CLARKFIELD, PAMPANGA, January 30, 2006 (BULLETIN) Heavy arrivals of foreign tourists here since last month has caught Clark Development Corporation (CDC) officials by surprise.

Victor Jose I. Luciano, CDC executive vice president and chief operating officer (COO) said "since the start of this year international arrivals, mostly casino players, nature trippers to Mt. Pinatubo and golfers dominated by Koreans, has continued without letup, creating shortage of hotel accommodations."

He said the CDC, a quasi-government agency mandated by law to manage this former huge US military airbase now converted into special economic and tourist zone, "is expediting the completion of two new hotels in Clark with a total of new 500 rooms. Slated to be inaugurated this March is the Ruffles Hotel with 300 rooms, while the other one, the Fort Stotsenberg Hotel with 200 rooms, will be opened this coming June."

He said right now the Holiday Inn Clark has 303 rooms and 32 villas, while Mimosa has 99 villas, or a total of 700 rooms inside Clark.

Luciano said to meet the strong demand for hotel rooms, the CDC is planning to refurbish old airbase buildings to be converted into dormitories for rent at R500 to R700 per night for domestic tourists.

Luciano said as of December 2004, Clark has only five international flights a week. But in January this year it increased to 42 flights a week, including UPS which has 10 flights nightly.

Foreign airlines flying to Clark today are: Asiana Airlines from Incheon, Korea; Air Asia Berhad from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; Tiger Airways from Singapore to Clark; China Rich Airways from Hong Kong to Clark. All flies both ways.

Domestic airlines that fly to Clark include: Seair flies from Clark to Manila, to Cebu, and Asian Spirit from Clark to Caticlan/Boracay. Air Asia and Tiger Airways recently petitioned for more flights..

Luciano said CDCís target this year is 72 to 75 flights per week with an average of 145 to 180 passengers per flight.

CDC chairperson Roy Navarro who joined the economic mission headed by former President Fidel V. Ramos to India invited its tourist planes like the Jet Airways to fly to Clarkfield.

According to his estimate, passengers passing through the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) is now averaging 30,000 per month. "Our target for 2006 is 50,000 passengers a month or 60 percent increase," he added.

In another development, CDC recently signed an agreement for the establishment very soon of pilot training school in Clark. The school is expected to remedy the shortage of pilots not only in the Philippines but also in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, all is set for the 10th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta to be held on Feb. 9-12 at Clarkfield with 30 participants from around the globe specially from Japan and Malaysia and other foreign guests around 1,000.

Christopher P. Chuidian, marketing assistant of the CDC Marketing Department said entrance is R100. He said activities start at 5 a.m. where visitors can witness how the hot air balloons are inflated using the propane gas.

Noemi B. Garcia, officer-in-charge, CDC Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office said the RP International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is actually a competition among hot air balloon hobbyists. Competitors take off from the launching pad at Clarkfield and then they land on a target area usually in the vicinity of Porac town and the nearest to land to that target area shall be declared winner. She said the winner last year was a woman.

She said members of the audience may ride in balloon basket by paying 0 to 0 or may even get it for free if the pilot so desires.

Garcia said there will also be other aero-competitions among helicopter and light plane pilots.

Meanwhile, Lycia Marzan, CDC Tourism Officer and head of Concessionaires section invite the public to rent a booth inside Clark where they can sell their wares to an estimated 20,000 fiesta visitors.

Readers may interest to know that a big balloon soars up into the sky for a very simple reason: It is filled with a gas that is lighter than air.

Air itself is made of gases, the chief ones being oxygen and nitrogen. Certain other gases are lighter than air. One of these is helium, and that is why a balloon filled with helium rises. Hot air will also make a balloon rise because it is lighter than cold air.

You have probably heard people say that hot air rises, and so it does. In a room, the air is usually hotter near the ceiling than near the floor. Hot air rises because its gas particles are less dense. That is, they spread out; there are fewer of them in a cubic foot of space than there would be if the air were cold. This means that hot air is lighter than cold air.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved