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Time to restart domestic travel, tourism

/ 05:12 AM December 10, 2020

The country’s biggest budget airline is making an aggressive push for more flights, signaling the urgency to restart travel and tourism within the Philippines.

As the United Kingdom began vaccinating citizens—seen as a turnaround in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic—the Gokongwei family’s Cebu Pacific Air said time was running out for local businesses.

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“We cannot afford to wait for the vaccine to get here before we start confidently flying again and restarting because of the impact of travel and tourism to the economy,” Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and customer experience, said during a virtual briefing on Wednesday.

From June to November, she said the budget airline was operating at below 10 percent of its prepandemic network.

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Cebu Pacific, which swung to a P14.9-billion loss in the first nine months of the year and cut 25 percent of its workforce last August, plans to bring this up to 16 percent in December.

Iyog said the industry must find the right balance between flying safely and restarting the economy.

In the case of Cebu Paci­fic, this involves more stringent sanitation, the use of the Department of Transportation’s contact tracing app called Traze and affordable COVID-19 testing options.

The widespread adoption of risk mitigation measures will boost domestic travel in the Philippines, which remains a laggard in the region.

“We are the only country in the world that requires some form of testing for domestic travel,” Andrew Harrison, chief executive adviser of GMR Megawide Cebu Airport, said during the same briefing.

He said domestic travel in the Philippines stood at just 20 percent of prepandemic flights compared to neighbors in Asia-Pacific doing above 55 percent and, in Thailand’s case, up to 77 percent.

“It is very important to maintain the health and safety of the public environment. But, at the same time, we need to balance that against the economic resurgence,” Harrison said.

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Cebu Pacific CEO Lance Gokongwei said each airline job supported 24 others in the tourism sector.

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