DURING her three-day visit to Cebu, United States (US) Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson reiterated the US’ commitment to help the Philippines boost its tourism sector, where the US is one of the major tourist contributors.
In a press briefing Friday, May 19, 2023, Carlson said both the US and the Philippine governments, through the Department of Transportation (DOTr), are working on expanding the air services agreement to boost tourism arrivals and trade opportunities between the US and the Philippines.
“Our current air services agreement is about 30 years old, and we think there is a lot to be done to modernize that agreement to promote ways for our airlines to connect efficiently and to bring more tourists and business people here,” said Carlson, who appreciated the award-winning Mactan-Cebu International Airport when she arrived in Cebu on Thursday, May 18.
It was the diplomat’s first time to visit Cebu since she became the US ambassador to the Philippines in 2022. She succeeded Ambassador Sung Kim, who led the US mission from 2016 to 2020.
“The Mactan-Cebu International Airport is very impressive. To arrive at the airport and see the prospects for development for this region that can come from having an airport that establishes a stronger connectivity with the rest of the world is one thing that we are talking about with the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham)-Cebu and airport authorities here -- to explore ways to get more direct flights from the US or restart the direct flights,” Carlson said.
Nonstop flights naturally attract tourists and business travelers as they make travel easier and seamless. Direct flights also make it easier for a destination to establish business connections.
Canceled by pandemic
At present, Cebu and the Visayas have no direct connection to the US. Filipinos living outside Luzon will need to either go to Manila to take a non-stop flight of Philippine Airlines (PAL) or embark on connecting flights from Cebu to neighboring Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore or Korea, among others, to get to the US.
In 2020, PAL was set to re-introduce a nonstop Cebu-Los Angeles service in May, restoring the only direct air link between the Visayas and Mainland USA. However, the Covid-19 pandemic happened, putting a pause on all tourism and travel activities.
The US is the country’s second top source market with 352,894 arrivals, contributing about 17.62 percent of the total two million foreign arrivals from Jan. 1 to May 12, 2023, after South Korea with 487,502 arrivals.
Cebu has no first quarter tourism arrivals data yet, but in 2022, arrivals from the US stood at 90,107 from 5,053 arrivals in 2021.
Carlson was in Cebu as part of the US’ gesture of deepening and strengthening ties with the Philippines. The diplomat checked on the various USAid programs in Cebu, and met with local officials like Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan and Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.
She also had a dialogue with students of the University of Cebu, members of the AmCham-Cebu and alumni of the US Fulbright Program, among others.
Aviation sector priorities
In a separate development, the DOTr said the Philippines and the US will expand air transport connectivity and modernize the two countries’ bilateral aviation partnership.
In a new release posted on its Facebook page on May 18, the DOTr said during the PH-US Bilateral Meeting at the sidelines of the 11th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Transportation Ministerial Meeting on May 16 in Detroit, Michigan, that the Philippines and the US discussed mutual interest to promote air transport and expand cooperation in the aviation sector.
The Philippine delegation shared with their counterparts the current priorities in the aviation sector, particularly on the areas of civil aviation master planning, air traffic management, uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, and modernization of aviation infrastructure and operations.
Other ongoing initiatives on maritime, road and rail transport were also discussed. Officials of the DOTr particularly highlighted the country’s efforts towards modernizing the transport network systems, anchored on the principles of sustainability, resiliency and green mobility.
The two countries also signed the Record of Discussion (ROD) concerning the development of air transport policy and regulation, which expresses the general intention and common goal of both parties towards enhanced cooperation and understanding in the field of air transportation.
With the signing of the ROD, the Civil Aeronautics Board, an attached agency of the DOTr, will work closely with the US Department of Transportation to promote greater cooperation and discuss issues of mutual interest and concern related to aviation policy and regulation.
CEBU. US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson in a press conference in Cebu City Friday, May 19, 2023. (Photo by Katlene Cacho-Laurejas)
May 21, 2023
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