Just like the LA Lakers batch of 2002, the country’s flagship airport the Ninoy Aquino International Airport completed its’ own three-peat of sorts – albeit one which is undesirable.
For the third straight year, the NAIA Terminal 1 has attained the title of the ‘World’s worst airport’. In a self-deprecating manner, Filipinos tried to inject some humor into this unwelcome piece of news by treating it as some sort of achievement – that for three straight years the denigrating moniker has fallen on them – hoping to get some comic relief out of it. You can forgive Filipinos for acting that way, it is world-renowned that we find positives in any negative events that come our way, may it be a typhoon, a tragedy or something humiliating such as this.
However, they must also consider that this is no laughing matter. One of the key points in President Aquino’s agenda to improve the overall state of the nation was to revive the Philippines’ reputation as a tourist hub – to lay the groundwork into an ambitious plan to compete with Phuket and Bali for the South-East Asian tourist market. It is beyond me how this dream will stand any chance of becoming a reality if we continue to see deficiencies in our international gateways as unimportant.
While some Filipinos might take this story with a grain of salt, the foreigners who are going to make an impression of our country and whose investments we crave for do not.
The complaints about the airport were already plenty long before the terminal received this label for the first time in 2011. Passengers who had to go through the airport terminal had been moaning about the unsanitary toilet facilities, the crooked security personnel and long, endless queues that made their trip one to forget. Yet the Manila International Airport authority barely did anything to resolve these problems. The only reform made was to renovate toilet facilities, but this was already after it was named as Asia’s worst airport. What ever happened to prevention is better than cure?
When the airport inevitably got the top spot in the world in 2011, as usual, the government were quick to react. Justifying that the terminal was built in the ’80s and that tourist arrivals have exceeded the capacity of the airport. It was almost as if these people did not know what the word ‘upgrade’ meant. In fact the airport voted as the ‘Best in the world’ in 2011, Changi International Airport in Singapore, was built in the same year as NAIA Terminal 1. The difference is that while NAIA’s caretakers applied a ‘don’t fix if not broke’ policy, their Singaporean counterparts have pampered Changi with periodical renovations.
Finally, a more reasonable response came from Transport secretary Mar Roxas when he said that “the country needs an airport that works well and not one that just looks nice”. Sadly, his bite was not as good as his bark. After getting a bad start by angering renowned designers, the government bid out the contract to renovate the airport with a condition that work be finished 18 months after a bidder was awarded. The deadline therefore was mid-2013; but there are two months left until 2014, and instead of a world class airport different news hit the headlines recently.
For the third straight year, NAIA Terminal 1 has again been voted as the world’s worst airport. The biggest question is why the complaints cited are very similar to the complaints of 2011, has the government not done anything to remedy the problems?
It was found out just a few days later that the funds allocated for the contract were untouched. We can sigh in relief to know that this was not a case of plunder, but note that corruption does not limit to plunder only. Graft, which is the irresponsible use of public funds, is also a form of political corruption and it certainly describes the context.
Just look at the facts, early this year the government were pressed on the NAIA renovation plans after citizens noticed that no work was being made. According to a government spokesperson, it was expected to be completed before 2016. Then just recently, after word got out that the terminal was again voted as the world’s worst the timeline suddenly shortened – this time, expected to be finished by late 2014. It seems as though the government is manipulating the time frame to appease frustrated Filipinos. The question is, are these timelines realistic? Has bidding even been completed and is there a contractor in place?
These are serious issues the government should not take lightly, the same should be true for any concerned Filipino. Just as we are passionate about the Pork Barrel Scam so too, should we be passionate about our country’s image to its’ visitors. If we want to show the world we are improving as a nation, what stronger way to make that statement by giving them a better experience as they enter our borders?
Productivity is key as well and there is nothing progressive about arguing with the rankings. Recently, a MIAA official protested the rankings saying that the feedbacks were outdated and were the same in 2011. But these similar feedbacks are consistent with the recent reviews given by passengers who used the terminal. That only proves that the same problems persist and needs attention. Funding should not be a dilemma as well, the petty issues such as extorting immigration officers, rude customer service and opportunistic taxi dispatchers can be remedied with minimum costs; and don’t tell me providing tissue papers and hand towels for the restrooms require Congressional hearings? The government presented another expensive solution, to relocate the entire airport for a cost of $2.5B to another province. This is not only extravagant but impractical as well, one of the trump cards NAIA has over regional airports is its’ close proximity to the major urban centers – it would be a waste to throw that away.
The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that there is one, and if we keep apologizing for the flaws in the NAIA terminal 1 we will never solve them. While it is true that the airport is in need of a major renovation, the immediate reforms do not have to be costly. It can all start by reforming the staff, doing minor repairs on comfort rooms and providing added security. Surely if this aspect is given enough attention we can expect a drop in our notorious ranking next year. But most importantly, this would leave a good impression on those who really matter – not travel blogs – but the tourists we expect to attract. They expect Filipino hospitality when they visit our country, let’s give them that.