"Why do we continue to operate our decrepit airport?"
The Philippines is losing the tourism race in the region, largely because Manila continues to operate the decrepit Ninoy Aquino International Airport, an airport that it should have discarded five years ago, or converted its space into an entirely new business district.
These days, NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are utterly hopeless as far as rendering decent service for departing and arriving passengers is concerned and no matter how mightily furious its officials try to do their best. The terminals lack enough clean toilets, enough CCTV cameras, enough baggage carousels, enough immigration counters, enough check-in counters, and enough airline gates.
Coming in early this December from Doha, I was surprised that even the supposedly new NAIA Terminal 3 had become a bedlam. Greeters are allowed into the main terminal building. They block the exit of arriving passengers, resulting in confusion. Inside the terminal arrival area, there are still colorum taxi drivers offering rides to arrivals.
At the baggage carousel, a group of airport helpers have secured the trolleys for themselves, claiming they have reserved them for a particular airline. Trolleys are free. They cannot be sequestered by the baggage boys for themselves in anticipation of “clients.” The helpers give the impression you must give them tip or something for securing trolleys on your behalf.
Exiting from the airport is only part of an arrival’s problem. Traffic from NAIA to home, like Mandaluyong or San Juan, can take at least two hours. In peak hours, your flight to Manila from say Hong Kong or Bangkok or Tokyo is probably faster than the 12-km ride from NAIA to EDSA-Shaw.
The Philippines attracts only seven million visitors, a third of whom are Filipinos, meaning not tourists. With 110-million population, the Philippines should be able to attract 100-million visitors easily.
Singapore, an island you can sink in the middle of Laguna Lake and still have 24,000 hectares to spare, has 5.6-million people. It gets 20-million tourists, 3.6 times its population, meaning they don’t even have enough people to attend to or service their visitors.
With one attraction, Angkor Wat, Cambodia will also get seven million visitors. To think that Cambodia is new to the tourism game.
This 2018, the Philippines is likely to miss its arrivals goal of 7.4 million. The Department of Tourism blames Boracay’s closure. The more likely reason is the decrepit NAIA. If you love yourself, you won’t want to fly out or fly in through NAIA. But Filipinos have no choice. It is the only airport they have got near their place of work or residence.
The government offers Clark. Driving from Makati to Balintawak takes three hours. From Balintawak to Clark is another hour. You have spent four hours and you haven’t checked in yet
In the tourism game, the Philippines has had a 45-year headstart, since Margie Moran won the 1973 Miss Universe, since Manila hosted the 1974 Miss Universe, built the cavernous Philippine International Convention Center that can seat 5,000 delegates, and feted the 1976 World Bank-IMF delegates that prompted the feverish construction 14 new five-star hotels in just two years. Thanks to Imelda.
With those efforts, tourism flourished. Arrivals hit a record 1.008 million in 1980, from only 243,000 in 1973.
In the 1980s, Vietnam was still reeling from 20 years of war against the colonial powers, from 1955 to 1975, and the reunification efforts after that. Included in that war were the Cambodian Civil War and the Laotian Civil War.
Today, Vietnam and. Cambodia have overtaken Philippine tourism in arrivals. Vietnam drew 12.92-million tourists in 2017; Cambodia 5.6 million—which is actually bigger than Philippine arrivals if you remove the more than two million Filipino balikbayans who are counted as tourists by the Department of Tourism.
From 1981 to 1987, tourism arrivals in the Philippines collapsed, to 773,000 in 1985, the height of the Philippine political crisis spawned by the 1983 Aquino assassination.
From 1981, it took another eight years before arrivals returned to the one-million level—1.043 million in 1988.
And it took another eight years before arrivals reached a new high—2.049 million in 1996.
And 11 years to reach the three-million level—3.092 million in 2007, under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, then five years to reach four million— 4.273 million in 2012, also under Arroyo, and three years to make it to five million—5.361 million in 2015 (still under Arroyo).
Finally, the Philippines needed just two years to reach six million —6.62 million in 2016, despite the illegal drugs killings under President Duterte. Still, six million is a pittance when our neighbors are doing double-digits in arrivals.
In the 1980s through 2000s, the Philippines attracted only 2 percent of the about 180 million tourists who visited the Asia Pacific yearly.
China was No. 1 with 29 percent share; Malaysia No. 2 with 12 percent, Hong Kong No. 3 with 10 percent, Thailand No. 4 with 8 percent, and Macau No. 5 with 6 percent. The Philippines has been a poor No. 14 among Asian destinations.
The world has one-billion tourists. China alone sends out 100 million tourists a year. Manila captures only one million of them, and half of them are gamblers.
San Miguel Corp. President Ramon S. Ang thinks the Philippines can easily get 20-million tourists yearly, with his P800-billion brand-new airport on 2,500 hectares of mostly flat lands in Bulakan town, Bulacan.
The NEDA board of cabinet members approved the airport last Dec. 21, 2018 but withheld guarantees given previous infra projects secured by private companies.
Despite that, RSA is making sure travelers using the future Bulacan airport won’t be hampered by traffic. He completes in December 2019 the 14-km Magallanes-Balintawak connector road at a cost of P55 billion, to reduce travel time from more than two hours to just ten minutes.
For passengers from northern Philippines (which has a population of 30 million), RSA is completing the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway to Rosario, La Union at a cost of P29 billion.
From Rosario, La Union, RSA plans to extend TPLEx to San Juan, La Union by 56 kms; San Juan to Vigan by 150 kms, and Vigan to Laoag by 250 kms. Total cost: P208 billion – all in the name of connectivity, faster travel, and yes, avoiding NAIA when taking flights.