Friday, 9 April 2010

Let's burn money

A colleague of mine was flying to Johannesburg a couple of weeks ago. She got to the airport in Gaborone and was waiting for her flight. She waited a long time. OK, I understand, I think we all recognise that there are sometimes delays with flights, that’s just life. Like death and taxes, occasional flight delays are frustrating but inevitable.

However she was sitting there listening to a group of American tourists who were having a slightly worse time than she was. They’d just spent some time up in Maun presumably enjoying some of the best wilderness and wildlife activities the world has to offer and had left their lodge very early that morning to fly to Johannesburg and presumably then on back to the Home of the Free and Land of the Brave.

However their plans had all fallen apart. Just after their plane took off from Maun to Johannesburg it was announced that they would be making an unscheduled stop in Gaborone and then flying onto Joburg later. They were told that this was because of “operational issues”. It was there that my colleague found them, frustrated, irritated, angry and utterly, completely and 100% let down.

Luckily these tourists were sitting in the micro-lounge Air Botswana has at SSKIA where they could partake of the various delights it has to offer, namely peanuts and tea. When she found them there they had been stuck there for about 2 hours and they waited another 2 hours before they were able to continue their flight.

Did they get an apology? Did they get a free lunch? Did they get ANY lunch? Did they get a glass of wine or a free Air Botswana baseball cap in compensation? No, of course not. They were just left there to rot. When they finally left on the scheduled flight to Joburg from Gaborone (which was itself running late) all they were offered was some more peanuts.

Now I, just like you, firmly believe that all people are equal, we’re all the same under the skin and everybody deserves good treatment. However I am still enough of a capitalist pig to understand that certain customers pay good money for extra levels of service. They have actually handed over a wad of cash to be given priority, extra goodies and more than the usual level of service.

I also recognise that tourists are, in principle, no better than you and me but aren’t they the very people we are trying to seduce and woo and part from their cash? Aren’t they the people we should be extraordinarily solicitous towards? Aren’t they the people who, when their plane is delayed for no good reason, the airline sends someone from the vast workforce of Air Botswana over to Nandos in Phakalane for a take-away? Or if that’s too much bother can’t they be offered a free lunch from the restaurant at the airport?

Actually I think I know the reason why these dollar-wielding tourists were treated so shabbily. It’s because all Air Botswana can afford to give them is a packet of peanuts and a cup of tea. They haven’t got any money for anything else.

In 2007/8 Air Botswana was doing very well for a small airline. So well that it actually declared a surplus of P17.5 million. That’s a staggering achievement for an organisation that was losing money beforehand. So in 2008/9 you would hope to see that figure maintained? Well, perhaps not given the recession, rising fuel costs and taxes but nobody prepared us for the results announced in this year’s budget speech. Last year Air Botswana lost a truly enormous, staggering P87 million.

I really don’t know how an organisation can, in the space of just one year, drop over P100 million in profits. How can an organisation be so catastrophically useless?

Part of the answer is that I don’t think Air Botswana is actually an airline any more, it’s just a company that borrows aircraft from other companies. I haven’t flown very many times in the last year but every time I have it’s been on an ancient jet chartered from a South African company who cannot or will not pronounce Gaborone correctly. That can’t be cheap. What’s more if you believe reports in the press Air Botswana doesn’t have any managers left. Almost every senior manager position is either vacant or occupied by an acting-up junior manager. Where is the leadership? Where are the decision makers? Where are the Air Botswana planes? Where the hell is the money?

Air Botswana is the best example I can imagine of a national burden. It’s costing you and me vast quantities of money. Imagine every single person in the country (including children, the insane and convicted prisoners) getting a brand new P50 note out of their wallet or purse and burning it. That’s what Air Botswana costs every one of us.

This is the irony of so-called “public ownership”. We talk about Air Botswana being publicly owned but it’s not at all. It’s owned by the Government, it’s just the public that coughs up the cash to pay it’s debts. The sooner we rid ourselves of this massive financial burden the better. Let some capitalist speculator take it over and be done with it. I can think of better things to do with my P50.

At the moment all Air Botswana is doing is stealing our money and pissing off the tourists we so desperately want. If we’re really serious about tourism the best thing we can do is get rid of it before it ruins our tourist industry any further.

This week’s stars

  • Smolley Montwedi from Mascom who our reader says must be “employee of the month”.

No comments: