Iloilo airport expansion key to MICE tourism boost

Passengers get ready to board their designated plane in one of the gates of the Iloilo international airport in Cabatuan town. (F. A. Angelo)

By: Emme Rose Santiagudo

The Department of Tourism (DOT) in Western Visayas sees the need for the expansion of the Iloilo International Airport in Cabatuan, Iloilo to boost Iloilo City as a premiere Meetings, Incentive Travels, Conferences/Conventions, Exhibitions/Events (MICE) tourism destination in the country.

DOT-6 Regional Director Helen Catalbas said more and more tourists will go to Iloilo, hence, the airport facility must be able to cater to all MICE visitors and guests.

Sa subong okay pa na kay gasugod pa lang kita sa MICE but as we go on sa aton promotion sa MICE, gadamo ang mga tawo nga gusto magkadto sa Iloilo. Amo gid man na ya ang kamatuoran kon gusto naton nga magdamo pa gid ang aton turista kag magnami pa gid aton accommodation sa traveler,” she said in an interview on Friday.

Catalbas emphasized that once the airport has better facilities and improved runway, it can accommodate more travelers in Western Visayas since the Iloilo airport is considered the gateway in the region.

“Our airport already reached its passenger capacity, eight years ago before the target meaning to say when we expand it, it will accommodate more flights,” she reiterated.

Iloilo airport was among the best airports in Asia, according to a survey of travel website “Sleeping in Airports.”

The 2019 survey indicated that Iloilo airport ranked 18th while the Mactan Cebu International Airport ranked 16th.

The Cebu and Iloilo airports were only the two airports from the Philippines that made the list.

In the annual survey, “Sleeping in Airports” asked travelers to rate airports worldwide based on their overall airport experience where it is ranked based on the following factors: comfort (Gate seating, rest zone availability, etc.); services, facilities and things to do; food options; immigration/security; customer service; navigation and ease of transit; cleanliness, and sleepability.

Catalbas believes that the rating of Iloilo airport can be improved once it is expanded.

Subong number 18 siya in Asia kay teh medyo magutok pero kon magexpand kita who knows mas mataas ang aton ranko, basi magnumber one pa,” she said.

Last June, former president and former House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) granted an original proponent status (OPS) to the unsolicited proposal submitted by the Villar Group of real estate magnate Manuel Villar Jr. for the expansion of the Iloilo airport.

After this, Arroyo said the proposal will then be forwarded to the National Economic and Development Authority for evaluation and approval before undergoing a Swiss challenge.

But, according to CAAP Iloilo terminal supervisor Art Parreño, they have no update on the proposal.

“We don’t have any information as to the realization of that pero how CAAP wished nga mapatigayon ina,” he said in a separate phone interview on Monday.

Parreño underscored the need for the expansion especially the passenger terminal building.

“The passenger terminal building that we have right now was constructed to cater to the domestic operations,” he lamented.

At its inception, Parreño said Iloilo airport was constructed for domestic operations

“We expanded to Hong Kong and Singapore destinations and now more and more airlines are offering new domestic destinations like the new Iloilo-Clark destination offered by Air Asia and Cebu Pacific,” he said.

Parreño noted that the MICE tourism campaign in Iloilo is bearing fruit what with the influx of passengers in the airport in the past several weeks.

Talking about MICE, CAAP Iloilo understood fully well that MICE is really doing a great service in selling Iloilo. In fact mafeel naton, there is an influx of passengers these several weeks also because of the pre-week observance of Undas 2019,” he said.

When it opened in 2007, the airport was originally designed to cater to 1.2 million, according to data from CAAP.

The airport currently serves 2.4 million passengers every year.