The Philippine ‘waka’ lands in Middle Earth. The Philippine ‘waka’ lands in Middle Earth.
Philippine Arilines' new Auckland-Manila route cuts travel time and boosts two-way travel trade, tourism and immigration. The Philippine ‘waka’ lands in Middle Earth.

By Mel Fernandez

AUCKLAND – On December 3, 2015 at 4:20 pm a Philippine Airlines (PAL) 156-seater Airbus 320, on its maiden voyage from Manila via Cairns, touched down at Auckland Airport to a ceremonial water salute.

On board was Jamie Bautista, PAL’s President and COO and a high-level delegation from the Philippine Department of Tourism, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Philippine media and PAL executives, as well as travel/tour operators.

When the Philippine ‘waka’ landed in Middle Earth it heralded a new era of travel, trade and tourism between the two countries. The 8,018 km journey, with a short one hour stopover in Cairns, shaves 7 hours off the current travel time between the two countries.

“In the year up to October there were nearly 13,500 arrivals in New Zealand from the Philippines, up 17 per cent on the previous year,” said Adrian Littlewood, Auckland Airport’s chief executive. “They had a very long route to get here,” he said in his speech at the gala dinner hosted by PAL on 4th December at the Stamford Hotel. “As of today that route got a whole lot shorter; in fact about 7 hours shorter.” He was optimistic that this market would grow and double over time.

At the aforementioned PAL function New Zealand Minister for Transport Simon Bridges waxed lyrical about the beauty of the Philippines. “I have seen with my own eyes in Cebu that you have a terrific country that is a very compelling offering to New Zealanders. And I have absolute confidence that as Kiwis understand that story, more and more will want to go to the Philippines for what it has to offer in the tourism sense as well as for many other reasons.”

In her speech at the dinner Maria Corazon Jorda-Apo with the Philippine Department of Tourism was also upbeat about the new air link: “I think more Kiwis and Pinoys will travel due to the shorter flight.”

According to Professor Paul Spoonley, a sociologist at Massey University, it’s not just tourists that will be coming our way. He told One News that: “More Filipinos are expected to migrate to Aotearoa. 5,000 Filipinos arrived in New Zealand in the last 12 months. So a direct link is really going to help that connection between New Zealand and the Philippines in a way we’ve not seen in the past.”

Auckland is the 39th destination on PAL’s international route network. The carrier will operate four A320 services a week; flying every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. According to PAL, 75% of the seats were taken up on their inbound maiden flight. The return flight was half full. But the next flight from Auckland-Cairns-Manila was almost full.

“The route will stimulate passenger traffic along three travel streams – Manila-Cairns, Manila-Auckland, as well as Cairns-Auckland,” says Bautista. “The new service allows Philippine Airlines to cater to the travel needs of business and leisure travellers and showcase its distinct brand of service marked by Filipino warmth, charm and hospitality. Filipinos residing in New Zealand will find the new service to be their convenient link to their home country.”

As an added bonus for travellers PAL is offering a free stop in Cairns for a few days. And if you pay a little more you can visit Southeast Asia or local destinations. The four times a week flight to Auckland makes a one hour stopover ain Cairns in Queensland, northern Australia, which passengers can visit for a few days before taking the next flight to Auckland or Manila, all in one PAL ticket.

According to reports passenger travel from the Philippines to New Zealand increased by 9.4% over the last five years, while New Zealand to the Philippines travel grew by 11.6% over the same period. According to a Business Herald report last year about 13,000 Filipinos visited New Zealand and 20,000 New Zealanders travelled to the Philippines. And One News estimated that with 64,500 seats per year on the route that the new flights could contribute $41 million per year to the New Zealand economy.

Mr Baustista told guests at their gala event: “We hope this new service will promote economic, trade and cultural exchanges, but also understanding and peace.”

Mel Fernandez