This month, I had the pleasure of visiting Mombasa, Kenya to participate in the ACI Africa Board meeting as well as its Regional Conference and Exhibition. It was the first time—as ACI World Director General—travelling to Africa to finally meet African members, honourable delegates, and regional board colleagues.
The event’s attendance exceeded expectations with over 350 delegates under the theme: “A new vision for a resilient and sustainable African airport industry.” All attendees were welcomed seamlessly by the host, Kenya Airports Authority, and I’m proud to report that the event was the first in-person aviation conference for the entire continent since the easing of restrictions.
I was honoured to share the floor for the official opening with the Honourable James Macharia, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development, Kenya; Mr. Alex Gitari, Managing Director, Kenya Airports Authority; Mr. Emanuel Chaves, President, ACI Africa; and my colleague Mr. Ali Tounsi, Secretary General, ACI Africa. I also had the great opportunity to meet and discuss with the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, The Honorable Najib Balala, who has been successfully leading the tourism agenda in Kenya for over 15 years.
Several noteworthy milestones included a keynote from Mr. Barry Kashambo from the ICAO Eastern and Southern African Office, the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and ACI Africa, the celebration of ACI Africa’s Human Resources Awards at the Gala dinner, an informative post-conference workshop on Route Planning, and a culturally rich post-conference delegate tour.
It was also great to see the leadership of Ms. Nompumelelo (Mpumi) Z. Mpofu, CEO of ACSA, Mr. Mohamed Moussa from ASECNA, Mr. Pascal Komla from SALT/AEROPORT, and Cap. Rabiu Hamis Yadudu from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria. As well as the leadership from the new generation of CEOs such as Chales Habonimana, Managing Director at Rwanda Airports Company, Ms. Christine Mwakatobe, Acting Managing Director at Kilimanjaro Airports Development Company, Mr. Americo Muchanga, CEO at the National Institute of Communications of Mozambique, and many others. I was really delighted to meet such an interesting and dynamic group, with special thanks to all the sponsors that supported the event.
More recently, I’ve just returned from the bi-annual ACI World Governing Board meeting that took place in Muscat, Oman—home to our airport member Oman Airports Management Company and its CEO and ACI World’s new Chair, Sheikh Aimen Bin Ahmed Al-Hosni. The hospitality of the host and the warm welcome from the Omanis were the great start of the meeting, as we went thought a busy schedule to cover all the items of the agenda
The board—meeting in person for the first time in 2022 and second time since the pandemic started—discussed key areas of the airport business including environmental protection and sustainability; advocacy at ICAO; the development of products and services to promote airport excellence; and continued alignment on a vision to overcome travel challenges imposed by COVID-19 and by the current economic and geo-political environment. I would like to thank all board members for their time as well as their continued guidance and wisdom. Alignment with the regions and other stakeholders of the industry is key to supporting the future development of the industry.
My trips have underlined once more the importance of connecting in person and the value of the human experience—not only amongst colleagues for the exchange of knowledge and networking opportunities, but also for the airport customer experience. I was inspired and encouraged to feel the travelling buzz in the air that comes from busy airports filled with motivated staff and eager passengers.
While the pandemic has accelerated the digitalization and implementation of touchless processes within airports, it has also highlighted the importance of the human-to-human experience within the airport community. Passengers, employees, and airport stakeholders are all looking for positive and meaningful human experiences.
Taking stock of this trend via data from our world-renowned Airport Service Quality (ASQ) program, ACI has announced the theme of its upcoming annual ACI Customer Experience Global Summit: “Re/Humanizing Airport Experience.”
How can airports distinguish their unique customer experience and strengthen their competitive advantage in such an environment? How can airports stay ahead of quickly evolving user-centric technological expectations, while also prioritizing the human experience?
By gathering top customer experience experts from around the world, this year’s conference will seek to demonstrate that the human element remains the undeniable asset to achieving and demonstrating customer centricity, as well as creating a differentiating factor in the airport experience.
As many of you know, the ASQ Award winners will receive their awards and celebrate their achievement at the ACI Customer Experience Global Summit. As is customary every March, ACI World had the pleasure of announcing the airport winners of the ASQ Awards, which celebrate and showcase the world’s best airports as voiced by travellers.
This year’s ASQ Award winners are especially reflective of customer experience leadership during the most challenging time in our sector’s history. Passengers are the centre of airports’ efforts in safely resuming travel and tourism. Despite all the COVID-19-related challenges, airports around the globe have continued to prioritize listening and adapting to the evolving needs of their customers through ASQ surveys, which measure passenger satisfaction across key performance indicators.
From the data collected over 2021 from over 370,000 surveys, 110 awards have been won by 87 individual airports around the world. The award categories include Best Airports by Size (passengers per year) and Region, as well as Best Hygiene Measures by Region, of which there are 46 winners.
The new health and hygiene related questions added to the survey questionnaire in 2020 allows airports to better understand the customer response to new health measures related to COVID-19 and the corresponding award category recognizes airports that have successfully responded to them in the eyes of travellers.
The hygiene category also complements ACI’s Airport Health Accreditation program, which helps airports align their health measures in line with the ACI Airport Operations and COVID-19: Business Recovery guidelines and ICAO Council Aviation Restart Task Force recommendations along with industry best practices.
Not all was positive for the month of March. The ongoing war in Ukraine continues to affect the lives and livelihoods of many. First and foremost, our hearts go out to Ukraine and all people affected by this conflict. Like many in the international community, we are hoping for a swift and peaceful resolution to this situation.
Fundamentally, civil aviation fosters unity and peace—we bring people together. We believe our airport members are there for the communities they serve and for civilian purposes and ACI will continue to support our members however we can.
The conflict, as well as increased geopolitical tensions around the world could also dampen the speed and magnitude of aviation’s recovery, and thus the social and economic benefits aviation provides to communities worldwide. While ACI World remains optimistic, it is also cautious that recovery could face other headwinds ranging from new potential variants, high crude oil prices, higher inflation, or supply chain disruptions.
Nonetheless, the momentum created by plans to reopen will certainly have a positive impact on the global economic recovery. The performance of the global economy has accelerated in the last months of 2021 as more pandemic restrictions were removed, facilitating the trade in goods, and enabling the manufacturing and services sectors to grow. For this we are hopeful and continue to encourage the easing of travel restrictions worldwide.