- Airport Closure: Hotels, Others Sack Workers as Patronage Drops
Hotels, transportation companies and some other businesses in the Federal Capital Territory are cutting down their workforce following the crash in the patronage of their services as a result of the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Operators in the tourism and hospitality sector, transporters, as well as owners of small scale firms like bureau de change, business centres and managers of restaurants, said they had to trim their workforce pending when flight operations would resume at the NAIA.
The Federal Government officially shut the Abuja airport on Wednesday, March 8, 2016 in order to carry out repairs on its runway and taxiways. It diverted all Abuja-bound flights to the Kaduna International Airport, as it declared that the NAIA would remain closed to flight services for six weeks, starting from last Wednesday.
Although, the Abuja airport would be closed for less than two months, hotel owners in the FCT said on Saturday that their patronage had dropped considerably, adding that it would be unwise to retain a bloated workforce.
“There is tension among workers of many hotels in Abuja, including ours,” said a senior employee of the popular Sandralia Hotel in Utako.
“Many hotel managements in Abuja are not happy with the recent development. They know it is because of the airport’s closure and the current economic recession, but some of them have had to reduce their staff strength while others are planning to do same,” the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added.
Confirming the development, the President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria, who also runs a hotel in Abuja, Mr. Tomi Akingbogun, said the Abuja airport closure had reduced the rate of financial recovery of hotels in the FCT, attributing it to the reason why “some managers have to adopt measures of staying afloat.”
He said, “This airport closure thing has reduced our recovery rate and it is like adding malaria upon typhoid fever for most of us right now. The patronage has dropped, because if customers are coming to Abuja from Lagos, or any other area, you land in Kaduna and you have to take a trip of about three hours to Abuja.
“And at times when you get to the airport you have to wait for one hour, bringing it to at least three and half hours that you will have to spend just to get to Abuja. That has really affected the hospitality industry, especially with regards to those who travel regularly, as they have cut down on the number of journeys they make to Abuja.
“However, it is expected that the closure of the Abuja airport will affect the hospitality industry, which is why you hear of the survival decisions being taken by some operators.”
The FTAN president stated that the actual percentage drop in the rate of patronage they get could not be given due to the unavailability of adequate statistics in the sector.
He said, “Categorically we have not been able to capture statistics because of the unwillingness of people to share figures with their colleagues. Some owners fail to know the importance of statistics, but we can say we’ve experienced considerable reduction.
“However, that does not mean customers are not coming at all. Once you buy a ticket, you can get transport to Abuja or from Abuja to Kaduna at subsidised rate or for free as provided by the government. This has helped us because it has encouraged those who really need to come to Abuja to do so. But the truth is that not many travellers are aware of this option.”
On whether hotel owners in the capital city had interfaced with the government on this matter, Akingbogun replied, “There is often less communication between the private sector and the government. Most of the time, what government is particular about is for it to raise tax or money to be collected from the private sector. We’ve tried to fill that communication gap but this has not been successful as expected.”
Explaining the effect of the Abuja airport closure on transportation services to and from the NAIA, the Secretary, Disciplinary Committee, Airport Car Hire Association, Abuja, who is also a car hire operator, Mr. Emmanuel Etuokwu, stated that transporters had to reduce their workforce since the closure of the airport to flight operations.
He said, “We know that we will enjoy after the repair of the runway because flights will come to Abuja freely. But the negative effect now is that businesses here, including car hire service and restaurants, have been paralysed. Government should have considered us when making major decisions like closing the airport.
“They should have arranged with car hire services to transport passengers to Kaduna and return those in Kaduna to Abuja.”
When asked what members of the car hire association were currently doing, he replied, “We are not doing much again. Most of our services have been reduced to once per week as opposed to when we used to work every day. This is why some of us had to reduce our workers too, at least, till things return to normal.”
On whether the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria was considering the request of the car hire operators at the Abuja airport, the International Terminal Manager, NAIA, Mrs. Hajara Musa, said there was no such plan.