Posted 3 months ago
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Buoyed by accessible natural tourist attractions and a conscientious program of special events that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, the hotel industry in the Subic Bay Freeport has been experiencing an unprecedented growth in the past five years.
|In Photo: Subic Bay’s iconic boutique hotel, The Lighthouse Marina|
Along Subic’s famed waterfront strip, as well as in some remaining pockets of development at the already built up central business district, hotels and other accommodation facilities continue to sprout with proverbial rapidity.
Subic Bay’s hotel row along the Waterfront Road blends superb environment with modern amenities.
According to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), at least 11 new hotels began operating here since five years ago. These are the Freeport Mansion Garden, Subic Peninsular Hotel, Buma Subic and The Cabin, which were established in 2013; Subic Grand Harbour Hotel and Subik Sun Plaza in 2014; Leciel Hotel and Horizon Hotel in 2015; Best Western Hotel and Acea Hotel Resort in 2016; and Le Charme Hotel just this year.
These new hotels brought the total number of accommodation facilities in the Subic Bay Freeport from 36 in 2012 to 45 today, and the number of available hotel rooms from 2,633 to 3,441.
The continuing increase in visitor arrivals has been fueling the rapid growth of hotels and accommodation facilities in Subic.
“Now we’re receiving project proposals for hotels and similar tourist facilities almost every week and, frankly, we find it very difficult to find a place for these projects because of the limited space in Subic,” SBMA Administrator and CEO Wilma T. Eisma said.
The Mansion Garden Hotel
“So, this looks like the golden age for the local hotel industry, as things are looking up in terms of visitor arrivals, and the tourism industry in general, not only for Subic but for the whole country,” she added.
Eisma said the services provided by tourism establishments are pivotal in attracting more visitors to the free port.
“What works for Subic’s tourism industry are environment, accessibility, safety and experience,” Eisma said. “We have the natural attractions that work in our favor; we have a great location that’s accessible, but it’s also important that we have value-added factors like safety, which the SBMA ensures, and the experience that the tourism facilities like hotels and theme parks provide.”
The SBMA official added that as manager of the Subic Bay Freeport, the SBMA is gunning for bigger events like the Ad Summit and the Full Ironman next year. It is also trying to attract cruise ships to further promote and develop local tourism.
The growth of the hotel industry in Subic reflects the evolving tourism industry in this former American military base, as well as the changing tastes of the people that visit Subic.
Another hotel under construction along Subic Bay’s Waterfront Road
After the US Navy left Subic in 1992, the bare buildings that served as barracks for American sailors were converted into hotel rooms to billet visitors that began to turn up in droves for a look-see of the previously restricted-access military base. Quonset huts up at the Cubi-Triboa area were even utilized as rough-it-out adventure lodgings for overnight family picnics and weekend corporate outings.
“Now Subic visitors enjoy the comfort of air-conditioned rooms with Wi-fi access, swimming pools and fine dining and other urban perks,” Olongapo businessman Aurelio Pineda noted.
Pineda, along with two partners from Olongapo, built the Subic Grand Harbour in 2014, and is proud of the fact that their 69-room hotel is one of the few establishments here that are solely owned by local businessmen.
Pineda said they took the risk of building a hotel because of the growing local tourist market, as well as the promise of more business with the return of American sailors under the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“There are just two markets for Subic hotels now: those who need rooms, and those who need function rooms,” Pineda noted.
He added most of the clientele for Subic hotels are personnel and officials of government agencies, local government units and private corporations that bring in their staff and employees for conventions, meetings and seminars.
“It’s a good thing that the SBMA is working with us to encourage people to come to Subic,” Pineda said, noting that the Subic agency is drumming up attendance for the SBMA’s 25th anniversary this November.
What guests look for
The boom experienced by hotels in Subic could also be attributed to the ability of these establishments to adapt to customer needs.
“Our visitors want not only good service, but personalized service. They come back because of the ambiance, accessibility and proximity to the places they go to, like malls or church,” said Sheanelle Calayag, operations manager of the Mansion Garden Hotel.
“They want not just the basic services; they look for gym, bar, spa and, sometimes, even a convenience store,” Calayag added.
The amenities demanded by guests also reflect the changing characteristics of the typical Subic visitor. Calayag said that, while they get South Korean, Japanese, Indian and other foreign tourists, 87 percent of their clientele were Filipinos, most of whom go to Subic to attend conventions.
Another significant group of visitors are families out for weekend vacations. “We get guests from as far as Ilocos, Benguet and Batangas in this family group,” Calayag added.
The boom in Subic hotels is expected to continue in the next few years, in line with the expected surge in foreign tourist arrivals in the country from traditional markets, such as South Korea, the United States, Japan and China.
In Subic, in particular, tourist arrivals are expected to further grow according to an upward trend in the past few years.
According to Jem Camba, manager of the SBMA Tourism Department, tourist arrivals (or those who stayed one night or more in the Subic, Freeport) grew from 1.25 million in 2012 to 1.63 million in 2015 and 1.65 million last year.
Similarly, the number of visitor arrivals, or those who entered the Subic Bay Freeport for whatever purpose, climbed from 5.22 million in 2012 to 5.69 million in 2013, and from 6.39 million in 2014 to 7.29 million in 2015 and 7.89 million in 2016.
The golden years for Subic Bay’s hotels seem to be just beginning.