AirAsia Tony Fernandes
AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes — BW FILE PHOTO

By Carmelito Q. Francisco, Correspondent

DAVAO CITY — AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Anthony Francis Fernandes is urging the Philippine government to look into scrapping the travel tax imposed on outbound Filipino tourists to encourage more international movement as well as flights.

In a press conference here after his speech at the 2017 Davao Investment Conference yesterday afternoon, Mr. Fernandes pointed out that the government should consider the fact that not much is being earned “in airports that do not have international flights.”

Scrapping the travel tax, he said, will lure airlines to open more international routes, particularly to and from airports outside the capital.

“This will encourage travelers to visit the (international) destinations without spending more,” said Mr. Fernandes, adding that foreign travelers will also have more options when visiting the Philippines.

“The travel tax is the deterrent,” he said.

The latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority and the Department of Tourism indicate robust domestic tourism, with 71.43 million Filipinos, ages 15 years old and above, traveling within the country between April and September 2016.

Mr. Fernandes said he will be meeting with top government officials, including Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez, to discuss his suggestion.

The AirAsia top executive made the call as the airline’s local subsidiary, AirAsia Philippines, announced yesterday that it will be offering Davao-Kuala Lumpur flights beginning Dec. 21.

It will initially fly the route four times a week.

Mr. Fernandes said that while the route had been in their expansion program, they decided to launch it earlier than planned as a direct response to President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s request, which was made when they met in Cambodia last year.

The airline chief said that he also presented several requests to the President at that meeting, and “a lot of things that we talked about in Cambodia have already been in action,” although he declined to give specifics.

“This is the government that walks the talk… it is much easier to do business here,” he said.

Aside from the Davao-Kuala Lumpur service, Mr. Fernandes said they are also considering opening 10 other routes within the next three years.

He stressed, however, that the company needs government policies that will help expand the travel market.

“We’d love to put a lot of aircraft in Davao,” he said.

Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said at the opening of the forum that she “is confident” that AirAsia “will be able to sustain its operations” in the city.

Ms. Carpio, daughter of the President, was scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding with Mr. Fernandes committing assistance from the city government to help grow the market.

AirAsia launched four new domestic routes in April, from Davao going to Cebu, Boracay, Clark, and Puerto Princesa.