HONG KONG – The historic start of flights from Hong Kong to the Iloilo International Airport yesterday morning, and from Iloilo to Singapore in the evening, opened an international gateway to the rest of Western Visayas that is expected to boost travel, tourism and trade in the region, officials here said.
The landing of the Cebu Pacific flight 5J243-57 fromHong Kong at theIloilo International Airportat 4:30 a.m. yesterday, was met with applause and cheers from passengers on board, most of whom were Overseas Filipino Workers, glad to be able to have a direct flight to their home province and other destinations in the region.
The flight arrived15 minutes ahead of schedule with Noel Servigon, consul general of the Philippines in Hong Kong, among the 57 passengers on board.
The first CEB flight from Iloilo to Hong Kong departed 11:15 p.m. Thursday with 132 passengers.
A CEB flight also left Iloilo for Singapore last night, while the first flight from Singapore to Iloilo will arrive today.
The landing of the CEB Hong Kong flight in Iloilo yesterday morning was dubbed historic because it was the first since the Iloilo International Airport began operations in 2007.
Starting this week, CEB is flying direct flights to and from Iloilo to Hong Kong twice a week, and to Singapore every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Servigon, who is also from Iloilo, said the direct flights will not only make travel time faster and cheaper between Iloilo and Hong Kong, he also expects it to boost trade.It will enable the swift transport of mangoes and seafood from Panay to Hong Kong, and will further boost the local tourism industry, he said.
CEB should have very good marketing to sustain these new routes, he added.“Right now, we see three major targets for passengers – the Filipino workers, tourists and traders,” Servigon added.
“We work hard for tourism promotion in the Philippines so it was good that CEB launched these flights,” he said.
There are about 165,000 Filipinos living in Hong Kong, about 152,000of them domestic workersand the rest have other professions, he said.
TRAVELLERS FROM NEGROS
Iloilo is now an international gateway for Western Visayas, and they expect big feeder traffic from Negros Occidental to Iloilo to avail of the direct flights, Candice Iyog, CEB vice president for marketing and distribution, said.
"We believe that these new international routes will open a lot of tourism and business opportunities to and from Iloilo and its surrounding areas,” she added.
She was non-committal about CEB’s opening direct international flights to the Bacolod Silay Airport. “It depends, it’s always a possibility,” she said.
PINOYS IN HK
Jojo Sapio, chairmanof the Migrant Ilonggo Association in Hong Kong, saidthe number of Ilonggosworking here is second only to the Ilocanos. He said with the direct flights now, “if we miss our family, we can make a quick visit, everybody is very happy.”
Ma. Wilma Padura, president of PassiCity IloiloAssociation in Hong Kong, said the direct flights will be a very big help toOFWs. "It makes going home more convenient, comfortable with less stress, it’s fantastic."
Dorothy Obeja, chair of the Janiuaynon Ladies Circle in Hong Kong, said the direct flights will be very convenient, in case of an emergency it will beeasy for usto get home. “It’s a big help. Before,we had totravel for one dayto get home, now it will take only two hours and 25 minutes and it’s cheaper,” she said.
Joey Ortega, chairman of the Philippine Alliance in Hong Kong,said they will be able to further promote Western Visayas as a destination for Hong Kong visitors.
Sonia Zerrudo, vice chairman of the Philippine Association ofHong Kong who is from Iloilo, also said the direct flights will boost Western Visayas tourism.
The first passenger to check in on the maiden flight of CEB from Hong Kong to Iloilo won a free roundtrip ticket.
Sherlyn Saban, 30, of Leon, Iloilo, and a domestic helper, said she was returning home because her husband, Rosano, 30, died in a motorcycle accident in Iloilo on Monday.
The couple had 6 and 9-year-old sons. She needed to return to Iloilo to bury her husband and arrange about the care of her children while she works in Hong Kong, Saban added.
“The addition of the Hong Kong-Iloilo twice weekly service to our international network means that travelers from Hong Kong and Greater China now have an alternative destination in the Philippines to discover and explore...It is also the gateway to the rest of Western Visayas, which includes Bacolod and Boracay,” Joe Kwok, CEB general manager of the HongKong Regional Office and Greater China, said.
These direct flights will also open more avenues for business collaboration as well as trade and investment opportunities, he added.
Passengers, on arrival in Iloilo, however, noted the slow exit from the arrival area with Customs officers opening all the luggage that arrived.*CPG