By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent

DAVAO CITY — Export and tourism opportunities are growing as more Indonesian businessmen have been travelling to Mindanao through the Davao-Manado flights of Garuda Indonesia Airline, a route that will also be served by Philippine Airlines (PAL) by end-March, according to an official of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said.

MinDA Deputy Executive Director Romeo M. Montenegro said Garuda Indonesia has reported fully-booked flights in December to the first half of January from an average load factor of 50% in October.

“You cannot book a flight because it is already fully-booked… It has picked-up. This is validated by Garuda Air… especially the Manado-Davao,” he said in an interview.

He said most of the passengers are traders and importers who are interested in Mindanao products such as fresh fruits and processed food like durian ice cream.

He added that they are encouraging manufacturers here to revisit the Indonesian market for beauty products.

“Remember before, we have locally produced a popular beauty product that was doing well during the time when we had a direct flight, so it may revisit that market this time around (with) much bigger plane… and more frequent flights we are expecting,” he said.

The Garuda Indonesia flights are currently running twice weekly, Mondays and Fridays, using an ATR 726-600 aircraft.

PAL subsidiary Air Philippines Corp., also known as PAL Express, has previously announced that it will launch Davao-Manado as well as Zamboanga-Kota Kinabalu flights, both on a thrice-a-week frequency starting March 31.

There are also Indonesian tourists who come for specific events such as cockfighting, and medical tourism is another sector that can benefit from the Manado visitors, Mr. Montenegro said.

With the reopening of direct air routes between Mindanao and its neighbors within the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), he said MinDA is continuously coordinating with counterparts to ensure ease in the movement of goods.

“Our work continues in terms of collaborating closely with out counterpart BIMP-EAGA secretariat in Indonesia to make sure that trade barriers are hurdled, especially in terms of policies because when you do import and export, although almost all of the commodities now are already zero-tariff, but there are certain regulations still in some commodities, particularly agriculture products. It is an ongoing exploration,” Mr. Montenegro said.

MinDA is the Philippine’s coordinating office for the sub-regional grouping.

BIMP-EAGA, established in 1994, covers the following areas: entire Brunei Darussalam; nine provinces in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the island chain of Maluku, and Papua in Indonesia; federal states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the federal territory of Labuan in Malaysia; and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines.