princesa nila na-e-experience ang tricycle,” he said.

“Merong tricycle tour na tinatawag nila kasi isa sa demand din ng mga turista,” added Alvior, stating that a tricycle association had already been tapped to cater this through a route plan that had already been pre-determined.

He said there will be a final meeting for this before the first cruise ship arrives next month.

Alvior said their initial estimates indicate that the combined passenger capacity of all cruise ships is approximately 35,000, with a crew of about 15,000.

“Lahat yan papasok, kakain, magto-tour, so medyo malaki-laki ang ipapasok na income niya sa economy natin. Maganda ang pasok ng taon sa atin,” he added.