The Passenger Experience

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Being responsible for the busiest airport in Africa is some responsibility. But, you wouldn’t think so, when first you meet Tebogo Mekgoe, the General Manager of O.R. Tambo International Airport. BT Editor Dylan Rogers joined the laidback GM of ORTIA for a steak at the InterContinental O.R. Tambo, and managed to get some insight into how Airports Company South Africa goes about its business and what its priority will be in the future.

South Africa’s airports were owned and operated by the state until July 1993, when ACSA was officially established and nine airports were transferred to the company. Its flagship is O.R. Tambo International Airport, an airport that has undergone extensive development in recent years. Today, ORTIA is the air transport hub of Southern Africa, catering for more than 17 million passengers a year, with its latest ranking placing it as around the 70th-busiest airport in the world, from a traffic point of view.

That’s not bad going for a supposed ‘emerging economy’, but I’m curious as to where ORTIA’s GM sees his airport from a quality point of view. “It’s actually more poignant when you fly to Europe, the US or Canada. You expect to see better and you don’t. That says a lot.”

Cryptically, I know what he means, but what about the rest of Africa? Why the lack of discernible development, as it’s fair to say that the majority of Africa’s airports leave a lot to be desired, in terms of quality.

“There just hasn’t been the demand and enough traffic for those governments to justify investment in those airports,” says Mekgoe. “But, maybe that will change, as countries start to understand the true cost of what it does for the rest of the business there.”

And, with increased interest in Africa as a business travel destination, Mekgoe is expecting things to change. “Something like 84% of the world’s population lives in developing countries and have GDP growth of close on double digits, but they only make up 38% of flying traffic. It’s been shown that there’s a correlation between GDP growth and traffic growth. So, without a doubt, that is where the whole thing is going.”

To Mekgoe’s credit, he’s happy to take criticism of ORTIA on the chin. Firstly, with regards to airline landing fees. “I think the increase has been very high, especially in an environment like this,” he says. And what about the airport’s Wi-Fi situation? “It’s one of the lowest rated things in terms of passenger perception,” he admits. “People don’t even know where the zones are. But, we are getting closer to a situation where Wi-Fi could be complimentary in the future.”

Speaking of the future, Mekgoe and his staff have a few things up their sleeve, as they seek to improve the customer experience at ORTIA. “How you interact with the passengers is big. So, we’re currently testing an airport app that will help a lot of travellers in terms of how to use the airport. We currently don’t rate too well in terms of people finding their way, so we’ve done things like change the signage. We’re also looking at loyalty cards.”

One of the most significant ACSA developments in recent years have been the contracts won to manage the international airports in Mumbai and Sao Paulo. It’s not something that ACSA has actively marketed, but it says a lot about the company’s strategy going forward.

“It’s pretty much a business decision number,” says Mekgoe. “But it’s also got to do with our ability to be able to grow ourselves into the African market, the Indian market, the Brazilian market etc. It’s allowed us to go and test ourselves there, but I think Africa for us is probably going to be the key focus going forward.” So, don’t be surprised to see the ACSA name pop up elsewhere in Africa in the future.