Deserted Destinations

MANILA, Philippines - There are a number of provincial areas whose tourism plans and programs have been set back a decade or two. One of them is Calbayog City. The primordial reason is that two domestic airlines have abandoned their routes to those places.

All the preparations in putting together travel and tourism infrastructures that would have positioned those cities in the domestic tourism market are gone to naught.

The biggest minus-factor, it is conceded, is that prospective visitors are turned off and go elsewhere when told that the only remaining carrier has already an advanced two-week reservation list.

In the hospitality industry, a day of delay is considered a loss of valuable business.

To think that improvements in tourists' facilities in those areas were undertaken by private individuals as investors. Hotels, inns, restaurants, resorts are there, but empty rooms are waiting for customers.

As far as residents of these areas are concerned, all the government's hype and hoopla -- ''It's more fun ...,'' airport modernization program, domestic tourism marketing, and so forth -- are meaningless.

Take the case of Calbayog. The city government had prepared for visitors and travelers regularly coming for a visit. It upgraded some tourism wherewithal, keeping its streets and government buildings in top sanitary condition. New hotels and restaurants were built, not counting new hospitals. Peace and order condition is well-placed.

Then all of a sudden last summer, two domestic airlines stopped their flights to Calbayog. What remains now is Airphil Express which simply cannot accommodate walk-in, same-day-departure foreign and domestic tourists. It has at least a 10-day advanced reservation passengers manifest.

What happened to Cebu Pacific and ZestAir? The most plausible reason is that they assigned their turbo-prop aircraft to profitable itineraries like Boracay and Tagbilaran. An act that illustrates business is taking precedence over requisites in the airlines' conveyance certificate.

If I were to understand, the certificate of conveyance of transport companies requires their servicing even the so-called missionary routes, or non-money-making destinations. This is the essence of public service as mandated of air transportation sector by the government.

To the two domestic carriers, it is certainly not enough that the Calbayog route is a break-even destination. As long as it is in the red, they will have none of that ''conveyance'' nonsense!

Some independent observers are speculating that the closing down of Calbayog operation by Cebu Pacific and ZestAir is a way of getting even with the bad publicity they have been getting in local and national media.

You see, since last year there have been complaints by passengers of one carrier of their baggage being pilfered. And the other one was notorious for being late - two to three hours - in departure schedule. And, subsequently, its arrival in Calbayog.

Many passengers have lost business and important appointments because of that tardiness.

The government is also partly to blame. Recently, the DOTC announced the upgrading and expansion of seven provincial airports. Calbayog airport was not one of them.

Although, it is common knowledge in the industry, as well as by government civil aviation regulatory agencies that the Calbayog airport runway barely stretches 1,000 meters. It is inadequate for use of jet-propelled commercial aircraft.

Its small terminal building has a leaking roof, dirty restrooms, dangling rafters, and ceilings falling off. The baggage check-in and retrieval service is still done in a ''mano-mano'' system.

In 2009, when PAL Express had its maiden flight to Calbayog, then President Gloria told the huge crowd that gathered at the apron, that she had authorized the release of a few hundreds of thousands of pesos to equip the terminal with a conveyor belt baggage service system, and for minor repairs here and there of the building. It remained a promise.

Dodong Rosales, a much-awarded provincial station manager of PAL, once told a group of local businessmen and media representatives that the tourism potentials of Calbayog would never come to fruition unless airport and terminal building facilities are upgraded, expanded, and equipped with up-to-date air navigational standards.

And, if I may add, also provided with some tourist-friendly conveniences and perks.

Today, more than 30 years after what Dodong had expounded, not a thing of the above has come to reality. This is what I mean with what I said earlier, that tourism prospects in Calbayog have been set back two decades.

The confidence of local investors and the enthusiasm of LGUs, and the natives to help their locality and the national government attain tourism success all redound to nothingness.