PGIN boosts local SMEs in second batch of Superstar Virgo arrivals, aims to sustain cruise ship industry

LAOAG CITY – The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte (PGIN), through the Ilocos Norte Tourism Office (INTO) and Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) Office, continues to deliver services to over a thousand tourists brought by the luxury ship Superstar Virgo, which docked on january 14 at the OMNICO Natural Resources Inc., Port located in Badoc.

The fairly new industry has aided the development of sustainable livelihoods, particularly in benefitting local SMEs ranging from souvenir shops to mini cafeterias and sari-sari (small convenience) stores. Travel and tour agencies and transport rental companies had also grown in demand, ferrying visitors from Currimao and now Badoc to other destinations in the Ilocandia.

According to the SME Office, business establishments, namely Pitaya Dragon Fruit by Mrs. Editha Dacuycuy, Ilocos Coolers, Ilocos Empanada by Rosalbe in San Nicolas, Agnes Dragon Fruit, Sharetea Ilocos, Good Vibes Cafe, and Araceli Souvenir Shop in Bangui, among others, have increased sales from the arrivals.

Ms. Mary Grace Justo, SME staff, shared that the most in-demand products are fresh coconut and mango fruit shakes. She added that their office, together with the INTO, constantly coordinates with SME owners about four days before any cruise ship arrivals, giving them enough time to prepare.

“Malaking tulong itong pagdating ng cruise ship kasi kapag nasa Bangui lang ako, ang hirap magkaroon ng costumers. Tumaas ang sales namin. Malaki talaga ang naitutulong ng Provincial Capitol through SME office and INTO dahil additional income po namin ito,” shared by 55-year-old-handcraft artisan Mrs. Arceli Macaganda of Bangui.

Likewise, travel and tour agency owners consider the opportunity as a great avenue to “push the local economy” as it involves occasional drivers and tour guides, as well as some small businesses near the port.

“With our 24 buses, lagpas isang libong turista ‘yan. Marami talaga ang matutulungang kapwa Ilocano,” said Mr. Jessie Duco Apostol, owner of JDA Tours, which offers “city tours” in Laoag and Vigan.

INTO Head Mr. Ianree Raquel said, “We have to make sure that we are able to provide the best service to our visitors, which is why we are assisting them [stakeholders] to make sure that this new market of cruise tourism will be sustained for a longer period of time.”

Meanwhile, Governor Imee R. Marcos revealed that other cruise vessels are coming to Ilocos Norte through the same port. Thus, she calls for continuous cooperation between the Provincial Government, local government units (LGUs), and tourism stakeholders in sustaining the province’s cruise ship industry.

“Talaga namang tuloy-tuloy ang pagdating ng mga turista dito sa Ilocos Norte, lalong-lalo na ngayon na may regular docking schedule ang Star Cruises Superstar Virgo,” said Gov. Marcos.

“In addition to Superstar Virgo, may mas maliliit na barko na darating. It’s quite exciting dahil naging destination na nga tayo pati sa mga maliliit na vessels. Dumating din ang Royal Caribbean a couple of weeks ago,” referring to the ship owned by American company Royal Caribbean International.

She added, “Kaya naman, sinasabi ko sa ating mga stakeholder to continue really sustaining together this new industry. Pati na rin ang ating mga LGU near the port, sana mag-develop sila ng karagdagang attractions at activities para sa mga turista.”

Superstar Virgo is one of six vessels operated by Asia’s leading cruise line, Star Cruises, owned by Genting Hong Kong.

Tourist arrivals in Ilocos Norte have increased since the ship’s maiden arrival last March 20, 2017, which brought in an estimated 2,600 local and foreign visitors every week until May.

Arrivals resumed last month, promising a constant flow of visitors throughout the Bicentennial Founding Anniversary celebration of Ilocos Norte until the La Milagrosa Provincial Fiesta this May.