TACLOBAN CITY – Eastern Visayas is bound to lose 1,183 daily tourists or 106,470 from September to December due to limited air travel operation at the Daniel Z. Romualdez (DZR) Airport.  With this situation, the regional office of the Department of Tourism admitted that they could not possibly reach their target of tourist arrivals at more than 769,000 for this year.  “The DZR Airport serves as the gateway. With the limited operations of the airport, we are also faced with limited air seats for incoming and outgoing passengers,” said DOT Regional Director Karina Rosa Tiopes.  “Limited flights and schedules also make travel to the region inconvenient to both visitors and the travelling public,” she added. Before the runway problem, Tiopes recalled that the Tacloban airport had nine flights per day with an average airline seats per plane of about 70. “That means we lost 79% of our airline seat capacity,” she said. Based on their tourist target for this year, 2,109 tourists are to arrive a day in the region using the DZR Airport. Assuming that 80% or 1,687 visitors arrival via Tacloban Airport, the region will have a significant gap between visitor air seat demand and supply, Tiopes said.

 “Presuming that of the 630 passengers from nine flights per day, 80% or 504 of them are visitors, then we are losing about 1,183 tourists per day,” she observed. For 60-room Hotel Alejandro, the situation since early September has been unusual. “Our occupancy rate since September 4 was just 70% to 80%. Prior to airport problem, we have been fully booked. We lost walk-in clients due to flight cancellations,” said Nellie Abiertas, front desk officer of Hotel Alejandro.  The airport was shutdown on September 3 for emergency patching of large pothole, as recommended by airline companies. After 24 hours, the runway has reopened, but only for propeller driven aircraft to give way to long term repair.

The situation prompted airline companies to cancel flights to DZR Airport. Only the Manila-bound Philippine Airlines turboprop planes and Cebu-bound Cebu Pacific’s small aircraft use the airport. The DZR Airport has 2,100-meter runway. Unlike Airbuses, smaller aircrafts can only use half of the runway, paving the way for the massive rehabilitation of runway’s asphalt overlay. Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Tacloban area manager Efren Nagrama said that massive runway rehabilitation works may end early December. The DZR Airport is one of the country’s busiest airports in the country, catering 611,397 inbound and outbound travellers from January to July 2014. The CAAP office has no available comparable 2013 data since all records were swept away by big waves. Tiopes, on the other hand, said that the limited operation will contribute to sustainable tourism growth in the future as it will ensure “long term safety.” “If we were to weigh the effect of having an airport with limited operations versus ensuring the safety of passengers and the integrity of the aircraft, latter takes precedence. We just have to bear the short term inconvenience,” she added. Eastern Visayas is targeting an 8.5% growth this year from the 709,498 arrival in 2013. (SARWELL Q.MENIANO)