Business News of 2014-03-18

Comment: Make Kotoka attractive

In 2009, I had the rare opportunity of travelling among a high powered government delegation on a four-nation tour from Europe to Asia.

At our first stop in London, Heathrow Airport, one member of the delegation, who is also a Member of Parliament for the ruling political party, said to me; “my brother, this airport is beautiful. Can’t we have one in our country at all?” he asked after he had picked a short stroll of the arrival hall.

When we got to Spain, Barcelona to be precise, on transit to Curitiba in Brazil, he came back to me and said “my brother, have you seen this airport too; it is a wonderful edifice and Ghana must have one at all cost”.

“Hmm,” I said, wondering what else I could add to get him to stop dreaming, but while I looked round to see what he had seen before making those comments, he added; “my brother, you see, if it were our brothers on the other side of the political divide, they would have built a similar one, no matter how small. They may inflate the cost of the project and chop some of the money, but at the end of the day, they will put something there and the people will appreciate it and forget about what has gone under the carpet”.

Stunned, I looked at him and asked why his party in government would not do it. He said “my people will always say there is no money”.

From my personal observation since that conversation began, it was clear that all over Europe, Asia and America, airports are built for a major purpose.

Global example

In an article curled from eTurboNews titled “Role of airports in increasing tourism,” airports are said to play an important role in bringing in the crowd and are no longer confined to providing superior infrastructure, competitive rates and extensive connections.

Airports have to market the destination as well, with the primary target being the airline and the secondary target, the traveller.

In a playing field where destinations have to compete for any airlines’ business, the way an airport markets the destination can be a strong decider for the airline.

According to the article, this is clearly evident in the case of Kuala Lumpur which has had to grapple with two very strong competitors – Bangkok and Singapore, both of which are tourist getaways and business hubs.

Kuala Lumpur, specifically KL International Airport has managed to hold its own largely due to joint efforts of the airports, together with the tourism authority and the airlines.

Enticing the airlines

The article makes it clear that to get the airlines into the door, airports have to provide incentives to new airlines or existing airlines such as free landing charges, office rental and funding for marketing and promotional activities.

“We needn’t have but we know that these small discounts go a long way. To the airlines there is a risk of a new route but we try to lessen that risk. We also advise them to start with a small number of flights and build up the capacity over time,” the article said.

It said “As for the secondary target (the traveler), we are surprised that many do not know that Kuching has mountains, rivers, beaches, national parks, caves and wildlife sanctuaries – all within an hour from the city. It is also culturally very diverse and colourful in terms of cuisine, history, architecture, music and the arts.”

The recently concluded ASEAN Tourism Forum 2014 which was held in Kuching points to Kuching acting as a springboard to nature and adventure in other parts of Sarawak.

Rotting airport

Arriving at the Kotoka International Airport from others such as J.F. Kenedy Airport in New York or from Terminal 5, Heathrow in London is always a nightmare.

This is because the very poor facilities at Kotoka which are enough to make one regret coming back to the country.

Most times air conditioners do not work, the conveyer belts wobble and the travelling bags could take hours to arrive. The Immigration officers are not friendly and nothing makes the visitors aware of the tourism potential of the country.

The land around the airport which is meant for expansion has been taken over by known but ‘untouchable’ individuals, while the state looks on. Airlines that use the airports are made to build their own terminals to serve their passengers, while the authorities hide behind the fact that there is no money.

Way forward

It is the intention of the government to make Ghana the investment gateway to the rest of the continent but with this attitude, very little can be achieved.

Ghana stands the chance of not just being a major transit point but a tourism destination if and only if the government will listen to the wisdom in what its MP told me in London and Barcelona.

We can, so we must.

Written by Charles Benoni Okine

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