Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Subic Bay: Rising Star on Eco-Tourism

Weekends are an extraordinarily busy time in the Subic Bay Freeport. As dawn illumines this economic growth center wedged between lush forests and an emerald bay, cars and buses begin snaking down the Tipo Road leading to this tropical paradise —disgorging weary executives from Manila, students for Luzon provinces on study tours, and foreign tourists cramped by traffic and congestion in Manila.

“It’s becoming more of a place for weekend retreats,” observes Vina, a businesswoman from Quezon City, who finds the two-hour trip to Subic well worth it. My kids just love going to the nature-theme parks while my husband enjoys water sports and fishing. I, of course, go for shopping in the duty-free stores here,” she beams.

More than a decade after the withdrawal of the US Navy from what was once the biggest American military facility outside of the continental United States, the imagery associated with Subic Bay has totally changed.

The original planners for the conversion of the then Subic Naval Base had deemed it suitable to be developed into an industrial center, precisely to offset the jobs lost with the US Navy withdrawal. However, while Subic is now home of close to seven hundred locators whose business range from customer service to trade and marketing to manufacturing and estate developing, it has emerged into a prime tourist destination perhaps incomparable to others in the country. While it is true that the US Navy built facilities and infrastructure which later met the needs of prospective investors, it also conserved thousands of hectares of untouched forest lands and pristine beaches. As a result, Subic Bay has become one of the favorite destinations for wreck diving enthusiasts, water sports aficionados, hikers, campers and adventure tourists.

Today, Subic is gearing up to be one of the best eco-tourism destination not only in the Philippines, but in the Asian region as well. The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, which manages the Freeport zone, has recently launched an aggressive marketing program to tap Subic’s tourism potentials to the fullest.

Under the helm of SBMA Administrator Armand C. Arreza, a former Department of Tourism undersecretary, the SBMA has outlined a four-pronged plan: develop of a comprehensive marketing strategy for Subic Bay; create integrated tourism products; stage special events to create hype; and promote the culture of tourism.

Arreza contends rightly that Subic should not be limited to the domestic tourist market,” pointing out that direct flights from other countries are possible because of Subic’s own international airport. “We have more facilities and natural attractions that would meet customer expectations, and we offer a variety of activities depending on the interests of our visitors.”

This is one very notable character of Subic that cannot be replicated by other tourist destinations,” Arreza stresses.

Indeed, Subic offers a whole different experience. Subic is not just a beach resort, although it boasts of beautiful. It is not just a recreational site, although water and inland sports facilities are there. It is not just an eco-tourism destination, despite the nature parks and forest adventure packages offered. It is not just a leisure center, despite the restaurants and shops and hotels.

Arreza sees the contrast of Nature and Industry as plus factor that makes Subic unique and, hence, more attractive. As a destination offering virtually the best of both worlds, Subic now aims for a bigger chunk of tourism revenue.

“Tourism is big business and a proven growth engine,” Arreza says, adding that the industry includes such diverse activities as transport, accommodation, recreation, and catering. Citing figures learned by heart during his stint at the Department of Tourism, he points out that total tourism spending worldwide, including those by domestic tourists, annually topped US$3 trillion in the past few years. Local tourism receipts, meanwhile, contributed US1.87 billion or PhP97.45 billion to the Philippine economy in 2002, equivalent to 8.6 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product.

“The tourism industry also looks toward a rosy future,” Arreza enthuses, with growth in the Asia-Pacific area projected to increase from a 16 percent share last year to 25 percent by 2020. The tourism industry, he notes, serves close to a billion people each year and ranks as a major sector of the world economy, accounting or nearly 11 percent of the global gross domestic product. Given this potential, the SBMA has identified several target customers like young travelers from Asia, Russian and Eastern Europe; and visitors who prefer customized vacations. Subic is likewise tapping into emerging market segments like retirees and their families, honeymooners, the 18-24 youth market, and those who favor sports and adventure tourism, as well as eco-tourism.

Subic’s tourism program is also proving to be a good incentive to protecting the natural and cultural environment of Subic. Alongside industrialization, which primarily targets job creation, the need to maintain Subic’s ecological integrity has remained a priority for the SBMA —if only for the revenue that tourism generates.

“We think that development and conservation should complement each other, especially in Subic,” Arreza says. “For one thing, it’s the uniqueness of Subic’s natural environment that serves as one factor why business executives would want to work here and even stay here with their family.”

To make tourism promotion more successful, the SBMA had also enlisted the participation of tourism and business establishments in the Freeport. And the strategy of sharing promotion efforts has proven to be cost-effective and wide-ranging. Under the cooperation program, tour packages were designed to cater to different market segments that visit Subic at different times of the year. While summer and the Christmas season are considered the peak in Subic tourist arrival, the SBMA also prepared special events even for the rainy months —aiming for a year-round program that would induce.

As the tourism market trend in tour packages picks up all over the country, Subic businesses were encouraged to offer packaged accommodations for food and lodging, with a tour of the Freeport and visits to such popular facilities as the Ocean Adventure Marine Park or the Zoobic Safari thrown in.

Depending on the requirements of the clientele, explained Arreza, Subic tour packages were categorized into Family Package, Corporate Package, Barkadahan Package, or Nature Adventure Package. All these were conceptualized to capture the essence of Subic and give visitors a unique experience. And these, too, at discounted prices.

Package tours, however, did not constitute the entire tourism program. The SBMA administrator explained that significant steps to improve facilities, infrastructure and services were likewise integrated in the overall enhancement plan. Thus, the SBMA recently launched a tourism website and organized several special events in recent months to position Subic as a prime tourist destination.

To add to the attractiveness of Subic, a scheme was hatched by the SBMA early this year granting as much as 80 percent discounts on aeronautical fees for airlines and airport users entering through the Subic Bay International Airport.

Another still untapped potential of Subic but which is already slowly seeping into the market is that of being a suitable area for retirement villages. The clean, peaceful, safe and naturally beautiful environment continue to draw estate developers to put up retirement condominiums in the Subic Bay Freeport. Four such facilities are already in operation here, proving that Subic, aside from being and industrial hub and tourist destination, is also fast becoming a community of choice for retirees. According to the Philippine Retirement Agency, about $40 billion in revenue may be generated if the country could be turned into the retirement capital of Southeast Asia by 2015. Likewise, the growth of the retirement industry could generate four million jobs in the next 10 years, PRA said. Subic has been identified as one of the 14 prospective retirement sites in the country. Market includes Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, the Untied States, Canada and Europe.

Weekends are an extraordinarily busy time in the Subic Bay Freeport. As dawn illumines this economic growth center wedged between lush forests and an emerald bay, cars and buses begin snaking down the Tipo Road leading to this tropical paradise —disgorging weary executives from Manila, students from Luzon provinces on study tours, and foreign tourists cramped by traffic and congestion in Manila.

“But what I really love about the place,” says Vangie, a visiting balikbayan, “is the absence of traffic. Not because the roads are empty, mind you, but the noticeable discipline of drivers. It is so easy to get from one site to another.”


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