Davao-Bangkok airlink

The timing is bad given the dim prospects of the travel industry due to rising cost of fuel.

However, I believe local tourism industry players should strike the iron while it is hot.

The recent air agreements signed by the country has finally included Davao as a new gateway. I have been batting for this during the past five years and finally the Civil Aviation Board has acceded.

Short of our desired “open skies” policy for Davao, these new air agreements gave flight entitlements for the city from Thailand, Netherlands and Hong Kong.

My particular interest is Bangkok. As one of Asia’s main regional hubs, I have been proposing for air links between Davao and the Thai capital since 2003. Bangkok receives more than 1 million tourists a month. If we can lure even just 1 percent of that throng, Davao could easily double its foreign tourist arrivals annually! And that is not counting Thai tourists yet just to show how huge this market is.

Amsterdam is too far to make any plans for now. While flights to Hong Kong are now available.

So, local tourism industry players should not let this opportunity pass by. They should immediately work with either local air carriers or Thai airlines to mount direct air links between the city and Bangkok. This would give Davao a foothold in the booming Mekong Delta region that includes rising tourist destinations such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

I am confident we can develop a good market for the Davao-Bangkok sector not only for tourism but for trade and the overseas Filipino market as well.

See related posts at our Open Skies category at the left sidebar.

5:09 a.m.

3rd in the World

This is another slap on the face of Save Our Skies (SOS) coalition which is opposing the entry of foreign air carriers in the country via the “open skies” regime. SOS raises the bogey that this would kill the domestic airlines.

Well, here’s another proof that SOS is lying like the Palace occupant.

The Philippines ranked 3rd in the world in air travel growth after India and Mexico. Our No. 1 airline Cebu Pacific recorded a whooping 47 percent growth rate. And this happened in spite of four years already of the Clark experiment on “open skies.”

Proves once more that the fears of SOS are unfounded.

See related posts under “Open Skies

(6:20 a.m.)

Lucio Tan at Clark

A wise move indeed.

Macroasia, an aviation industry service firm owned by Lucio Tan and therefore a sister-company of PAL, is investing $100 million at Clark.

Clark is where the country first experimented the “open skies” regime to lure more foreign air carriers to the country. The policy is being opposed by PAL and its backers in the Save our Skies coalition. SOS raises the bogey that the entry of more foreign airlines would kill local air carriers.

Unfortunately for SOS, since the open skies was adopted in Clark, local air carriers such as PAL and Cebu Pacific are posting record passengers and profits. PAL for instance reported another record of 5 percent growth last month compared to last year in spite of the recent airport downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Authority. Local airlines continue to prosper instead of folding up as feared by SOS.

This shows clearly that the “open skies” perked up travel rather than kill the local airline companies.

Now, no less than Lucio Tan’s Macroasia is cashing in on the brisk aviation business at Clark to provide such services as aircraft maintenance, catering, ground handling, cargo, etc. to PAL and other carriers.

That is the way to go in this era of a liberalized air industry. Local companies must diversify and be creative instead of relying on government protection.

(6:55 a.m.)

Scaring us again

Oh well, here they go again scaring us against “open skies.”

The claim of the Save Our Skies (SOS) that opening the aviation industry would kill domestic airlines simply do not match the numbers.

The “pocket open skies” at Clark is now four years old, and certainly Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have not folded up. In fact, on the contrary, the two main local air carriers never had it so good during these past years. Both continue to post record load factors, sales, passengers and profits.

PAL particularly went out of its receivership last year after its utter failure over a decade ago in mishandling loans and personnel.

Instead of trumpeting this old refrain that local airlines would close shop if foreign airlines fly in, SOS should help prepare domestic carriers for the eventual “open skies” regime. The ASEAN is implementing this policy starting this year among capital cities, and eventually among other major destinations in the 10-nation common market.

Davao’s own effort for a “pocket open skies” to lure more foreign airlines to serve this premier city in southern Philippines had been blocked at Malacanang by this scare tactic. The city’s new airport is now five years old but no new airlines had been added to serve it. Lacking this vital direct airlinks has denied the city more tourists, more trade and better travel routes for Mindanao’s OFWs.

(4:48 a.m.)

Cebu Pacific is No. 1

Asia’s oldest airline must have really given up its position as the Philippines’ No. 1 air carrier.

Proof: a numerical trick by Philippine Airlines to dislodge Cebu Pacific as the top airline in the country.

How? It added the passengers, seating capacity, flights, routes and number of aircrafts of sister company Air Philippines to its stats.

Ha ha ha!

Haven’t you noticed that this trick was forthcoming? Well, I noticed that since the much younger Cebu Pacific claimed the No. 1 spot in terms of passengers flown, print ads by PAL had Airphil in it. That is to create in our minds that the two Lucio Tan owned airlines are actually one.

They might as well do that. Why indeed bother with two airlines when Tan can have one big airline that can really outflank the local competition?

No matter the trick, PAL has really lost the premier spot to Cebu Pacific, the latter being more market-oriented, aggressive and flexible. In this era of “open skies,” jurassic airlines, sans their new aircrafts, would really lose out to new and younger players.

(4:08 a.m.)

Air agreements

It has been four years since the new Davao (Bangoy) International Airport opened. And yet during this whole period no new foreign airlines entered the Davao skies.

I wonder what the national government is doing to promote this new airport, which cost us more than P4 billion.

Our own proposal for a pocket open skies for Davao to lure foreign air carriers has been gathering dust at Malacanang Palace since 2003.

There had been plenty of air talks held during the same period but I can only recall one where Davao was discussed. This was the air talks with South Korea which was held in the city.

Other than that, Davao is not being promoted by our air negotiating panel. It has also been four years ago when I proposed that Davao be represented in these air talks but again, this fell on deaf ears in Malacanang.

Clark on the other hand has been under an open skies regime, and represented in various air talks. The most recent of these are the renegotiation of air agreements with Singapore and Macau, and the new air talks with New Zealand.

We are being left out in the cold. Mga Davaoeno, Hoy Gising!

Regulatory capture

The Civil Aeronautics Board vehemently denied that it is under “regulatory capture.”

It demanded that the Senate hear its side on the the allegation by Sec. Romy Neri that it is under such state during his recent testimony over the ZTE scandal.

Well, if it is true that it is not in such straight jacket, I dare the CAB to declare its support to the “open skies” regime within 24 hours.

The proposal of Davao City for a pocket open skies has been gathering dust for the past four years at Malacanang due to the inaction and opposition of CAB. The application of Viva Macau to fly to Davao is also sleeping at the CAB for over a year now. About half a dozen other foreign airlines are likewise lining up at the closed doors of CAB waiting developments when they can fly to Davao.

The whole trouble with CAB is it equates the interest of some local carriers as the interest of the nation. It has been said many times that one key reason why Philippine tourism is a laggard is the lack of airline seats and yet CAB does not see this reality. It prefers not to level the playing field in its protectionist game at the expense of consumers, tourists and OFWs in particular.

I agree with Neri that it is a captured agency utilizing its regulatory powers to promote the selfish interest of the few.

(6:05 a.m.)

Booking problems

This may sound as “news” to the uninitiated. But we have been telling this all along.

If the country wants to dramatically increase its tourist arrivals, it needs more flights and rooms to accommodate our visitors.

The so-called peace and order image problem in the country is the least concern abroad.

There are also violent incidents in France, Spain, US, Italy and UK, particularly “terrorist bombings” but how come they are the world’s top tourist draws?

They have the sites, the infra and the transport links.

Many areas in the country have plenty of sites, but unfortunately little infra and very limited transport links.

On the latter point, because our air carriers lack the plans and the planes to bring the tourists, we should adopt an “open skies” regime to lure in more foreign carriers.

In the case of Clark, we have seen how the “open skies” policy there raised its visitor arrivals from practically nil in 2003 to over 1 million in less than four years, truly a dramatic increase.

It is elementary. The success of Clark should be replicated in the whole country, if not in our key gateways like Davao.

(5:40 a.m.)

50 million tourists?

When former Manila mayor Lito Atienza was recently appointed as environment secretary, it drew flak from various sectors, particularly environmentalists.

Now, he is drawing flak from the tourism industry.

PhilStar has this report today:

Atienza said he is confident that ecotourism will be a “very, very big attraction” in the country.

The DOT is targeting three million international tourists this year, but “at some point in time,” Atienza said, it is “possible” this will reach 50 million.”

50 Million? My foot!

Atienza is not only dreaming while wide awake. He is hallucinating.

We know for a fact that there is simply no way to bring in 50 million tourists with our lack of air seat capacity. With a protected local airline industry, this goal is simply unreachable.

Also, we know for a fact that when he was mayor of the country’s capital, Atienza’s brand of ecotourism is to litter the Manila Baywalk with eateries of his cronies, including tax dodgers, and converting parks into parking spaces!

(6:30 a.m.)

Tourist stats

Tourism arrivals in the Philippines increased by 7.6 percent during the first semester.

On the other hand, Macau’s visitor arrivals from southeast Asia alone have leaped 68.92 percent.

Visitors in the Philippines reached 1.5 million during the first six months.

Macau, which has less tourist attractions than the Philippines, has more than 12 million!

That’s more than 2 million a month!

Key reason – more flights to the Chinese enclave.

Here, government would rather protect local air carriers than open the skies for more foreign airlines. Thus, the marked difference in our tourist traffic. Our whole year’s goal of 3 million tourists can be achieved by Macau in less than two months.

(4:50 a.m.)

A law, not mere EO

I have been described at the Club 888 media forum on business and tourism as a “one-man army” fighting for the pocket “open skies” policy for the Davao (Bangoy) International Airport.

I have written two Resolutions in the City Council, the first in 2003, and the second, last year; made a lot of noise to win public support; and sent to Malacanang two draft Executive Orders patterned after the air liberalization regime in Clark.

No less than Mayor Rody Duterte has also followed up on this request at the Palace through a letter to the President.

Unfortunately, to no avail.

I stopped posting on my advocacy blog Davao dot come! to please some Davao tourism industry players who requested that lobbying for this policy should be discreet.

Nah, nothing happened either.

In the cabinet, I found an ally in Planning Secretary Romulo Neri. He backed my position that Davao City should establish air links with northeast Asia rather than just be content with BIMP-EAGA.

This ASEAN sub-region, unfortunately, has very low tourist traffic. Davao’s hope for a dramatic rise in its visitor arrival is in the rich markets of Korea, Japan and Greater China composed of the Mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Now, Neri’s former office at the Lower House is also battling for the same policy. This time, they want a law, not a mere EO, to define the “open skies” regime.

This would be a tough fight. I wonder what would be the position of Davao Congress representatives on this issue?