THE entry of Emirates Airline to Cebu will enhance trade and tourism links between the province and the Middle East countries, tourism stakeholders in Cebu said yesterday.

Starting March 30, the Dubai-based airline will commence its daily Dubai-Cebu-Clark (DXB-CEB-CRK-DXB) circular service in the Philippines utilizing Boeing 777-300ER.

This new route “will strengthen international connectivity in two of the country’s fastest-growing international hubs.”

This service, the airline added, will mark its return to Clark after its first entry in 2013 and will provide travelers both in Cebu and Clark with the fast connections to destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the America, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“With this service, Emirates will enhance the choice for travellers in the Philippines, who will be able to conveniently connect to 39 cities in Europe, 16 in the Middle East as well as a number of destinations across our extensive network in Africa and the Americas, including Panama from February 1,” said Thierry Antinori, executive vice-president and chief commercial officer of Emirates, in a statement.

Emirates’ entry to the Philippines will also help boost the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Visit the Philippines Again 2016 campaign, the Emirates official said.

Likewise, it will expand travel options for Filipinos and offer flexibility for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) going in and out of the country.

“The entrance of Emirates to Cebu is a welcome treat for tourism and local businesses. With the goal of the DOT and the hotel industry of attracting meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) to our shores, Emirates will make it easier to connect the west to Cebu. This will boost arrivals hopefully by another 15 percent,” said Julie Najar, president of Hotels, Resorts, and Restaurants Association of Cebu (HRRAC).

Alice Queblatin, Tourism Congress vice president for Travel and Tour Group for Visayas, likewise shared the same positive thoughts, saying this new route will open tourism opportunities between Cebu and the Middle East countries.

“With connectivity in place, we are now in a direct position to capture these high-value tourism markets,” said Queblatin, who also owns Southwind Travel and Tours.

“The Middle East is a growing market. We receive inquiries from frequent individual travelers (FIT), small groups, honeymooners, and families who want to spend vacation in resorts here,” she said.

Queblatin said Cebu is ready to host tourists from these Muslim-dominated countries.

A report from the Regional Development Council (RDC) 7 said the DOT is pursuing the Philippine Halal Tourism Project to capture a good slice of the trillion-dollar Halal industry.

Halal-certified establishments serve halal food and allocate a place to perform Islamic prayers. Ten establishments in Cebu will participate in the piloting stage of the project.

Queblatin also believes the entry of Emirates to Cebu may also pave the way for other airlines, including those that have halted operations, such as Qatar Airways, to reopen flights to Cebu.

Emirates’ entry will also boost trade linkage between Cebu and the Middle East.

“It will definitely be an added boost to all private and public sector efforts. It will not only cut both cost and time for them and for us but will also make Cebu a transit point for Visayas-Mindanao travelers and businessmen,” said Ma. Teresa Chan, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Emirates’ daily flights from Cebu will depart as EK338 at 5:25 pm arriving at Clark International Airport at 6:45 p.m. From Clark, it will make its way to Dubai at 8:20 p.m, arriving at Dubai International Airport at 1:25 a.m the next day. The return flight will depart Dubai and arrive at Mactan-Cebu International Airport at 6:45 p.m.

The two-class configured Boeing 777-300ER offers 42 seats in business class and 386 seats in economy. The airline said flights to and from the Philippines will cater to the needs of the Filipinos, with Filipino-speaking cabin crew on board, and inflight cuisine options with popular Filipino dishes.

“Filipinos living in Visayas and Mindanao who go to the Middle East and Europe will benefit from this new route. Now they can fly directly from Cebu and save the hard-earned money they would usually spend on board, lodging and transportation if departing from Manila,” said Louie Ferrer, GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) in a statement.

GMCAC said it has identified three key markets—Middle East, USA, and Europe—to connect to Cebu to facilitate an increase in inward tourism, outbound travel for Filipinos, including OFWs, and cargo capacity to support exports of Filipino products.

Srinivas Bommidala, chairman of the GMCAC Board, said that the pursuit of new and diverse routes for Cebu was supported by detailed economic analysis to ensure the long-term sustainability, as well as economic and social benefits for passengers and businesses.

Emirates operates multiple daily frequencies into GMR’s airports in Delhi and Hyderabad in India.

Also flying this March is the Cebu-Los Angeles direct flight via Philippine Airlines.