Composed of 7,641 islands as of the last official count, the Philippines is blessed with highly accessible aquatic resources and an abundance of world-famous beaches. However, the catch is that moving within and outside of the country is generally more expensive than it is with non-archipelagic countries due to the necessity of inter-island sea and air transport.
While maritime shipping plays a primary role in moving most of the country’s cargo, air transport plays a key role in moving people, particularly between regional cities as well as through the country’s main international gateways. And while inter-island ships remain critical for cargo logistics, air travel is now the dominant mode of travel for both domestic and international tourists in the Philippines.
With the Philippines seeking to further increase tourism, the country’s regional airports will need to be expanded and brought up to international standards. In particular, optimizing airport operations and maintenance will play a key role in ensuring that tourists exploring the Philippines have a positive perception of the country. Here, we’ll explore six key points detailing how a renewed focus on regional airports can be harnessed to boost tourism and foster economic development in the Philippines.
Boosting Local Businesses and Employment
Developing regional airports stimulates the growth of local businesses and industries in the surrounding areas. Improved transportation attracts investors and encourages entrepreneurs to establish hospitality, retail, and transportation businesses to cater to the growing number of tourists.
This has been proven with the latest improvements to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), the country’s second most-visited aerial gateway. The airport, now operated and maintained by a consortium composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital, GMR Group, and Megawide Construction Corporation, underwent an extensive renovation that was completed back in 2019. After a slow start due to the 2020 pandemic, the airport started gathering international accolades and beating pre-pandemic numbers for passenger arrivals. The airport’s performance is believed to be a major contributor to a recent rise in local economic activity as well as a rise in foreign direct investments in Central Visayas.
Improved Connectivity to Tourist Destinations
Regional airports provide essential connectivity to lesser-known tourist destinations that are often not directly accessible through major international airports. This opens up new avenues for tourism development and diversifies the country’s tourist offerings, reducing over-reliance on a few popular destinations.
Local and national government agencies should invest in enhancing the infrastructure of regional airports, ensuring they have adequate runway capacity, comfortable modern terminals, and reliable passenger handling systems. Promoting domestic and international flights to these regional airports through targeted marketing campaigns will attract tourists seeking unique experiences in off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Sustainable Tourism Development
When tourists have access to more airports, they are less likely to inundate the regions that do have sufficient airport capacity. This approach reduces the environmental impact on popular tourist destinations while also preserving their exclusivity, natural beauty, and cultural heritage.
Additionally, airport developers and other stakeholders should also consider incorporating sustainability principles into new airport developments. For instance, the previously mentioned MCIA incorporates energy-efficient facilities and ground-breaking waste management programs to further reduce the impacts of tourism. In this way, tourism growth can be better aligned with wider environmental conservation efforts.
Strengthening Domestic Tourism
Somewhat ironically, it is often easier for Filipinos in larger cities to visit international destinations than it is to explore regional destinations within their own country. Improvements to regional airports can reverse this situation by making travel more accessible and convenient for all Filipinos. This not only encourages citizens to explore their own country but also generates economic activity across various regions.
Stakeholders should collaborate with airlines and travel agencies to promote affordable and attractive domestic travel packages that are specifically aimed at upwardly mobile Filipinos. Marketing campaigns and promotional offers can be tailored to highlight the cultural, historical, and natural wonders of different regions, enticing Filipinos to explore the diversity within their own country.
Attracting Foreign Investments
Well-developed regional airports send a positive signal to foreign investors, demonstrating the country’s commitment to infrastructure development and economic growth. Moreover, foreign visitors who experience efficient transportation links within the country may later consider returning to the country as investors.
Local policymakers may enhance the overall investment climate in their areas by facilitating convenient linkages and services around regional airports. Importantly, they can also provide robust support to potential investors above the basic set of privileges offered by the local government, offering perks and additional access to local labor pools.
Facilitating Inclusive Growth
Regional airports play a pivotal role in promoting inclusive growth by distributing the benefits of trade and tourism to underserved regions. In countries with serious urban-rural divides like the Philippines, well-developed regional airports signal the national government’s commitment to the equitable distribution of economic opportunities. By taking improvements to regional airports seriously, stakeholders may move beyond just tourism and eventually create a more economically balanced and cohesive national development landscape.
As important as they are for tourism, regional airports should be seen as more than just gateways to access the Philippines’ various regions. They also serve as statements of the country’s efforts to truly connect and provide for its citizens. Through strategic investment, national and local stakeholders transform regional airports to diversify tourist destinations, attract investments, and foster inclusive growth.
*This is a collaborative post.*