It went almost unnoticed, except in the Philippines. On June 29th, a 60-seat aircraft from domestic carrier Zest Air overshot Caticlan Airport’s runway forcing to a closure of the airport. It was the second serious incident at the airport in a six month-time.
The problem is that Caticlan serves Boracay, one of the Philippines most popular resort destination. The airport has been reopened but only for small 19-seat aircraft of commuter airline SE Air and only for one-way operations. All other airlines with 60 to 70-seat aircraft had to divert their operation to the next airport in Kalibo, an over two-hour-drive and boat ride from Boracay Island.
Caticlan airport redevelopment has been a long time topic for Philippine tourism with the project of upgrading the airport. The airport is surrounded by sea and a hill providing difficult landing conditions for aircraft. Its runway is in fact limited to only 970 meters. The urgency comes from the fact that the airport is now among the top five busiest in the country with some 800,000 passengers a year.
In 2007, Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved the construction of a new US$ 44 million passenger terminal to serve the rising influx of visitors to Boracay Island. In the final project, originally due for completion in 2014, the apron and the runway are to be expanded by reclaiming land. The airport would then have its runway extended to 2,100 meters, enough to welcome aircraft up to the Boeing 737. International traffic will, however, continue to land at Kalibo airport.
But following the accident, the Philippine Department of Tourism and the Philippine Department of Transportation have worked together to accelerate the airport’s upgrading. The plan is to taper a portion of the neighbouring hill to remove obstacles along the runway. Works are du to be completed this month, before the start of the peak-season, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) is assisting the government in its efforts to upgrade the runway and the airport’s safety.
They have been earlier plans to flatten completely the nearby hill but it is likely to face the protest of surrounding population as well as environmentalists, who are gaining more voice in the country. The rest of Caticlan Airport Development Project will then be funded by the Caticlan International Airport and Development Corp. (CIADC), a Filipino-owned company in the form of a build-operate-transfer (BOT) operation. However, for many domestic and foreign observers working in the tourism field, problems faced by Caticlan Airport are just another typical story “made in Philippines.” “We have heard for a long time about the necessary renovation of Caticlan Airport. And what happened last June is just a reflection of the problems faced by our country when it comes to infrastructures’ development. There is still a long way to get transport infrastructures to international standards and this turns to be a major handicap to a proper development of tourism in our islands,” said Candice Iyog, vice president Marketing for Cebu Pacific Air.
Boracay in Western Visayas is one of the Philippines’ most successful stories of the past decade. According to data from the National Statistical Coordination Board, Boracay has seen the total number of tourists growing from 200,000 in 2000 to 635,000 in 2008 –including 200,000 foreign arrivals. The island alone generates over US$275 million annually in tourist revenues.
Data point out that 69 percent of all international travelers to Boracay come from Northeast Asia, with Korea alone representing 46 percent of all foreign arrivals- and 13 percent from Europe.
H1N1 virus has so far failed to dent into the growth of the destination this year. For the first six months of 2009, arrivals to Boracay surged by over 5 percent to reach 400,000 visitors.
This year, Boracay could then end up with some 675,000 to 700,000 tourists on its shores. New deluxe hotels have opened up over the last three years, the latest being the Fairways Golf Resort and Country Club, the Discovery Shores Boracay, the Mandala Spa and Villas Boracay and most recently the exclusive Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa.