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How Well-Designed Airports Elevate a Country’s Tourism Industry

May 15, 2023

There are many countries around the world where tourism is one of the most important economic sectors. In the Philippines, for example, more than 2.5 million foreign tourists arrived in 2022 alone. This allowed the tourism industry to earn a revenue of more than Php 107 billion from February to September of the same year, which is almost a 2,000 percent increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, in 2021, the share of tourism to the Philippine gross domestic product was posted at 5.2 percent.

One of the elements that made these possible is a robust transport and mobility sector, particularly skillfully planned airports. In an archipelago like the Philippines, composed of more than 7,000 individual islands, airport development is crucial to a vibrant tourism industry.

Below are some important points of discussion as to how well-designed airports can elevate tourism, boost economic activity, and ultimately contribute to growth:

Encouraging Travelers to Visit Places Outside Metro Manila and Luzon

The Philippines’ largest aviation hub is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), located in the cities of Parañaque and Pasay, in Metro Manila. NAIA has a rated capacity of 35 million passengers and 255,000 flights; unfortunately, it has been accommodating more than this number for some time. In 2019, for example, the airport served more than 47 million passengers and over 277,000 flights. This has resulted in various problems, including delayed flights and increased air traffic.

Fortunately, more areas outside of Metro Manila are seeing plenty of development and thus attention from travelers. In Visayas, Metro Cebu is the bustling center of commerce, education, and indeed, tourism. It’s the gateway to many of the country’s popular cultural and natural attractions, including various historical sites, religious festivals, culinary specialties, and beachside destinations.

The good thing is that Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) is more than capable of handling the influx of passengers eager to experience the city and other nearby locations in Cebu Province and Central Visayas Region. Built in 1990 (Terminal 1) and privatized in 2014, MCIA underwent major renovations and upgrades in 2016 to 2019. It has since won prestigious awards and continues to serve more than 12 million passengers annually, welcoming everyone to the Queen City of the South and beyond.

MCIA, which is the country’s second busiest airport, is currently operated by GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corporation. By 2024, it will be managed by Aboitiz InfraCapital. The airport has a modern yet culturally anchored and sustainable design, featuring more than 6,000 solar panels to meet its energy needs. It’s safe to say that MCIA is not only an airport, but a tourist attraction unto itself.

Improving the Airport Experience and Letting It Spill Over to Other Aspects of Tourism

Thanks to a variety of factors—including improved accessibility, better technology, and greater competition within the airline industry—more people are now able to travel both locally and internationally. Sadly, since 2015, most major airports in the Philippines are operating above their capacities while also lacking in modern facilities. This can discourage travelers to visit, as a high passenger volume can directly affect one’s experience within the airport with various travel issues. These can sour what is supposed to be a pleasant visit.

By improving airport infrastructure and design, such as how Aboitiz InfraCapital has invested in regional airport developments and other transport sector initiatives, people may feel more incentivized to travel. Even those who may have issues with mobility, such as disabled persons and the elderly, may be encouraged to visit prime destinations. This can then lead to more opportunities both in and around the airports, thus boosting the local economy through increased tourism-related spending.

Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere

An airport is one of the very first things to welcome tourists when they arrive. In short, building excellent airports is the best way for a locality to earn a good first impression from guests. With a well-designed airport, a place can create a welcoming atmosphere for guests and show that it cares about its visitors in every way. In a country like the Philippines, which is proud of its sense of hospitality and how well it treats its guests, having good airports is perhaps even more crucial.

Obviously, not every airport in the world can be on the level of Singapore’s Changi Airport or Doha’s Hamad International Airport. That being said, it’s not bad either to aim to have the best possible facilities and services. Some key factors to consider include cleanliness, intuitiveness of the facilities, foot traffic flow, baggage handling, and the speed of document processing.

What’s important to remember is that the airport is an inextricable part of a person’s travel experience. As such, if airport developers and operators are to elevate the travel experience and help boost tourism, upgrading facilities and adapting to the changing needs of travelers should be a priority.

Considering how many travelers are still preparing to fulfill their revenge travel plans, as well as how the tourism industry is poised to slowly but surely bounce back from the pandemic, airports around the world, including the Philippines, should expedite these improvements.

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