Two major investment projects are underway to attract visitors to the Philippines. A massive aquarium and adjoining commercial establishments are being built on the edge of Manila Bay and a Las Vegas-style gaming and entertainment complex is set to rise on the reclamation area along the bay.
Manila Ocean Park, to be located behind the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park (also known as Rizal Park), will house an oceanarium, a mall, a boutique hotel, a restaurant strip and open marine habitats all rolled into one. One of its feature attractions will be a 25-metre underwater tunnel that will allow visitors to walk at the bottom of a 500,000-gallon tank while being surrounded by all sorts of marine wildlife.
Visitors will also be able to swim and scuba-dive with a wide variety of fish in one of the two open water marine habitats. This facility is scheduled to open in April 2008.
Tina Mistica-Santos, marketing manager of the $22.6m Manila Ocean Park project, said the planned oceanarium would be significantly larger than the famous Underwater World Singapore, situated on Sentosa Island of Singapore. "Manila Ocean Park is about 8000 square metres wide, while Sentosa is 6000," she told media, adding that the main attraction of the Oceanarium is a 25-metre-long, 220-degree curved acrylic walkway tunnel.
The complex is being built by a group of Chinese, Singaporean and Malaysian investors, led by Singapore-based China Oceanis Philippines, which is a subsidiary of the China Oceanis group of companies.
The first phase of the park, its aquarium facilities, is set to open December 15, 2007. The mall will be launched in April 2008 and the 150-room hotel is planned to begin operations by July 2008.
Oceanis officials said they expect up to 1.5m visitors to the oceanarium yearly once it is fully operational, while the boutique mall - with a maximum of 30 stores - is expected to have as many as 28,000 shoppers a day. Aside from providing jobs to 2000 Filipinos, the project is expected to earn the government $455,000 annually in rental fees.
Company representatives expressed hopes the facility would revive the tourism industry in the area, which has been on the decline in recent years, as local and foreign tourists have preferred to shop at out-of-town locations.
While one investment is very close to realisation, another is still a long way off. However, plans are proceeding to develop a $10bn Entertainment City in Manila patterned after Las Vegas.
The entertainment complex is the brainchild of the state run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chairman and CEO, Efraim Genuino. It will be built on a 3000-hectare property and is planned to contain luxury hotels, sports and convention centres, theatres, entertainment for the whole family, shops and a bay walk. It is expected to also include residential villages and a hospital district. To be built in three phases, the first phase is expected to be completed in two years time.
Genuino said the construction of the city "is in line with President [Gloria Macapagal-] Arroyo's eight-point agenda, which aims to revitalise the tourism industry, in particular, and the Philippine economy."
Even before construction begins, PAGCOR officials said the project would generate millions of dollars in revenues in the form of advance lease payments from future tenants and other investors.
A PACGOR representative said thousands of local employment opportunities will be created. "These do not include the direct benefits the project will bring to other industries such as transportation, communications, food, hospitality and entertainment."
He added that the Entertainment City "is in the right position to succeed [...] the Philippines serves as a gateway to Asia and is strategically located a few hours from China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea."
Currently, PAGCOR is only in its pre-bidding stage but there has been considerable interest demonstrated from investors in Europe, Japan, South Korea and most notably Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts.
Timothy Shiah, a representative of Jack Binion, chairman of Wynn International, said the company is "committed to looking at all opportunities in the Philippines". Wynn International, a subsidiary of Wynn Resorts, opened its first international hotel casino in Macau last year.
The project is expected to attract 10m foreign visitors in its first five years and generate 25,000 additional jobs.
PAGCOR, is a 100% government-owned and controlled corporation and operates under the mandate to regulate all games of chance, particularly casino gaming, to raise funds for the governments' socio-civic and national development efforts, and to help boost the country's tourism industry. It has consistently been the third biggest income-generating government agency. Last year, it brought in $570m.