‘Stimulus’ payback

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) announced last week the entire Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) passenger terminal 2 will be used for all domestic flights starting in July this year. This is supposedly in a bid to decongest the long immigration lines in NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3 under the terminal rationalization plan laid out by the MIAA. In fact, the MIAA earlier suspended the initial X-ray inspection/screening process to prevent long queues in all NAIA terminals.

Well and good if Bureau of Immigration officers at the NAIA Terminals do not add to the long lines of passengers and cause unintended consequences. One of which was the recent hullaballoo when a Filipina traveller missed her flight due to alleged prolonged grilling by an overzealous Immigration officer at the NAIA.

The NAIA Terminal-2 was originally designed to accommodate domestic flights. Both the international and domestic flights of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) go through NAIA-2 when it began operations in 1999. But by July 1, NAIA Terminal-2 will be devoted solely for domestic flights only. On the other hand, all international flights will go through NAIA Terminals 1 and 3.

The MIAA has been seeing a lot more passenger traffic after almost two years of closure of international borders, including here in the Philippines, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It began picking up towards end of 2022 when the MIAA actually reported 95 percent passenger volume at pre-pandemic level already. Actually, the passenger volume has always been accounted for by hundreds of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who go in and out of our country to work abroad.

But the number of foreign tourists have been steadily increasing, Arthur Lopez, president of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association of the Philippines (PHOAP) attested to this robust traffic of their coming in and out of the country. Lopez cited the study and analysis done by industry experts that there will be a travel boom in the year 2025. This was shared to them by David Soliven, Country Manager of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) during the PHOAP conference last month.

The Geneva-based IATA expects a return to profitability for the global airline industry in 2023 as airlines continue to cut losses stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to their business in 2022. In 2021, the IATA recorded overall traveler numbers were 47 percent of 2019 levels. Based from the IATA analysis, this is expected to improve to 94 percent in 2023; 103 percent in 2024; and 111 percent in 2025.

Todate, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco reported the Philippines concluded 2022 with 2.65 million international tourist arrivals. Frasco touted, the actual arrivals surpassed the DOT target of 1.7 million figures last year. She admitted there are still seen bottlenecks which prevents the Philippines from fully unlocking the potential of international tourism.

Our close neighbor, Thailand hit more than 11.15 million tourist arrivals last year.

It was only in October 2022 when Thailand fully reopened their country to all international tourists. This early, the reopening of our own country to foreign travellers boosted the operations of our domestic carriers like PAL, the Cebu Pacific, Air Asia Philippines, among the major ones. PAL official spokesperson Cielo Villaluna disclosed the airline owned by Filipino-Chinese taipan Lucio Tan has recovered much their largest network of international flights from key tourist and OFW markets.

Speaking for the country’s flag carrier, Villaluna ecstatically shared how PAL marked the International Women’s Day when the airline symbolically sent an all-women flight crew to and fro their Manila-Guam flight last March 22. Soaring high, the PAL boasts of 50 female pilots out of a total of 760 pilots. The women pilots of PAL equally fly the airline’s 75 aircrafts to the 39 cities in 17 countries/regions, and to their domestic flights in 32 cities across the Philippines.

Of the female fliers of PAL, six of them are captains; 25 first officers, and, 19 second officers. One of them is the daughter of the PAL owner, First Officer Lilybeth Tan-Ng. She is the wife of Captain Stanly Ng, currently PAL president.

In a press statement last week, the Cebu Pacific announced it is also set to exceed its Cebu hub’s pre-pandemic network and capacity which will hit 129 percent in June. The Gokongwei-owned airline company raises to 28 its combined domestic and international routes operating in Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA). It likewise bared acquisition of two more aircrafts for delivery in 2023 to add to the ten new Airbus NEO aircrafts as part of the expansion of the airline’s entire fleet.

Thus, Lopez prods the government to take this opportunity to further “incentivize” hotel developments across the country to capture the rebound of the big global tourism/travel markets.

For now, the hotel industry leaders strongly believe they are ready to accommodate the influx of local and international tourists after almost two years of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. SM Hotels & Conventions Corp. executive vice president Peggy E. Angeles expressed this bullish outlook during the press conference last week at the 10th year celebration of Park Inn by Radisson Davao. Via virtual teleconference, Radisson Hotel Group Southeast Asia Pacific vice president for operations Andre de Jong explained the global hotel industry changed their “business models” to adapt and survive the pandemic lockdown and anti-COVID restrictions that heavily impacted tourism and travel-related industries.

The government converted and paid for the use of several hotels – mostly located in Metro Manila – as quarantine facilities and hospitals during the pandemic. Under the “We Heal Together Act of 2022,” this enabled hotels to continue operating and helped them save jobs of their employees and workers.

As the greatest boosters to our country’s economic take off, this is the payback to our taxpayers’ supported “stimulus package” for these industries.


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