It is said that first impressions always count. Unfortunately, the lasting impression many visitors (on business or tour) have of Kenya is spending long hours at the arrival gates at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) where behind old, rickety desks, Immigration officials process their transit documents in the slowest of paces, asking the least relevant of questions.
Yet that is not the only unpleasant experience. Jet-lagged, the visitors must contend with the predatory airport police and customs officials waiting to pounce on them as if the agony occasioned by Immigration officials was not enough.
Worse still, the traffic into the city centre from the Airport dampens the energy of any travel enthusiast. Mark you, this person has travelled through Schiphol, Heathrow or Dubai and could have started off from JFK in New York with the least of inconveniences. Nothing prepared him for the JKIA experience.
All that is now set to change. The ministries of Transport and Internal Security, together with the Kenya Airports Authority have come up with a charter that includes the JKIA customer service improvement plan.
Government operations will be coordinated under the direction of the Kenya Airports Authority. The expectation is that once implemented, this will go a long way in addressing some of the inconveniences that make visitors think twice before picking Kenya as a destination the next time.
The handling of guests at JKIA, the first contact with Kenya counts for much of that. An unpleasant experience is a sure turn-off. A display of courtesy and kindness triggers that repeat visit which is crucial in any business
The new development is particularly important in light of Kenya Airways' planned launch of direct flights to the United States in October that will reduce flight time by 7 hours from 15 hours.
The success of this will depend on the quality of service those making the bookings are given and what they go through once they arrive in the country. Plugging service gaps at JKIA to deliver world class services is a must.
But then, the charter addresses one side of the systemic problem visitors face. Hastening the construction of an overpass between the airport and the city centre to ease the maddening traffic is another one that must be done soon, quickly.