Sweeper flight transports 143 stranded foreign tourists
LAGUINDINGAN, Misamis Oriental, April 19 – Foreign tourists coming from different regions of Mindanao were transported to Manila and onward to their home countries through a sweeper flight that was organized by the Australian Embassy and Philippine Airlines (PAL) in coordination with the Department of Tourism (DOT-10.
The said foreign tourists who came from regions 9, 10, and 13 were ferried to Laguindingan airport through the close coordination between the DOT Mindanao Regional offices under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Myra Paz V. Abubakar, the Philippines National Police (PNP), and the concerned local government units.
The sweeper flight prioritized passengers with Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian nationalities upon instruction from the Australian Embassy. Fourty eight hours before the flight, PAL opened the flight to other foreign nationalities who were willing to purchase tickets to the sweeper flight.
The 143 tourists who boarded the flight were composed of 55 Australians, 26 Americans, 15 Koreans, 13 New Zealanders, 8 Canadians, 4 United Kingdom nationals, 1 Dutch, 1 French, 3 Japanese, 5 Germans, 1 Danish, 3 Norwegians, 5 Swedish, 2 Qatari, and 1 Singaporean.
As per travel safety protocol, the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and PAL strictly imposed their requirements before allowing the passengers to purchase a ticket. These requirements were: 1. A foreign passport; 2. A Health Certificate stating that they do not bear symptoms related to COVID-19 and are fit to travel signed by the City or Municipal Health Officer; 3. Confirmed onward flight ticket to their home country; and 4. A hotel booking in Manila if their international flight is not in the same day as the sweeper flight.
“We always ensure that the operations here in the airport are smooth. As such, we are always ready to accommodate these sweeper flights for as long as there is a need to transport these stranded tourists out of the region,” Laguindingan airport manager Job de Jesus said.
The sweeper flight was also made possible with the assistance of the Provincial Government of Misamis Oriental, the Municipal Government of Laguindingan, the City Government of Cagayan de Oro, Region 10 LGUs. theDepartment of Health – Region 10 (DOH 10), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Department of Foreign Affairs – Region 10 (DFA-10), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the National Economic and the DILG, and members of the private sector such as PAL, New Dawn Hotel and Red Planet Hotel. The Provinces of Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, and Bukidnon were also instrumental in providing coordination and transportation to get the stranded tourists to Laguindingan airport
One Swedish national Klas Klementssos was stranded in Cagayan de Oro for seven weeks with his wife, Gene, and son, Mikael. Klementssos could not suppress his excitement because he and his family could now finally come home.
“We arrived in the Philippines in March 1 and then we went scuba diving in Palawan. That was when the lockdown started because of the COVID-19. It was very fortunate that we were able to go back here in Cagayan to stay with family. But it was really very tough for us when the quarantine happened which is why we are really happy for the assistance of DOT and other agencies in this region because of this sweeper flight. We can now finally come home,” he said.
Department of Tourism-Region 10 Director Marie Elaine Unchuan expressed her happiness and gratitude to the offices and agencies that made the sweeper flight operations possible.
“As always, rain or shine, in good times and bad, I think the Filipino brand of hospitality really shines bright. Specially in the darkest of times, we see the resilience and the love of the Filipinos for the tourists and other countries. I’ve seen this most especially amongst the Filipino frontliners. I think that its brings out the best in the Filipinos not only with the DOT but with the other agencies such as the PIA, the PNP, the DFA, the DOH in the frontlines, and all the local government units involved. It’s very nice to see the bayanihan spirit working together,” Unchuan said.
When asked about the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the tourism industry in the region, Unchuan added that she is positive that the tourists will come back when the situations have resumed to normal.
“I think it [COVID-19 pandemic crisis] shows a lot of the very good qualities of the Filipinos. So I think that they will be coming back. We made a lot of friends and we have been talking to them for weeks now and they are very thankful. They’re very encouraged now to come back and witness the hospitality of the Filipinos once more when the time comes when we are in a better situation,” she said.
Since March, DOT-10 has coordinated five sweeper flight operations have assisted a total of 633 stranded foreign tourists in Mindanao. (Abigail B. Viguella/DOT-10)