By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

STRUGGLING local airlines are expecting to get a much-needed boost from the reopening of travel agencies and tour operators, as well as the lifting of the ban on non-essential foreign travel by Filipinos.

“We believe this is a step towards our overall objective to return to normal operations. Rest assured we will continue to work with the government so we may have more businesses reopen safely, generate jobs, and eventually enable our country to recover,” Candice A. Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing and customer experience, told BusinessWorld in a phone message over the weekend.

Cebu Pacific is accelerating digitalization efforts and maximizing all available resources to keep operations running in the new normal and improve efficiency of services, Ms. Iyog said.

The government has allowed travel agencies, tour operators, reservation services and related activities to resume operations at 50% capacity for areas placed under general community quarantine (GCQ) and at 100% capacity for areas placed under the modified GCQ (MGCQ).

The ban on non-essential foreign travels by Filipinos will also be lifted starting Oct. 21.

“The reopening of related sectors in travel will of course fuel business activity and stimulate travel. As such the overall effect is positive,” Philippine Airlines (PAL) Spokesperson Cielo C. Villaluna said in a mobile message.

Philippines AirAsia, Inc. said the reopening of travel sectors is a step towards revitalizing the tourism industry as it reels from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“To boost the restart of the local economy, there must be a parallel support in increasing domestic connectivity through air travel, the safest means of public transport in an archipelagic country such as the Philippines,” Philippines AirAsia said in a statement sent to BusinessWorld on Saturday.

The low-cost airline added it would also be more prudent to explore and support the implementation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) antigen testing “coupled with collaborative efforts from the national government, local governments and airline companies.”

“From our end, we continue to reassure the safety of our flying public from ground handling, in flight and disembarkation at point of destination, observing the highest level of health protocols,” Philippines AirAsia said.

Fitch Ratings has said it does not expect airlines to bounce back to their pre-pandemic passenger volume next year because of the continuing spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The forecast is based on the assumption that a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment would not be widely available in 2021.

It said the Philippines will see average revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) levels at 35% of the baseline in 2020 and 60% in 2021.

Philippine Airlines, operated by PAL Holdings, Inc., ferried 16.8 million passengers last year while Cebu Pacific, operated by Cebu Air, Inc., carried 22.5 million passengers. Philippines AirAsia carried 8.55 million passengers in 2019.

The Health department on Sunday reported 2,379 new confirmed coronavirus infections to bring the total tally to 356,618 cases.