MIAA: Domestic travelers through Naia exceed pre-pandemic levels

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By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror

DOMESTIC tourism continues to remain strong, with most passengers traveling through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport  (Naia) exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Data released by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) showed some 6.16 million passengers traveled on 42,331 domestic flights in the first quarter of the year, up 13 percent from the 5.45 million passengers who traveled on 36,206 flights in the same period in 2019. Most local carriers have said they already recovered their pre-pandemic domestic flight frequencies.

“Because domestic borders opened earlier than international borders, airlines are deploying a lot of flights right now to serve our local destinations,” said MIAA general manager Cesar Chiong in a news statement. “Our domestic sector is thriving, and we are seeing the results of the government’s efforts to revive tourism,” he noted. The MIAA is a unit under the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

More than double arrivals in Manila

Taken with international flights, the total number of passengers that arrived at the Philippines’ primary gateway reached 10.86 million in the first three months of 2023, a staggering 158-percent increase over the 4.2 million passengers who arrived in the same period in 2022. The first quarter totals were also only 6 percent less than the 11.6 million passengers in the same period in 2019, an indication that Filipinos are now more than eager to travel abroad and foreign tourists are starting to return to the country. Domestic passengers accounted for some 57 percent of the total who traveled through Naia.

Also, the MIAA reported there was a 77-percent increase in flight movements from January to March 2023 to 67,781 through Naia’s terminals, versus 38,269 in 2022. The flight movements in the first quarter this year was also 4 percent more than the 65,161 pre-pandemic flights in the same period in 2019.

“With the reopening of borders in countries such as Hong Kong and China, as well as the easing of travel restrictions, many travelers have regained confidence to fly in and out of the Philippines for both leisure and business purposes,” said Chiong.

He expressed optimism, that “as the aviation industry recovers from the effects of the pandemic, passenger numbers are likely to rise further in the coming months and years.”

On a monthly basis, the largest number of passengers that arrived “since the Covid-19 pandemic” were 3.8 million in January this year, while March tallied the biggest number of flights at 23,399.

PHL-Turkey sign amended air pact

Meanwhile, tourist arrivals from Turkey reached 2,842 from January to March 28 this year, already exceeding the pre-pandemic arrivals of 2,577 in the first quarter of 2019, data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) show.

This developed as the DOT expected passenger traffic between the Philippines and Turkey to further rise with the recent addition of Cebu as a terminal for flights to and from Istanbul, and the doubling of the number of flights to 14 per week on each side. Both countries recently signed an air service agreement amending their initial pact inked in 2010 for flights between Manila and Istanbul, according to the DOTr.

In a news statement, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said the amended agreement further positions the Philippines as an ideal destination for foreign tourists, especially this summer.

“The Department of Tourism has identified the improvement of connectivity as one of its core objectives to strengthen the tourism industry,” she said. “Thus, we recognize and commend the efforts of our counterparts from the transportation sector led by the Department of Transportation for helping us improve our air services partnerships that would give our would-be visitors the improved tourist experience that they deserve.”

She added, the decision to pick Cebu as a co-terminal recognizes the improvements made by the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which has led it to win Asia’s Best Airport Award in the under 5 Million Passenger Category of Routes Asia this year.

Istanbul also provides a vital connection point for Filipinos traveling to Europe.