Lessons from Ghana

Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi SIrika.

There are many ways to market a country both to the citizens and the foreigners. Marketing a country simply means arousing interest of diverse people. Being one of the most frequented entry points into a country, airports serve asimmobile advertisements for any country. Gone are the days when airports were merely considered as entry and exit stations for travellers. Now, they are essential components of the tourism architecture in any country. Impressions about the country and its people are shaped by the experiences of visitors at the airport. The technological awareness of the people is observed from the operations at the airport. It may be difficult, and probably take ages, to correct a negative impression formed at the entry point into a country. In any case, a country cannot give what it does not possess. It will be an award winning irony to have a pristine and flawless airport when the rest of the country is a superlative contradiction. But then serious business owners and policymakers know that image is everything, and impression management is as important the core business. Smart businessmen deduce the operational business ethics in a nation by observing the attitudes and processes at the airport. Nations that recognise these nuancesare the business ready and business friendly nations. Right now, Ghana seems to be readier for business than any other country in the West African coast.

Just last month the Ghanaian Minister of Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, inaugurated seven biometric e-Gates at the International Arrival Hall of the Kotoka International Airport (KIA), visibly designed to make travel experience more palatable for passengers using the airport. The innovation is not restricted to the arrival hall alone; it also includes the departure hall and it is to be extended to other airports in the country. The e-gates practically perform the functions of the Ghanaian Immigration Service, GIS. They are designed to allow travellers use their passports to automatically enter and exit the country.The motive is to ensure that travels have seamless and memorable experience at the airport so that they can become unofficial ambassadors, selling the country in other countries. This is exactly what the minister expressed at the inauguration of the project, which only cost $18million dollars.

The sardonicism is that whilst Ghana is deploying technology in their airports in tandem with modern practice, Nigeria, the supposed giant of Africa, just gave approval for the officers of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), to carry firearms at the airports. To be clear, the decision of the federal governmentto allow aviation security, AVSEC, to carry firearms is in itself not a bad choice, so long as they are sufficiently trained in passenger handling in airports and they are well behaved without being contaminated by the Nigerian factor. However, that decision is indicative of our archaic perspective to solving contemporary challenges. Firearms cannot detect potential terror or security threat in the airport. Only superior intelligence aided by technology will do that commendably. And of course, the best approach to securing any society is to detect a threat at the point it remains a threat and deal with it before it developsinto a combat. If our security architecture cannot detect a threat and will need to deploy firearms in combat at the airport, then we need to overhaul our processes and embrace the right technology.

Essentially, what Ghana has shown us is that these things are not unworkable. They are possible and do not require billions of dollars. All that is required is vision and a 21st century mindset in governance. Aviation industry is a technology driven industry and we cannot be operating in a changing world without embracing the available technology that helps in giving travellers memorable experience, which is increasingly becoming an important component of the entire aviation industry. The industry has gone beyond just moving from one location to another. The efficiency of an airport is now measured by the satisfaction travellers experience at the terminals.

This increasing importance of travellers’ happiness informed the establishment of a company like HappyOrNot, founded in Finland in 2009 by HeikkiVäänänen and Ville Levaniemi dedicated to measuring customer satisfaction at various terminals in the world. The company uses four smiley-faced buttons, which include dark green, light green, dark red and light, to measure the level of customer satisfaction in 160 airports across 36 countries. The goodnews is that Nigeria is not in the list of countries assessed; otherwise our airport terminals would have rated in the worst categories.

Nonetheless, we know that we do not need any independent assessment to realise that we are not keeping pace with prevailing international trend. Ghana is already leading the way in the West African region. This is not a time to engage in another Jollof rice contest of superiority; this is the time to humble ourselves and learn from a progressive neighbour.