Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Travel: It's More Glum In The Philippines

One year ago today, my wife Lydia and I returned to the Philippines from a (probably once in a lifetime) trip to Europe. Our departure and arrival point was Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Mania,  and even though horror stories abound about NAIA, we were fortunate to land on schedule and had a fairly easy time navigating baggage retrieval and Immigration.  And that's the point. Why should it be a matter of odds that some people luck out in their encounters with this facility while most other travelers' experience there is negative?

The difficulties that plague this airport include a shortage of amenities and inadequate facilities.  These issues are finally being addressed, but it may be a case of too little too late.  For example only now is Terminal 1, the world's second worst airport, finally undergoing rehabilitation. And scandal-plagued Terminal 3 which was to have been finished several years ago is still operating on about half its intended capacity due to construction delays and shoddy workmanship, including a collapse of part of the ceiling in 2006 and  again in 2011. (Completion is scheduled for this year, but after all the other postponements, I wouldn't bet on it) Then there are the congested traffic conditions and tie ups in the area  that make commuting to NAIA extremely frustrating (as is the case for Metro-Manila as a whole anyway) .

As a result of  these difficulties, government officials are considering  the designation of another airport instead as the Philippines premier point of arrival and departure: Clark International Airport (CRK).  This facility is also  known as  Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) and  is located in Angeles City, Pampanga.  I've never been there, but my understanding that in terms of adequacy and efficiency, CRK  beats NAIA hands down.       

The problem is that CRK is about 89Km (55 miles) from NAIA, and the only means of commuting between Angeles City and Metro-Manila is by car or bus, which in bad traffic can take  23 hours. This is especially burdensome for travelers who arrive from abroad at one of these airports and have to connect to a  flight at the other.  But even for those visitors to the Philippines who are not making such transfers, it would make a bad impression on them to arrive at Clark instead of NAIA and then have to make the trek to Metro-Manila. The solution of course is high speed rail service between the two cities with stations at each airport.   Construction on this alternative has already started but only in dribs and drabs and is probably still years away from completion even though it was supposed to have been finished years ago.

So with all these self-inflicted obstacles, is it any wonder that the Philippines lags behind its neighbors in attracting tourism? This will continue to be the case until the government starts taking its commitments seriously.  President Aquino advocates the "straight path" to end corruption here. This policy is especially vital in the area of infrastructure. Whether by land, sea, or air, people and goods must be able to move about via a dependable, speedy, and efficient transportation system if the Philippines is ever to progress from its status as a third world country.