It was Babs Hoffman, an inspirational American former baseball player, who said “Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey”. Unfortunately, as true as the sentiment to enjoy the journey at all costs may be, the reality is that in this highly competitive travel industry, it takes a lot of effort to become a favoured destination for international travel. This article follows on two previous articles I have recently written, one on the massive and very pleasing technological advances we have seen internationally in streamlining the travel experience and the other is an article I wrote on doing a S.W.O.T analysis on South Africa’s current industry.
The first article spoke about great technologies being employed in international airports that have facial recognition and how this is such a pleasure for travellers as it alleviates the great pain point of removing everything when passing through security. The second article spoke about how proud I am to see what a highly favoured destination S.A. (in particular Cape Town) has become but pointed out the importance of also recognising our weaknesses and working on these to improve our tourist offering.
First impressions are lasting ones
At the outset, let me say that I’m not knocking anyone or belittling the efforts that have been made in this country to try to improve our travel experiences from a technological and infrastructural point of view but one area we do need to work on, which I did not specifically mention before is our international airports. The old adage that first impressions are lasting ones applies as much to travel as to individuals and after recent trips I cannot help but compare the airport experience here with that of travelling to other destinations.
Most of Europe, the UK, Canada and the USA have excellent, modern landing entrances to airports which are generally first class. The walk to the connecting flights or passport areas is often made easy by long conveyers that give one the option to enjoy the exercise or be effortlessly transported – and in the security and passport areas, many destinations are now highly modernised with equipment that makes passing through as painless as possible. Yes, it is true that most airports around the world will have slow processing queues when systems are offline and there are airport services on a go-slow, but these are largely the exception rather than the norm. One thing for sure is that there is no amount of technology that can replace an appropriately staffed service counter!
Having usually passed effortlessly to the baggage claim area it appears that the baggage handling issues have all been solved and baggage is generally on time and seldom tampered with. Not only is the experience good when arriving but when boarding too most airports have fast pass queues so that first and business-class passengers board first and other passengers are assigned a certain zone in the aircraft and asked to board accordingly. All this makes for streamlining and time-saving.
Issues that can be avoided with effort
The issue with SA airports is not so much that we don’t have these things in place (or at least have tried to) but the experience can be quite chaotic and anything but organised. We have the fast pass queue or boarding, for example, but due to poor organisation and technical equipment not working properly it is sometimes better to just go along with any queue. With regard to the landing experience, we also sometimes experience delays in getting the correct set of stairs to the incoming flight.
Awareness and effort can keep us on top
There is no doubt that SA has the infrastructure and the technical expertise to get these things right and compete favourably on a global level. We also have a couple of high-class airports but we need to be made aware that we have issues in this area and accordingly make a little more effort to coordinate things correctly. This is why with all the admiration in the world that I have for everyone in this industry who so valiantly fought the COVID menace and worked so hard to get us back into the global playing field – let’s keep playing together as a team (as I’m sure Babs Hoffman would say) and not drop the ball now!
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER