Coronavirus has hit the world, including Ghana hard.
Many industries, especially the tourism sector will feel the consequences for a long period of time. Some specialists think that tourism will take up to 2023 to recover to 2019 levels. I am not that pessimistic.
I think that tourists will start travelling as soon as there is a vaccine or a reliable cure. Pessimists say that travelling will never be like before. I think that tourists will rather make up for the last leisure time and will all leave on their long-awaited holidays as soon as possible after that.
Business travellers will, in the beginning, be reluctant and try to continue business online by skype and other “live” contacts. However, a lot of businesses around the world are built on trust.
Trust relies on a personal relationship and is like we say in Ghana feeling, feeling. So also that will pick up eventually, but surely before 2023.
The big question is?
When all this travelling picks up again, will our airport be ready for that?
With ready I don’t only mean that our airport will be reopened with all the new and modern safety regulations like permanent temperature screening, permanent visitor registration, maybe permanent contact registration, enforced sanitizing etc.
But will Kotoka International airport be ready for business?
Ready to continue our chase to become West Africa’s regional hub?
Ready to receive airlines from all over the world with direct flights?
Ready to serve with our regionally connected airlines to international airlines?
Ghana, Ghanaians and especially our government officials should understand that closing an airport is not just locking the door and opening it a few weeks later.
We all know that we had a cleaning exercise and that other anti coronavirus measures are in place.
But do we have any idea what will happen with the airlines who used to fly to Ghana?
Some will be bankrupt, probably South African Airlines which entered a bankruptcy procedure a few weeks ago will not return.
Some will cut their flights to Ghana from seven times weekly to one, two or three times weekly.
Some will make Accra stopover instead of a direct destination.
All these measures airlines are taking are having consequences for Ghana and especially for our national pride: Kotoka International Airport Terminal 3.
A friend of mine, director of one of the airlines flying daily to Accra from Europe explained to me that their airlines are cutting flights all over the world to save it from bankruptcy. One of the results is that each country manager of the destinations they fly to has to give reasons why they should continue flying to their destination.
Just imagine what that means for Ghana if we drop out? Financing of Terminal 3 has been based upon the number of arrivals and number of aeroplanes landing. Each airline pays for landing and parking at Kotoka Airport. Each passenger pays airport taxes.
At this moment, coming from Europe we have KLM, Air France, British Airways, Brussels Airlines and TAP Portugal.
Air Italy, just started flying and decided to wind up the company already at the early stages of Coronavirus. Passengers can also use connecting flights to get to Ghana with Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Egypt Air.
Airlines with daily flights to Ghana have a “dedicated” aircraft to service Ghana.
That means that one aircraft has been purchased by the airline especially to fly daily up and down from Europe to Ghana. The same is relevant for airlines coming from the United and Southern Delta Airlines, Rwandair, Kenya Airline to Ghana.
Airlines are cutting flights because of low expectations to have enough passengers. An aeroplane still cost money when standing at an airport, but flying an aeroplane is much more expensive. So the first thing they do when business is down is to try to keep the number of aeroplanes flying as low as possible.
That also means that the airlines are taking away destination dedicated aeroplane from their Accra flights. The biggest risk for that is? Will they have another aeroplane available after the economy picks up or when the virus threats are over?
Another risk is that cities from where the airlines fly which have several airports decide to close one of them to save money. That means that more flights to different locations over the world will fly from one airport.
At that airport, the slot times (the time within an aeroplane is supposed to take off) will change. Changing of departure and slot times will depend on the destination, flight time, flight frequency, importance to the airline and connecting flights.
It can be possible that bi-weekly flights to Accra will be arriving at odd hours, late at night or very early in the morning instead of comfortably between 19.00 – 21.00 h. like is the case today.
Just imagine arriving at your hotel, your guesthouse by 3 AM? Do you have to pay for an extra night, can I get something to eat by that time, is the guesthouse open by that time, can I get a taxi etc.?
For business class passengers that can have the consequence that your preferred airline doesn’t have your comfortable flat sleeper seats anymore. For economy passengers, it can mean there are no TV screens on board of the aeroplane they use to Ghana this time.
What will happen to Ghana as a tourist destination? The black American Diaspora just rediscovered Ghana as a destination; will they continue to come when flight prices double? Will other tourist come in that case? Already our airport taxes and vaccine against other diseases are expensive. These cost are all calculated by a tourist when they decide to go on holiday.
I mentioned the short term consequences, but here are some of the long-term consequences especially for Ghanaians.
Many of our incoming visitors are not a tourist in the sense of going on a holiday and explore the world. Especially around summer holidays and Christmas, many Ghanaians return home for some weeks every year.
We visit family, buy land, start or continue building our house at home, receive cars we have sent from where we live etc. This creates jobs and employment for many Ghanaians at home.
But what will happen to these economic activities which are built around homecoming Ghanaians when there are no or not enough flights to Ghana? What will happen if ticket prices around these dates are doubling, can the same number of Ghanaians afford to come home every year?
Don’t forget about Ghana’s export position. There are cargo flights to Europe, but every passenger’s aeroplane takes Ghana’s perishable cargo such as mango, yams, pineapple, melon, fresh flowers etc. out of Ghana as well. These products have a short shelf live and need to be transported on a daily basis.
The consequences of keeping our airport closed will be disastrous and hardly to oversee at the medium and long term.
I am trying to push Ghana to be unsafe? Am I forgetting about the Coronavirus threat?
Not at all, but look at the current situation in Ghana and around the world.
Airline passengers are very much aware of the risks to contract the coronavirus on a flight, more than people not travelling. Airports are all prepared for these risks today. Airlines have special protocols for boarding, cleaning their aeroplanes feeding their passengers etc.
The reason coronavirus could enter Ghana was that many people travelling didn’t know or were not aware enough of the risks and ways of spreading. Today we know and all travellers take it seriously.
At this moment there are no coronavirus patients added to Ghana’s total because international travelling and coming in through our airport has been cancelled six weeks ago. The last possible cases where declared recovered or released from quarantine three weeks ago.
Today all spreading is internal spreading within Ghana by people who are willingly or unwillingly not careful enough. They rather pose the risk today to travellers coming from abroad.
My call to government: OPEN KOTOKA AIRPORT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Nico van Staalduinen, just a concerned Ghanaian