The problem with running a successful airport is that the devil’s often in the detail. Here are some ‘details’ to which our local airport management might well pay attention.
News that Phuket International Airport’s 5.70 billion baht expansion is moving ahead will delight anybody on the island who depends on tourism (which one way and another, is just about everybody). Despite political and economic upheavals all the signs are that Phuket will continue to attract ever-increasing numbers of visitors in the coming years.
The upgrade will modernise an airport that many people still see as a somewhat dowdy dowager standing at the gateway of a fabulously glamorous paradise location. The plan is to increase the capacity by 92% over the next five years. In numbers, that translates to around 12 to 13 million customers per annum.
This effort to increase volumes is all well and good, but the powers-that-be also need to look at what can be done to give the airport that little bit of extra ‘value-added’.
The Airports Council International, the global body representing airports around the world, gives airports ‘marks out of ten’ for the quality of services offered to passengers. At the moment PIA doesn’t even qualify for rating – though, to be fair, this is partly because it’s quite small. However, the council’s research into what constitutes good service is salutary. This month we look at two areas which might touch a nerve at PIA: internet services and baggage trolleys.
First, let’s look at internet services. ACI estimates that over nine billion passengers will use the world’s airports by 2025 – up from four billion in 2006. The vast majority of these will demand that connectivity is routinely available particularly if they have an hour or so to kill in the departure lounge. Just consider this. Indonesia, where English is not commonly spoken, ranks third behind the US and UK in numbers of Facebook users.
Phuket attracts huge numbers of tourists from the likes of Japan, India, China, Korea and Malaysia. It’s worth noting that as of 2009 China had 384 million Internet users; Japan, 96 million; India, 81 million; Korea, 37.5 million and Malaysia, 16.9 million. Oh, and don’t forget Thailand itself with 16 million.
An ACI survey on the provision of airport Wi-Fi services around the world found:
- 96% of airports provided Wi-Fi.
- 73% had total airport coverage.
- 90% of Wi-Fi availability was in the gate and restaurant areas; 82% in the transit, shopping and airport lounge areas; and 59% in the check-in area.
- 55% charged for access.
- 46% accepted payment by credit card and a surprising 17%, by mobile phone.
- The average cost of Wi-Fi services was USD7.8 per hour. Ouch!
- 70% of airports also had work stations located throughout the terminal for people without laptops.
These numbers tell their own story.
Now let’s look at the humble baggage cart – an item that Suvarnabhumi Airport originally forgot to provide. While PIA is a small airport (so distances walked are relatively short) the adequate provision of baggage carts is still important. The airport caters mainly for tourists who tend to carry more, and larger, bags than businessmen on a quick trip.
The ACI survey found:
- 60% of airports offer an airside cart service.
- 62% of carts can be used on walkways.
- 88% cannot be used on escalators – obviously a tricky one.
- 90% can be used in lifts.
- 44% of carts have a braking system.
- 60% of carts carry advertisements – one wonders why, and for what.
We want tourists to go home with armfuls of souvenirs and duty-free goodies, so let’s make sure that they can get them from the drop-off point to the departure lounge without hiring Sherpas.
Finally, PIA might like to consider participating in ACI’s Airport Service Quality survey system. This provides an impartial, unbiased, statistically-reliable appraisal of airport service levels as experienced by passengers. ASQ is the world’s leading airport benchmarking programme. Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok participates in the Asia Pacific section of the survey.
It’s time PIA stuck it’s head above the parapet.
Alastair Carthew is a journalist, broadcaster, public relations counsellor and writer, living on Phuket.
This post was written by HKT Homes on September 15, 2010