DAVAO CITY, Philippines - A multi-stakeholder group from Mindanao and Indonesia is poised to revive the air connectivity between Mindanao and North Sulawesi starting off with a market development strategy for the Davao-Manado route.

In a meeting recently convened by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), key players from tourism, trade, academe, and government line agencies agreed to take more proactive and aggressive steps in re-establishing the connectivity between the two BIMP-EAGA cities.

BIMP-EAGA stands for Brunei Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area. The economic grouping was formed with the goals of promoting trade, investment, and tourism in less-developed states and provinces in the ASEAN sub-group.

"We must package Mindanao based on the needs of our target market from North Sulawesi, while capitalizing on our high-value offerings such as our medical, education, and tourism sectors, said Captain Ben Solis, senior advisor of the Asia Foundation.

Solis added that this initial step will also help determine the most ideal trip schedules, which should be based on market demands from the tourism and business sectors.

"It is best to start offering regular and reliable flights to passengers instead of the usual chartered flights, said Solis while adding "we can only achieve this if we have a ready market."

Reviving air links between Philippines and its EAGA counterparts is currently one of the priorities of MinDA in order to maximize the travel tax exemption approved by the Philippine government for travellers from Mindanao and Palawan heading to any of the BIMP-EAGA destinations.

MinDA serves as the Philippine National Secretariat for BIMP-EAGA and coordinates with DOT and the Manado Transport and Tourism Ministry in developing the market for the Davao-Manado linkages.

"This is a new and more promising approach to establishing the connectivity between Mindanao and North Sulawesi. In the past, we have launched several flights for the same route and have always been challenged in sustaining the passenger traffic," explained Jonathan Miral, chief of MinDA's International Relations Division.

Among the strategies to be pursued to promote the Davao-Manado route are the development of tour packages, business matching, trade sessions, and student exchange programs.

"All these are aimed to strengthen our socio-cultural and economic ties with Manado," Miral said while adding "this is a timely move since BIMP-EAGA is also exploring socio-cultural and education as one of the strategic pillars of the ASEAN sub-region."

The direct flight from Davao to Manado offers a shorter route for travellers and will allow the faster movement of goods and products. Currently, passengers bound for Manado take the circuitous and costly Davao-Manila-Jakarta-Manado route.

Miral said that a BIMP-EAGA strategic planning meeting will be conducted from February 15 to 18, 2015 at the Royale Chulan Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in which initiatives to reopen the Davao-Manado route will be discussed.

The annual meeting among key BIMP-EAGA officials and stakeholders is aimed to review and assess the progress in the implementation of the priority programs and projects in the sub-region's blueprint for 2012 to 2016

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