Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lunch with the Secretary of Tourism onboard Silversea



"PING! I just sent a BBM...is that how your next blog will start?" J messaged me earlier today, as I was enjoying the spa on board Silversea's Silver Spirit cruise ship docked finally in Manila, just a few steps from the Manila Hotel. "You must be in Manila by now," he continued. We'd been messaging until yesterday afternoon as my BBM service suddenly came back online; then I lost the connection and didn't hear from him again until this morning, when we finally docked in Manila.

J's appeared in this blog quite a bit in the last 45 days. He's been quite game about getting written about even if he keeps telling me he wants to remain low-key both online and in real life. He's given me freehand to quote from our exchanges as long as these don't give away too many details regarding his identity -- who J is has sparked some kind of fun guessing game among some people in Manila, and lots of my friends (including him) have been asked the million peso question -- but I've also been given a list of specifics I can't write about. "You can write anything you wish about me," he reminded me again, just the other day; "but just don't write about..."

I suspect he actually likes sending me BBMs at the start of the day and seeing our exchanges come out in this blog. Lots of our conversations are really interesting, actually, and terribly funny. This morning, for example, we had a text conversation about desserts -- yup, he has a sweet tooth -- which was truly amusing; unfortunately, I had to cut it short for lunch and this is also one of those things I'm under orders not to blog about.

CRUISE CONTROL: DAY 6

This song kept me company throughout the cruise.
I thought I would soon tire of it, but I never did.
Click here to listen to

Favorite meals on the cruise:
Room service lunch on my verandah.
One day, I actually ordered tomato soup, ravioli,
lamb chops and chicken curry -- all for lunch.


Indulgences for the day:
Butter-pecan ice cream
Elemis facial at the Silver Spirit spa
Afternoon naps

MORNING AT LEISURE

Anyway, we'd docked at about 8 am after sailing two nights and a day from Sandakan, Malaysia; and I'd been woken up by a lively marching band playing all kinds of favorite tunes on the pier to welcome the ship in. The Silver Spirit was docked in Manila for a day and this evening it sailed out towards Hong Kong. Meanwhile, I'd been packed and ready to go from breakfast (I woke up with a craving for tomato soup and ravioli, and so this is what I ordered from room service for breakfast), so I was just relaxing in the spa this morning prior to lunch with a group of Filipinos who were boarding the ship at noon for a look-see, and then I planned to disembark in the afternoon and finally head on home.

TOURISM TALK OVER LUNCH

Silversea was hosting a lunch for some VIPs and also for Manila-based clients who had sailed on their ships before. I'd been asked to stay on and help entertain the visitors, and of course I happily agreed. We had three tables for Silversea clients, and a main table hosted by Steve Odell, Silversea Vice President for Asia Pacific, for VIP guests. I sat in front of Steve, and Aurora Pijuan sat to his left while Mr and Mrs Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga sat to his right. Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim and his charming wife sat on my right.

We all had a wonderful time enjoying the good food and wines over lunch, and having a nice conversation about Philippine tourism and the prospects for social tourism. Gawad Kalinga is creating a product for social tourism in the Philippines, and Travelife Magazine, as the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication, is providing its packaging and marketing expertise for this. We hope to launch this GK social tourism product in a few months. I also mentioned that I'd been in the worst possible place in Tokyo during the earthquake, and of course everyone wanted to know what that experience was like.

MORE CRUISE SHIP BUSINESS

Together with Steve and Secretary Alberto Lim, we also discussed the ways that more cruise ships might come and dock in Philippine ports. The business from high-end cruise ships can be tremendous, and Steve estimated that a port stopover by a high-end ship could result in a windfall of as much as a million dollars for the local community in terms of docking fees, supplies purchases and of course, the spending of passengers. We could certainly use some of this business. At the moment, Indonesia and Malaysia get a lion's share of it as they are really serious about maintaining this business lifeline and have created appropriate infrastructure to make it easy for cruise ships to call. But there is no reason why the Philippines can't attract more cruise ships.

"Manila can be very interesting to cruise ship passengers if the right tours are offered," I said. "And I'm sure places like Palawan could easily become cruise ship destinations. El Nido, for example, is like a mini Ha Long Bay (from Vietnam)."

For the Manila stopover today, Silversea passengers were offered quite a variety of tours including Corregidor, Pagsanjan Rapids, Tagaytay and Old Manila. Those who didn't want to go on a tour were also offered a regular shuttle service to the Mall of Asia for shopping and recreation.

Finally it was time to leave the ship. If I had stayed any longer, I would probably have found myself on the way to Hong Kong -- and wouldn't that have been fun? It was only with great reluctance that I finally made my way across the gangplank and out into reality.

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