Cebu sees intercontinental network opportunities

Mactan-Cebu International Airport is setting its sights on the Chinese, Australian and European markets as it seeks to consolidate its reputation as an international airport and is using this year’s Routes Asia forum in Manila, Philippines to showcase its potential.

Speaking to Routesonline on the sidelines of the air service development forum, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harrison said the three markets were key to future plans for the airport as it prepares to welcome a further three international carriers, EVA Air, Xiamen Airlines and Emirates Airline, within the next three months on top of the nine that already operate there.

To bring in the new business, a special delegation consisting of a number of stakeholders is being prepared to visit China in order to help overturn current perceptions of Mactan-Cebu. “It is a secondary airport and the perception is most of it (the market) is domestic while the overseas travel is Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW),” he said.

“The biggest opportunity we see is helping the rest of the world understand the tourism offering we have; specifically Cebu is at the centre of most of the tourist destinations,” he added.

The airport is putting together a delegation of stakeholders, including local hoteliers and members of the chamber of commerce, to tour nine Chinese cities promoting the airport and destination. Up to 70 Chinese tour operators will then be flown via Mactan-Cebu on a four-day familiarisation trip to experience the area for themselves.

Harrison added while Australia has 300,000 OFWs he believes a direct flight to the country will prove popular with the tourism market. Europe is also being targeted with the family market high on Harrison’s list for their main annual holiday.

“Europe is huge from a tourism perspective,” he added. “Most of the Asian tourists that come to Cebu on average spend three to four nights there, European tourists spend seven to ten.”

Harrison noted Turkish Airlines and Finnair as key airlines to help tap the airport into European markets. “Turkish is located at the cross roads of Europe and it can bring in people from both east and west Europe and they are connected to more cities than any other airline in the world,” he said.

Harrison argued that the airline also understood the potential of the Philippines having originally launched a three times a week flight to Manila, only to make daily within a month of launch and then upgrade the aircraft used from an A330 to a Boeing 777 within another month. Meanwhile, Finnair is being targeted thanks to its long-running history of operating routes to southeast Asia as well as its expansive network in the region.

The executive said financial incentives for airlines to operate out of Mactan-Cebu are in place which are ratcheted up according to frequency, volume and whether or not a route is a new one. “Any airline that’s flying a wide-body aircraft seven times a week gets a discount of 75 percent in landing charges, about half a million dollars a year. It’s a package that’s not designed to discount, it is a package that’s designed to incentivise,” he added.

There is also work taking place to improve the airport’s infrastructure in anticipation of the increased traffic and especially since the current terminal, which is designed to handle 4.5 million people a year is actually handling eight million as the airport also works with four domestic airlines operating 23 routes. He said an international terminal will be open in the first quarter of 2018 that will have the capacity for eight million travellers per year.

Edward Robertson

With over ten years of experience writing for the travel trade, Ed was appointed Editor of Routes News in early 2016 and has overseen its relaunch…