MELANDREW T. VELASCO: Bulacan airport will boost tourism industry

Early this year, the Department of Tourism reported 2.65 million international visitor arrivals for 2022 surpassing its 1.7 million target arrivals. The 2022 record has nearly one million additional visitors entering into the country than the year-end target. 

This is good news for the tourism industry as the country is slowly recovering from the adverse effects of the pandemic. Tourism is after all, one of the drivers for economic recovery as it generates not only employment for Filipinos but also the much-needed revenue for the government treasury. 

Last year, revenue from tourism was recorded at Php208.96 billion while an estimated 5.23 million tourism-related jobs were generated.

While the re-vitalization of the tourism industry is a welcome development with the Tourism Department targeting 4.8 million visitors this year, problems at the country’s premier airport do not augur well for a boom in the tourism sector.

A glitch at the NAIA system on New Year’s Day affected airport operations with flights delayed, diverted or cancelled and affected around 65,000 passengers.  On January 22,  Lunar New Year, several flights were again affected.

It is not uncommon to hear from domestic air travelers that their plane had to stay on air for a few minutes before finally touching ground at NAIA. 

For a country that has so much to offer both domestic and foreign visitors, there is a need to upgrade the airports, expand the runway capacity and develop new ones to cope with increasing demands. This will also entice more foreign investors to the country. NAIA has two runways being shared by four terminals.  Increasing runway capacity by expanding its runways may not be feasible taking into consideration environmental and spatial concerns. NAIA borders the cities of Pasay and Paranaque. Nearby are residential areas and other establishments which may be dislocated should structural expansion be undertaken.

According to the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, air traffic congestion is likely to persist, if not worsen, without the needed investments in developing, upgrading and improving airports. It further stated “Airport capacities in 2022 will be inadequate to cater to domestic and international aviation demand, which is expected to recover by 2025.”

Hopefully, by 2027 a new international airport in Bulacan will begin its operations. Thanks to the visionary leadership of San Miguel Corporation President and CEO Ramon S. Ang.  

The New Manila International Airport is a Public Private Partnership project between the government implementing agency Department of Transportation (DOTr) and San Miguel Corporation. 

Construction of the airport was an initiative of SMC and underwent necessary procedures for an unsolicited proposal. SMC subsidiary San Miguel Aerocity, Inc. was granted the franchise to construct and operate the new international airport.

The project covers the construction, operation and maintenance of the new modern airport with a capacity of 200 million passengers per year. Unlike the existing Ninoy Aquino International Airport with only two runways, the new airport will have four runways. Thus, it will greatly ease the congestion at the NAIA.  Aside from aviation-related facilities, the 2,500 hectare aerocity which was designed by Arch. Felino Palafox will have accessible public transport systems, landscaped walkways and promenades with ample open spaces. It will utilize the latest digital infrastructure. 

The P735.60 billion project will be fully funded by SMC. It is expected to generate at least 30 million jobs in tourism-related businesses.  The construction phase alone will already create jobs to many, including blue collar workers. Currently, land development for the new airport is ongoing before civil works will be undertaken. Data from the website reveal that for the years 2019 and 2020, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam were the top countries of destination for travelers from around the world. 

While marketing the country’s attractiveness to tourists is important, the existence of a world class tourism infrastructure like the New Manila International Airport will definitely help boost the tourism industry as the country competes with neighboring ASEAN countries to get a big chunk of visitor arrivals in the region.

SMC has always been at the forefront in initiating projects without cost to the government to help grow the economy. Under the leadership of RSA, it has successfully rehabilitated the Tullahan River. It is also rehabilitating the Pasig River. 

For RSA money should be invested to create opportunity and create jobs that will empower the Filipinos to improve their lives. He has the vision and the leadership to turn this vision into reality.