Legend of the Seas at the port of Puerto Princesa before the pandemic. (Photo by Gerald Ticke)

Puerto Princesa City is preparing to welcome the first cruise ship in October, two years after the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Tourism office chief Demetrio Alvior said Monday that several cruise ship operators have already expressed interest in visiting the city next year, as international border restrictions relax and economies recover.

He added that a group of cruise liner representatives will arrive in June to assess the situation and learn firsthand what they need to do to facilitate smooth passage for their guests.

“We have a scheduled cruise ship arrival this October. And then next year maraming naka-schedule na malalaki, kasing laki ng Queen Elizabeth. This June, may darating na representatives from cruise ships para mag-assess ng situation and makipag-meeting, para na rin ma-assist natin kung ano yung needs and requirements nila,” Alvior told Palawan News.

“Maganda kasi ngayon may 15 flights na tayo. So konti na lang mag-stabilize na sya, although may mga bagong nag-positive (sa COVID-19) pero sa tingin ko naman hindi na magsu-surge yan. Sana magtuloy-tuloy na,” he added.

Alvior expressed optimism that tourist arrivals will continue to increase with the arrival of a cruise ship this year and additional ships the following year, noting that visitor numbers have been rising since the relaxing of COVID-19 regulations.

Based on records of the City Tourism Office (CTO), as of May 23, Puerto Princesa has already hit 52,428 arrivals. The figure is close to tying the 2020 record of 71,889 before the country was placed under lockdown.

Alvior added that the recent cancellation of two groups scheduled to go in June is not regarded a setback for the city’s increasing number of guests.

Last Monday, a travel agency told his office that two Sangguniang Kabataan federations from Laguna that were slated to visit for educational trips were unable to come.

The cancellation was because of recent reports that the city recorded local transmissions of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant. However, the city Incident Management Team denied the report, stating that the group of tourists who were tested positive went directly to Tubbataha Reefs where they developed symptoms, and did not roam around the city.

He added that there were others who also wanted to cancel their trips but proceeded, upon learning that the information about the new cases of COVID-19 were corrected, adding that those who cancelled may just have put their schedule on hold.

“Merong nag-cancel na dalawang grupo, mga SK federation ng Laguna, yung isa June 1-3, 180 katao, yung isa, 75 katao, June 16-18. Although nag-cancel sila, baka naman maibalik pa rin,” Alvior told Palawan News in an interview, Monday.

“May mga iba na mag-cancel din sana pero nung ma-correct (yung information about the divers) na hindi naman talaga nakahalubilo ng mga tao, tumuloy sila,” he said.

Alvior also explained that not all destinations are already fully operating as some are still recovering from the effects of typhoon Odette, which hit the city in December 2021, particularly those with natural attractions.

He said primary destinations that are fully operational at present include Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR), Sabang Paddle Boat Tour, Sabang Zip Line, Ugong Rock and Hundred Caves, all of which are in Barangay Cabayugan, Honda Bay tours, and city day tour destinations, but also noted that while not all facilities are already opened, destinations at present are just fine.

“Limited yung time nila (tourists) so right now, yung Honda Bay, Sabang and city tour ay enough for them. Pero siyempre for future, at saka para mas marami tayong variety na mai-offer, pinipilit natin kasi iba-ibang market yan. Kung ikaw, repeater ka na, nakailang balik ka na sa Puerto Princesa, yung primary destination napuntahan mo na so ang gugustuhin mo ay yung hindi mo pa napuntahan – for example Tagkuriring (Falls) Tagkawayan, yan yung mga lately lang na-open so yan ang pwede natin i-offer sa mga repeat guests natin,” he explained.

“Sa ngayon, hindi pa tayo ganun ka-confident talaga na yung dating ganda ng ating destinations dahil nga sa bagyo. Pag nature kasi anghirap ibalik yan e. bibilang ka ng years. Kung structure, madali lang yun,” he said.