Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Mon November 09 2015

How Private Ownership Could Save The Philippines' Regional Hubs

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | November 09, 2015

How Private Ownership Could Save The Philippines' Regional Hubs

Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport does not enjoy the best image in the world. Often tagged as one of Asia's worst airports, the main hub of the Philippines has had a series of issues in recent years. The latest story, which involves airport employees placing bullets in arriving passengers' bags so that customs officials can extort money, has negated any recent public relations gains.

Now, there is hope for people who want to avoid Aquino altogether. Though some of the high-traffic destinations in the Philippines have direct flights from other international hubs, the most common itinerary involves flying into Manila and then catching a connecting flight to your final destination.

Even when there are direct flights from Hong Kong or Singapore to Cebu or Davao, it is often cheaper to connect at Aquino. In the past, these regional hubs have experienced some of the same problems with poor organization that plague Aquino.

Regional airports getting an upgrade

That could change. Philippine air travel insiders think that part of Ninoy Aquino International's problem is that there is simply too much traffic. Offering more direct international flights to different regions could help alleviate some of the congestion.

One of the ideas is to have private companies take over operation of these regional hubs. This is what happened in Cebu. Things have gone very well in the Philippines' second city in recent years. Now privately owned, Mactan-Cebu International Airport is widely considered the best in the country. It was crowded and ill equipped (it even lacked digital signage) until GMR-Megawide took the reigns in 2010.

Privately-run airports could be the answer

Mactan's terminal is now a model of efficiency, and a new second terminal is slated to open in 2018. The same private-ownership model will be used to help several other regional airports, including the one in the southern metropolis of Davao, get much-needed upgrades.

Even San Miguel is getting in on the trend. The famous Filipino beer brand is in the process of funding major airport upgrades in the popular beach destination of Boracay. The new hub, which will be able to handle about eight million passengers per year, is scheduled to open in 2017.

New gateways for regional tourism

The Philippine Transportation Department just approved a new public-private agreement that will see major renovations and a capacity increase at Clark International Airport, some 40 miles outside of Metro Manila. Though it mainly serves regional flights to nearby Angeles City, this airport could potentially act as a gateway to Manila, taking some of the traffic away from Aquino and offering international visitors a better in-terminal experience.

The airport upgrades could eventually be a boon for tourism. Though the Philippines has been growing as a tourist destination, it still lags behind its regional rivals. Many passengers who use the regional airports are overseas workers who are returning home. Having better hubs could entice more tourists to come to these off-the-beaten-path places.  

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