CEBU’s connectivity in Southeast Asia got a boost following Thai Smile Airways’ announcement of offering Bangkok-Cebu-Bangkok direct air services starting in October this year.
Thai Smile, in a press statement by the Department of Tourism (DOT), said it will fly to Cebu daily, three times weekly in the morning and four times weekly in the afternoon, using an Airbus A320 with 162 dual class seats (12 business class and 150 economy class).
“It is really good news for all of us who loves to go to Bangkok. Cebu is really opening its doors to the rest of the world. Thanks to our new airport (expansion) that is opening very soon,” said Cebu Association of Tour Operators president Edilberto Mendoza Jr.
Stephanie Villahermosa, managing director of Divaishnavi International Inc., a travel and tour agency, said Thai Smile’s entry to Cebu will definitely add “more fun, endless possibilities and wonders.”
Thai Smile Airways is the regional airline and wholly-owned subsidiary of Thai Airways. Based in Thailand, it began operation in July 2012. The daily Bangkok-Cebu-Bangkok route is in addition to Thai Smile’s five international routes and 12 domestic routes in Thailand.
Thai Smile executive Wutcharin Thatan said the airline expects a good amount of traffic from both ends, considering Bangkok is one of the popular destinations among Filipino business and leisure travelers.
Likewise, Thailand is located strategically between the Philippines and Europe, the Middle East, and India, where visitor traffic to the country registers double-digit growth annually.
Arrivals from Thailand to Central Visayas during the first quarter of 2016 stood at 1,757, up by 29.70 percent compared to the 1,361 arrivals recorded in 2015.
Cebu, specifically, welcomed 1,280 guests from Thailand, up by 15.52 percent. Among the ASEAN countries, Thailand is one of the biggest tourism source market for the region next to Singapore and Malaysia.
Central Visayas closed 2015 with 6,076 total arrivals from Thailand, a growth of 5.63 percent. Cebu welcomed 5,028 Thai visitors.
Thatan explained that the non-stop service between Cebu and Bangkok will be faster and more convenient for travelers from the central and southern Philippines than the current option of flying from Cebu to Manila onwards to Bangkok, saving both in flying time and local fares.
GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. chief executive advisor Andrew Harrison said they are currently in discussions with Thai Smile for daily service flights.
Business trips, too
Since January this year, GMCAC, the private operator of Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA), has launched four international flights all in March.
Meanwhile, Cebu’s business leaders expressed excitement over Thai Smile’s entry to Cebu.
“Fantastic! This should allow easier access into Region 7 for European tourists coming from Thailand. This is real boost!” said Gordon Alan Joseph, president of Cebu Business Club.
“This is a welcome development as it will help promote business and tourism between Cebu and Bangkok. It will likewise push Cebu as a regional hub in the ASEAN,” said Glenn Anthony Soco, president of Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Melanie Ng, president of Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there will definitely be a positive effect on the economy once travel and tourism between Bangkok and Cebu via the new direct flight by Thai Smile Airways starts.
“There can be an increase in marketing initiatives done in Thailand by DOT to support this new route. We have to make sure there are attractive tour packages that we can offer to the potential Thai tourists who will avail of this new direct route to Cebu. For travelers that frequent Bangkok, this is a welcome development. There will be a positive impact on trade opportunities between the two cities,” said Ng.
For Jose Ng, honorary trade advisor of Thailand in the Philippines, the direct air service also helps local trade.
“Thailand businesses, especially food and beverage, construction materials, and beauty and wellness products are most active industries in Thailand. With the opening of the direct flight between Bangkok and Cebu, business owners from both sides will have a better opportunity to explore and seal business partnerships,” he said in a text message.
DOT also said the airline executive, together with the agency’s Market Development Group, also visited Manila, Cebu, Bohol and Clark to gather information and to meet with airport officials in preparation for more flights.
Erwin Balane, head of DOT’s Route Development Team, said the new route will provide an additional 58,968 international air seats per year to Cebu.
“This will provide expanded opportunity for the country to generate foreign exchange and employment,” he said.
Last March, Balane told Sun.Star Cebu that more short-haul foreign airlines have expressed interest in operating at MCIA, following the recent Route Asia 2016 hosted by the Philippines held in SMX Convention Center in Manila.
Balane previously said an airline from Bangkok, Indonesia and Japan and four airlines from China are eyeing to mount regular flights out of the MCIA.
Thai Smile currently has 15 units of the Airbus A320, which are intended to serve the market between low-cost carriers and full-service flights.