November 25, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Business group urges AirAsia to launch Davao-KL service

DAVAO CITY -- The local business community is aiming to convince AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes to consider making the city’s airport as its Philippine hub and to launch a Davao-Kuala Lumpur service.

Arturo M. Milan, trustee of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (DCCCII), said they will put forward the proposal when Mr. Fernandes comes to town for the 2017 Davao Investment Conference (ICon) on July 21-22.

“We need to seize the opportunity,” Mr. Milan told BusinessWorld in a text message.

Mr. Milan, head of this year’s ICon organizing committee, said there is a significant potential business and tourist passenger traffic in the Davao-Kuala Lumpur route, given that the two countries are part of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area.

“We just need a critical catalyst to develop, especially the economic cooperation and an air link will be crucial,” he said.

Mr. Fernandes is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Davao ICon later this week, and is expected to make an announcement at a press conference.

“Although we still do not know what he will announce, we just hope that he will agree to our appeal,” Mr. Milan said.

In April, AirAsia Philippines announced the launch of several new domestic routes, including between Davao and Cebu, Clark, Boracay and Puerto Princesa.

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines, Inc. (PAL) is hopeful the backlash from its Davao flights arising from the Marawi crisis and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao will eventually soften as it held Friday a promotional event targeting the Filipino-American market.

“We want to drive home the message that it is safe to travel here in Davao City,” PAL head of external communications Maria Cielo Villaluna told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the 11th Ambassadors’ Tour Philippine Reception held at the SMX Convention Center in SM Lanang.

Ms. Villaluna said PAL remains confident in the teamwork between the government and the private sector in the travel and tourism sector.

“We value our market here in Davao and what better way to impart the message that it is safe to travel by showing our presence here,” she said.

The 11th Ambassadors’ Tour, with more than 180 participants composed of US-based Philippine consuls and their entourage, is intended to entice Filipino-Americans to visit both Metro Manila and Davao.

PAL currently has at least seven flights a day between Manila and Davao.

“We are the only carrier that flies from California to the Philippines. From New York, taking our flight is the fastest also because we stop only in Vancouver,” PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Jaime J. Bautista told reporters.

Ms. Villaluna said PAL saw a 15% increase in passengers flying to Davao after President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who comes from the city, won in July last year, but the volume has thinned following the May 23 declaration of a 60-day martial law in Mindanao.

“In fact, there was a clamor for more flights but because of this martial law situation, hindi maiiwasan na may konting agam-agam (we can’t avoid some reluctance),” she said, which is why they are making a push to bring back confidence.

“We just hope that the (martial law) declaration will be lifted soon. Of course the President knows best when to lift it, but we hope that the condition normalizes so that people will again fly and visit the Philippines, and get all the tourists that we need for our economy,” Mr. Bautista said. -- Carmelito Q. Francisco and Maya M. Padillo