By Ansbert Joaquin
Subic Bay Freeport Zone—The biggest tourist crowd drawer in Subic Bay Freeport Zone, which is now hardest hit by the slump in tourism as a result of the implementation of Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon, has appealed to people and organizations for donations for its animals.
Ocean Adventure, which is being operated by Subic Bay Marine Exploration, is launching the donation drive to keep its animals, mainly sea lions and dolphins, alive and well amidst the lockdown in Luzon, SBMEI president and CEO Robert Gonzaga said.
“In many ways, this is an unprecedented but absolutely necessary step for us to do.” Gonzaga said.
Last week, Ocean Adventure issued an appeal for the Department of Tourism to step in to prevent tourism operators from collapsing, and tourism jobs from being permanently destroyed.
Aside from Ocean Adventure marine theme park, SBMEI also operates the Adventure Beach Waterpark and the Camayan Beach hotel and resort. These businesses have the combined capability of drawing thousands into the Subic Bay Freeport during normal times.
SBMEI, however, has been grappling with the adverse impact of the lockdown and has been in the red with revenues down to zero since the implementation of the ECQ in the entire Luzon, yet its operating costs remain high for facilities maintenance and for the caring and feeding of its animals. Ansbert B. Joaquin
“The disruption this pandemic has caused is unprecedented and likely to last for quite some time into the future, even after the quarantine is lifted. Our attendance numbers started plummeting in late January as concern for COVID-19 began to spread, and it got worse in February, which forced us to retrench workers in March—days before the entire Luzon was put under lockdown.”
“Now, all our businesses have shut down, aside from the hotel which is operating with a skeletal force. There is a lot of pain being felt across the entire tourism industry,” Gonzaga explained.
“We’re going to need a massive intervention from the government in order to survive this disaster,” Gonzaga said in a statement. “We cannot just flip the switch ‘on’ and expect things to return to normal after the quarantine is lifted. We will be feeling this pandemic’s negative effects for years,” he said.
The donations that will be generated from the fund drive will be used to purchase animal food, medicine and vitamins, as well as to support animal caretakers, divers and volunteers who maintain their enclosures, veterinarians and lab techs who provide for the health care of the animals. Part of the fund will pay for utilities for pumps, freezers and other equipment for the care of the animals.
“We hope to continue to provide our guests with opportunities to create lifelong memories and experiences with our facilities, but the path to recovery is going to be long and hard not just for our company but for everyone else in the tourism industry,” Gonzaga added.
“That said, our animals at Ocean Adventure cannot make it through without external support in the months ahead. But we believe that with your help, nothing is impossible,” Gonzaga said in the statement.
Hardest hit by this pandemic, according to SBFCC president Danny Piano, is the tourism sector. “The sentiment is that it will take some time after the ECQ ends, before things can be back to normal [for tourism], if ever,” he said.
Piano emphasized that even the bigger locators that employ hundreds to thousands of workers like BPOs and export-oriented companies which are allowed to operate, are experiencing horrible difficulties as they have to provide expensive accommodations and transportation to their working crew, and yet will have to provide financial assistance to their other employees who are out of work.
“It is a losing proposition for these companies but these are measures that they have to do for fear of losing their foreign customers. They need some kind of assistance to survive,” he said.