An upgraded airport set to open early next year in Siargao island, a well-known but difficult to reach surfing haven, is expected to bring in more tourists and investments.
Siargao island, a rugged island at the Northeastern tip of Mindanao region, hosts the famed Cloud 9, the destination of most visiting local and foreign tourists looking for giant waves to ride.
Local government officials told visiting Manila-based journalists that the P60 million upgrade of Sayak Airport will be completed soon, and set to open either later this year or the first quarter of 2009, in time for the summer surfing season.
The airport upgrade, which includes the 150 meters runway extension that started in early 2008, will enable the facility to accommodate bigger planes carrying more than 100 passengers. Previously, the airport could only accommodate 19-seater planes from Cebu.
The project is part fo President Gloria Arroyo's Super Regions Program, which aims to improve economic activity outside Metro Manila through infrastructure projects.
Since Sayak Airport is in the island itself, its upgrade will mean easier and faster access not only to Cloud 9's surfing area, but also to the island's other tourist spots.
Currently, visitors have to brave 3 to 7-hour land or sea travel from various drop off points. Surigao City, which has a small airport, is the nearest jump-off point to Siargao, which is about three-hour boat ride away. Others fly to Butuan City, which is about 2-hour land trip away from Surigao City. Some take chartered flights from Cebu City in the Visayas region straight to the old airport in Sayak.
The village of General Luna, where Cloud 9 is located, is only an hour away from Sayak Airport.
According to General Luna mayor Ping Espejon, Philippine Airlines expressed interest to mount flights to Siargao once the airport is finished.
Once the airport is finished, Surigao City tourism officer Romeo Edillon said tourists to Siargao is expected to increase to 200,000 by 2010.
There are no recorded tourist counts local government estimates that about 30 to 50 foreign and local visitors arrive in General Luna alone on a weekly basis.
The economic impact of more tourists in Siargao island is also expected to spill over to nearby local areas, including those who visit Surigao del Norte, which had 90,000 visitors in the first nine months of 2008.
The continuing and growing influx of tourists would hopefully attract investments, said Espejon. "Four years back, there are only 20 tourism-related establishments, now there are more than 50."
Espejon also shared there are groups interested in leasing lands in General Luna. First United Travel Inc., which he said is related to the conglomerate run by First Pacific Holdings chief, Manuel Pangilinan, showed interest in leasing 1.5 hectares of land in General Luna. He said that land is rented out for around P60,000 per month.
He said even gaming company, PAGCOR, is eyeing to put up a casino in the area but locals and bishops are resisting it.