First Impression Counts

0

Chinedu Eze looks at recent changes at the country’s airports

Many regular travellers form their first set of opinion about a country, state or region from what happens at the airport. It is their first contact with the new place in situ. First impression lasts for a very long time.

The visitor comes in contact with the first set of people from the destination at the airport. He is able to assess the friendliness, the level of organisation, attitude to security, maintenance culture and, to some extent, the level of technological advancement at the destination. Overall, the opinion of the newcomer about doing business in a particular place picks a life from the airport. For a long time, Nigeria has been rated low on this benchmark.

Many travellers complained about the confusion at the airports. Of major concern then was touting. For some unclear reasons, people who did not have any business at the airports loitered there. Such people often engaged in sharp practices, parading themselves as airline agents with the aim of swindling unsuspecting newcomers. The matter was made worse by officials of the airports who were not properly identified on and off duty.

For international travellers, it was more complicated. The inefficiency of the system stared them in the face every time, especially through numerous checks by different port control agencies. The travellers moved from one checkpoint to another, with strangers fumbling through their personal luggage at each point.

“They made me feel like a criminal with the way I had to open my bags at every point,” said Grace Teuku, a Malaysian lady who visits Nigeria frequently. “And the officers would poke around as if it was normal. I felt exposed.”

All the complaints and their effect on the perception of travellers did not go unnoticed by the authorities. The executive orders signed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on May 18, 2017 were the first line of action in the bid to make Nigerian airports worthy vistas for the country and its different states. The three executive orders signed in summary involved the promotion of transparency and efficiency in the business environment to facilitate ease of doing business in Nigeria; support for local content in public procurement by the government, and timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by all statutory and non-statutory agencies.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) rode on the wings of the executive orders to re-organise the airports and position them for efficiency. Part of the order that spoke directly to loitering at the airports and proper identification of officials was among the first issues to be addressed. The order prohibited touting in all its forms at the airport. It also specified clearly that on-duty members of staff should be properly identified by uniform and official cards, while off-duty members of staff were to stay away from the ports, except with the express approval of the agency head. No wonder FAAN Aviation Security (AVSEC) are now more visible in their uniforms and other airports officials wear reflective jackets with ID cards positioned visibly on their dresses.

To further underline the ease of doing business in the country right from the airport’s arrival area, FAAN Customer Service desks have been positioned strategically at the airports where travellers can easily access them. The signs and directions at the lobbies and lounges were also made clearer and more legible to facilitate movement and reduce confusion to the barest minimum.

The checkpoints, too, have been unified, such that travellers’ luggage are checked only at one point, except there is a compelling suspicion that warrants a more thorough check.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I came back to the country in January 2018 to see that there was just a single check point. Getting my luggage at arrival was also easier. The broken conveyor belts at the arrival have all been fixed and there are even more carousels. This is a big leap from where it was before,” Grace Teuku observed when she returned to Nigeria.

The result of the transformation efforts, including the process of implementing the visa on arrival policy in Nigeria, was reflected in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report for 2018. According to the report, Nigeria is now ranked 145th, 24 steps higher than its 169th position in 2017.

Of course, the objective of FAAN is to tap into the potential of airports as generators of economic growth and jobs and facilitate international trade and tourism. So it is also using its position as a member of the Airports Council International (ACI) to consolidate its gains so far. Apart from the on-going certification process of Nigerian airports, experts and investors from all over the world are coming to the country for the 59th ACI-Africa Board and Committees Meetings & Regional Conference and Exhibition.

MD/CEO, FAAN, Engr. Saleh Dunoma, restated recently that the agency, which is currently managing over 22 airports across the country on behalf of the federal government, was seeking to consolidate its achievement in improving ease of doing business in the country by hosting the ACI-Africa event.

Dunoma said, “In line with the presidential mandate on ease of doing business in Nigeria, this conference will bring together professionals who will bring together their wealth of experience to come up with positions that will ensure the ease of doing airport business in Nigeria and Africa. This conference will bring together investors from all over the world.”

The conference is scheduled to take place from April 14 to 20 in Lagos.

ACI-Africa, an association of Africa’s airports, is part of Airports Council International, the global trade representative of airport authorities throughout the world. With over 50 members operating 250 airports in 47 countries throughout the continent, it is the voice of African airports – leading, representing and serving the African airport community.

With less than 20 per cent of commercial revenue, airports in Africa must transform themselves from being just public service providers, to commercial enterprises that generate profits. The conference will highlight the importance of industry partners and public-private partnership for innovative project creation, leadership and strategic planning as tools to achieve these goals.

Dunoma said, “This conference will afford investors first-hand information about the needs and opportunities in the Nigerian aviation sector.”

In the end, proper management of the airports, including investment in its non-aeronautical assets, does not only serve the purpose of perception management, but also constitutes a large chunk of the airport’s revenue stream and bottom line. Like the theme of the ACI-Africa conference, “Business transformation for sustainable development of African airports,” paying attention to these assets will contribute significantly to making the airports sustainable.