Airports are the backbone of tourism


Dismay recently replaced hope that the country’s economy is on the road to bouncing back through tourism, one of the Philippines’ biggest economic stimulators. As thousands of tourists and balikbayans made an influx to the Philippines during the holidays, tens of thousands literally started their New Year stranded in our flagship airport following a power outage at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). In a statement, the airport operator, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), pinned technical issues as the source of the nearly 300 flight delays, cancellations, and even diversions to other regional airports.

Not only is it dangerous for air travel but as Senator JV Ejercito himself said, is a concern of national security, thus prompting an immediate probe from the Senate.

Ejercito said: “An investigation should be done to make sure that this unfortunate incident doesn’t happen again. It’s either sabotage or plain incompetence.”

If the NAIA fiasco was a deliberate act whether for political or military advantage, is yet to be proven and if so, like other conspiracy theories, will take an arduous amount of time and evidence to prove so with so much complex information on politics and economics. What can be acted upon now is proactively addressing the more apparent issues.

With thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) whose flights were derailed causing unforeseen employment issues, the president of the OFW Family Club, Atty. Roy Señeres said: “Airport services must be improved and I suggest the following:

  1. “To make available extra hangers at the airport to accommodate the thousands of stranded air passengers during these types of emergencies. These hangers, ordinarily used for the maintenance of aircrafts must be readily emptied and converted into comfortable waiting areas with sufficient chairs for passengers. These hangers must also be equipped with air conditioning, re-charging stations, free coffee stations, refreshments and snack booths, and extension help desks from concerned airlines and airport authorities to facilitate the assistance to passengers while they await the results of their rebooking of flights or reimbursement due to cancellation, etc.

  2. “Free shuttle services must be provided to bring passengers safely to and from the hangers;

  3. “All airport personnel on standby should be required to shift their roles as ushers to ensure the organized traffic of passengers and to ultimately make them feel as comfortable as possible.”

In fact, Atty. Señeres said that all of these are in actuality, in the proper implementation and spirit of the Air Passenger Bill of Rights, stating that “passengers must be given that VIP treatment during these types of emergencies, otherwise stated.”

If it is economic stimulation we need, with 95 percent of tourist arrivals in the country accounted for by aviation travel, the fiasco was a major step back. If we do not address our public transport system, guests foreign and local alike, will most likely be dissuaded from visiting the country.

Senator Nancy Binay, who chairs the Senate Tourism Committee reiterates that airport service quality and passenger satisfaction greatly impact Philippine tourism, and that what happened in NAIA “makes it hard for us to promote travelling to the Philippines when a service attribute has failed.”

If we truly aim to boost tourism, it is high time to focus on the air transport industry. Filipinos were indignant when NAIA was named as the world’s worst airport from 2011 to 2013 by the widely cited travel website Guide to Sleeping in Airports, describing NAIA as "large and frustrating.” But if there is a takeaway from the fiasco, it is to accept the challenge to develop the country’s aviation sector.

Recognizing the air transport industry and the tourism sector’s correlation is necessary. Tourism depends on transportation to bring visitors, while the transportation industry depends on tourism to generate demand for its services. The expansion of tourism is both a cause and an effect of transportation.

Upgraded facilities encourage tourists, and the growth of tourism supports transportation. Tourists will use any method of transportation to get to the key destinations, but the primary means of international travel is air travel.

It is the people's desire to go somewhere whether for leisure or business which dictates the demand for transport, and conversely, transport accessibility determines the demand for a tourism destination. Hence, before focusing on attractive package tours and low airfares to attract more tourists, the government and stakeholders must recognize that airports are the backbone of tourism and find solutions to make our airports world class, probably starting with a review of the power facilities under the watch of the concerned authorities and an immediate upgrade if warranted.