Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lead ferry industry player in Catanduanes adds new Ro-Ro vessel to fleet
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Jan. 4 (PNA) –- Giving a fresh boost to the tourism, trade and public movement needs of Catanduanes province, a lead player in the island-province’s maritime transport industry has added a new, huge roll-on roll-off vessel to its fleet.

The ferry vessel was acquired from abroad by Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) late last year and is now at its dry dock facility undergoing refurbishing in preparation for its maiden voyage between the Tabaco City-San Andres (Catanduanes) route slated early this year.

Serving a fast-growing island-province in terms of tourism, trade, commerce and public demand makes this additional vessel necessary, RSL president and chief executive officer Joseph Cua said in a statement reaching here Monday.

Cua said the average of 16,000 passengers--a considerable number of them tourists and visitors— who take ferry boats serving the Tabaco City-Catanduanes route monthly, is expected to increase as the province’s economic growth indicators gain more mileage these days.

These indicators include the province being a consistent leader in the country’s production of abaca fiber and the booming local tourism industry.

In abaca, the province, occupying an island sitting off the northeastern side of the Bicol Peninsula and separated from the mainland by Maqueda Bay, has a total of over 35,500 hectares of abaca plantations cultivated by 15,454 farmers who produce an average of 19,000 metric tons of fiber yearly, representing 33.2 percent of the total national production.

This makes abaca its backbone industry that has made the island a prized contributor to country’s fiber export earnings.

In tourism, arrivals in the island have been steadily increasing as influenced by the travel market trend showing that tourists, particularly foreigners, do not tend to repeat a local destination as they follow a cycle leading them from one place to another.

Tourists are now finding Catanduanes as an alternative destination whose attractions are rare, natural and not yet highly commercialized, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT) Bicol regional office based here.

During the second quarter of 2015 alone, its records show that the province received 53,424 arrivals, showing an increase of 15.18 percent compared to the same period of the previous year.

“It is very impressive that the island-province called the Land of the Howling Wind, being the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean -- exposing it to most typhoons crossing the country, is consistently achieving significant growth in tourism with tourist arrivals largely composed of foreigners,” DOT Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla said.

The new Ro-Ro vessel named MV Regina Calixta 7 has a capacity of 600 passengers and about a dozen buses or cargo trucks in her car deck, said Cua, who reiterated RSL’s commitment to providing comfortable and affordable ferry services to and from the island as it responds to the growing needs.

“Over the years, we have sustained a viable means of public sea transport that is committed to serving the passengers at a cost which does not deprive them of comfort and convenience. This is what we have pursued and persistently pursuing now and in the future,” he stressed.

RSL acquired and deployed within the route MV Regina Calixta 6 Ro-Ro vessel in 2013, making the latest acquisition the seventh in its fleet.

The entry of this new ferry boat will be a big boost to the travel industry of the island, recognized as a rapidly-developing province which President Aquino has included in his administration’s countryside development agenda as a tourism growth area.

Ravanilla said DOT realizes the potentials of the island as a world-class ecotourism destination, the reason it has been included in the formation of the “Triple C” cluster, a local tourism industry development alliance called “Gems of the Pacific”, for its geographical location which is along the rim of the Pacific Ocean.

The cluster involves the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes -- comprising a tourism development area (TDA) as identified in the 2011-2016 National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) of the DOT.

Ravanilla said two sub-TDAs form this cluster--the Caramoan-Catanduanes Tourism Link (CCTL) covering the tourism town of Caramoan, Camarines Sur and the entire Catanduanes area; and the Camarines Tourism Circuit (CTC) covering the rest of Camarines Sur and the whole of Camarines Norte.

For the CCTL, Caramoan, which lies at the northeastern tip of Camarines Sur separated by Maqueda Channel from Catanduanes, covers the Caramoan Peninsula where a group of exotic islets serving as a major ecotourism destination sits.

Catanduanes, on the other hand, is a promising travel destination owing to its ecotourism wonders, dive sites and sea surfing venues.

“Catanduanes, along with every part of Bicol, is practically a tourist attraction, that is why all its six provinces are included in the Bicol tourism development cluster defined by the NTDP. What we do under this clustering is putting in place strategic directions and programs that make their tourism products more competitive,” Ravanilla said.

The other three Bicol provinces—Albay, Masbate and Sorsogon -- form another cluster called the AlMaSor Tourism Alliance which was born a year earlier than the Triple C.

The strategic directions and programs for these clusters are being done through the improvement of market access, connectivity, destination infrastructure; and enhancement of tourism institutional, governance and industry manpower capabilitifes, Ravanilla noted.

The shipping lines, particularly RSL, have been contributing to Catanduanes’ tourism connectivity requirement as they connect the island with the Bicol mainland, especially this city through the Tabaco port from where island-hopping tourists usually start with their voyages, Ravanilla said.

The formation of the Triple C, she said, was formalized in May 2014 through the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) by the three governors that ensures the commitment of each province to the alliance in addressing the obstacles challenging the NTDP.

These obstacles include the noncompetitive tourist destinations and products, limited flights and capacity of domestic transportation, poor infrastructure, limited market access and weak public sector tourism governance and human resources development policies and practices, Ravanilla said.

Apart from working with local government units in developing their areas and setting up tourist facilities, Triple C also works hand in hand with the private sector to ask them to pour more investments, she added. (PNA) JMC/FGS/DOC/CBD