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DUNKERLY does the tinikling during a welcome party the airline hosted at Shangri-La Makati.



Philippines is gateway to Asia

By Alex Vergara
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:38:00 05/04/2008

Filed Under: Tourism, Lifestyle & Leisure

MANILA, Philippines - While most American companies are focused on expanding their operations in China, Hawaiian Airlines (HA) has bucked the trend by choosing the Philippines as its ?gateway? to Asia.

Airline executives, led by president and chief executive officer Mark Dunkerly, have just inaugurated the 79-year-old company?s first nonstop, 10-hour flight from Manila to Honolulu on board a 264-seat Boeing 767.

?We live in a world in which a lot of headlines are about China,? said Dunkerly during an evening luau in Honolulu. ?I believe business opportunities in the Philippines are underappreciated in the US. There are more opportunities there than most people think.?

Surprisingly, it took HA only six months and ?tens of millions of dollars? of investment to seal the deal.

HA now flies to Manila from Honolulu, and vice-versa, four times a week. It leaves Honolulu on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 12:30 p.m., and arrives in Manila, 5:15 p.m., the next day.

The same plane flies back from Manila to Honolulu 7 p.m. on the same day. The Hawaiian capital is 18 hours behind the Philippines.

The development also marks HA?s third international destination, its first in Asia, after Tahiti and Sydney, Australia in the Pacific. Close to 75 percent of its business consists of flights between Hawaii and the US mainland.

HA also flies to such US cities as Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Auckland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
As a full-service airline, it can assist its clients get connecting flights from Honolulu to almost any point in the world.

?We?re not a budget airline,? Dunkerly clarified. ?We provide a full range of services and facilities budget airlines normally don?t. ?

Apart from providing its passengers with a choice of free food onboard, HA is represented by a Baguio-based call center that assists clients the world over to make reservations.

The airlines? track record bodes well for Filipinos. The US transportation department has ranked HA as the most punctual airlines in the US for three years in a row. It also cited HA as the airlines with the least number of misplaced bags for two straight years now.

Service within Hawaii, which consists of five major islands, is roughly 25 percent of HA?s operations, while overseas business is a mere five percent and growing.

For the longest time, Philippine Airlines was the only airlines to service the Manila-Honolulu route. PAL also flies to Hawaii four times a week.

Apart from competing directly with the country?s flag carrier, HA?s move affirms the country?s importance in the region. In many ways, it makes for good business sense.

In a state with a population of 1.3 million people, a little over 200,000 are said to be Filipino-Americans. This makes them the third largest ethnic group in Hawaii next to the Japanese and Polynesians.

?Fil-Ams are still going to be the core of our business,? said Dunkerly. ?We?re also encouraging other people to discover the Philippines for themselves as a holiday or business destination.?

Filipino tourists on their way to the US mainland may now choose to take HA and spend a few days in Hawaii for some R&R before heading to their final destinations.

Short of revealing other Asian cities on his expansion list, Dunkerly admitted that HA has set its sights on other regional destinations.

This development has led to 35,000 additional inbound seats this year. For the longest time, annual arrivals from Hawaii consisting mostly of Fil-Ams number close to 170,000.

The availability of additional seats has prompted the Philippine Department of Tourism?s ?Team North America? to be more ?proactive? in its efforts to promote the country to potential American tourists.

?We have yet to come up with a study on what would make these groups, other than Fil-Ams, visit the Philippines,? said Junjun Jorda-Apo, DOT?s Team North America head.

Since most Fil-Ams trace their roots to the North, Jorda-Apo and her team are working on tour packages featuring Northern Philippines.

But Jorda-Apo is convinced that Siargao, rated as one of the word?s Top 10 surfing sites, and a few other places are waiting to be discovered by Honolulu?s sun-worshipping denizens.

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