It's great to be home. I have spent a lot of time with my bum on an aircraft in the last few weeks. Although it may sound exciting and glamorous, it’s a task that I have yet to learn how to enjoy - flying on an airplane.
Nevertheless, it was good to meet up with friends and family as they always provide respite for a weary soul. I've been through several airports and seen so many airplanes in the recent weeks. I cannot help but reflect on the state of the aviation industry in my own country. I have spent over twenty years of my life in this particular field of the transportation industry. It is probably high time that I give my two cents worth.
The question of why there is only one European carrier that operates out of the Philippines is something that has been lingering in the minds of many.
The short answer to that: It is difficult to make a route profitable when flying non-stop into the Philippines from Europe.
There are many contributory factors to this. The glaring one that we conveniently overlook is the fact that the Philippine market is unique in comparison to any other country in the world. Our number one export is the Filipino people.
Early this year, I facilitated a portion, on behalf of Kaya Natin, on the Expert Consultation with The Hague Process for Refugees and Migration. This was spearheaded by one of the Board Members of the said organization, Ms. Doris Magsaysay-Ho.
The foreign resource persons shared their views on the Philippines and explicitly stated that it was a good opportunity for them to study the movement from a migrant country (both temporary and permanent migration).
The number of Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) that come from the Philippines is phenomenal. Translated into airline language, these are mostly one way tickets. What happens to the in-bound flights? They’re mostly empty, hence, the lack of non-stop flights to and from Europe.
The Philippines is the world’s largest supplier of seafarers. We supply approximately 30% of the global requirement. When sailing on a cruise liner, you can be guaranteed that there will be a Filipino seaman on-board. The employers purchase their tickets for them, and that further complicates matters.
It is one of the markets where the passenger has very little or no control over the flights that they will be taking. They just get their tickets from their agency, and off they go. If this means flying on a kite, then so be it. They do not even know where they will be disembarking from. It depends on where the vessel is berthed at the time their contract expires.
The US market has evolved through the years. A good majority of the middle- and upper-middle class have relatives in the US. This lessens expenses for would be tourists as the Filipino culture has taught us to welcome guests as transients into our homes.
The US visas granted to tourists are also long term. That is why it is easy for an airline to run specials during trough periods. This allows airline companies to take advantage of windows of opportunity and seasonality of travelers.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for Europe. Securing a European visa takes a lot of planning and is usually very short term. The process of applying is quite tedious, and on some occasions, you have to arrive on specific dates.
The recent migration of nurses all over Europe has made it more viable for would be Filipino tourists to visit friends and family. However, the hassle and expense of getting a one-time visa makes it easy to shelve plans more often than not.
This brings me back to the probability of airlines operating the route. We have pointed our fingers at almost everything as the culprit for the lack of flights: safety, security, airport facilities, open-skies, and taxes. These are matters that cannot be ignored, but despite government efforts to address the aforementioned, I do not see the possibility of flights to and from Europe being announced anytime soon because of the strong directional imbalance. Our current market situation cannot assure route profitability.
The recent improvement in the business environment has shown a slight change in our market behavior. We are seeing higher yielding business come in as investors are drawn to our country. This is the best way to address the issue. We should have more visitors coming in.
“It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. I really hope the campaign works. There are other ways to entice foreign carriers to come but that is a new set of lessons on airline business altogether. So, let us stick to the simplest one for now. After all, our efforts to encourage visitors and our kababayans to return home may just bear fruit.
Marisa Lerias is originally from Southern Leyte and currently works with the Philippine office of British Airways. She is also part of the core group of Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.
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