By Arlinda Çausholli
I grew up in Shkodra in not so prosperous times, so thrift was sacrosanct. I remember that friends from Tirana would come at our house, and my grandmother would cook dessert on the first day, and then again on the day they left; she said that the first and last time is remembered by visitors. So I hope my presentation is remembered.
Analogous to what I have just said, the airport I work for, and for whom I have the honour to represent today, gives the same feeling for tourists coming into our country. They remember the first impression—when they arrive—and the last—when they leave. Just like my grandmother’s cake.
What is happening at Tirana International Airport?
It is growing: growing quickly—a double digit growth in the number of passengers.
From January to November 2018, the number of passengers was about 2,700,000, an increase of 13.2% over the previous year.
Between June and September, tourism flights increased by 50 %. Thus, almost 300,000 tourists have come, from Poland, Ukraine, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Israel, Denmark, Belarus and Slovakia.
The main merit for this surge goes to the Albanian tour operators and the courage of those businesses to organise the flights, to welcome these tourists and to satisfy them, despite all the shortcomings of the Albanian reality.
It has been a unique year for all TIA staff because, this summer, my colleagues dealt with planes and passengers every 32 minutes, and for this they have all my appreciation, for what it’s worth.
Next year, in addition to the low-cost airlines—Wizz Air, Transavia, Pegasus Airlines—currently operating at TIA, flights are starting with Germania Airlines and the destinations from here of Zürich and Dusseldorf.
Tourism flights and new destinations are being promoted by TIA, supported financially, and the cost of the ground-handling services they are offered is minimal, to act as an incentive to tour operators and tourism development.
What’s next in TIA?
There is a vague perception that I perhaps should mention that has to do with the public view of the role of an airport and the cost of a flight ticket. At a time when our Airport neither sells tickets nor sets the price, though at the same time it provides confidence and security—because it is one of the most serious companies, even with regard to the treatment of its own employees and its vision for them.
I should mention here the level of Customer Satisfaction, which ranges from 80%–100%, assessed through our annual surveys carried out by independent companies.
The Airport Promotes Albania
The number of passengers is now approaching the figure of 3,000,000 by the end of this year. Metaphorically speaking, the whole of Albania has this year passed through the doors of Mother Teresa Airport.
The Airport promotes the country with the desire of an Albanian who wants their country to develop, even though the strides taken by our society are disorderly and perhaps short-sighted. TIA promotes Albania at the international tourism fairs, where airlines express their interest in our country. And it moves forwards in the field of marketing, which I believe will, in the coming year, gain momentum.
We are aware of the issues that concern foreigners and ourselves: the dirtiness of public areas, roads still not well surfaced, accommodation for tourists still pot luck—although some positive steps have been taken in this area—and, most importantly, the standard of service, the level of professionalism. It is clear a structured strategy needs to be developed, starting with targeting of the schools, in order for the provision of service to become a vocation.
And inside Tirana International Airport; what’s happening?
To return to what I said at the beginning.
Our Airport is a small, and a big, world at one and the same time. Through it pass 8,000 passengers a day. So, there are 8,000 ambassadors of Albania spreading the good news around the world… each day!
In the midst of the harsh environment in which we live, and where we are not spoiled by public compliments, we have a vision—one that is farsighted in our opinion—one that we have chosen that has no immediate connection with profit.
It’s called Value.
The value of a group of people who work with devotion for the strangers who pass through the Airport. Starting from the way we treat the disadvantaged. Every month, approximately 1,500 passengers travel through the Airport on a wheelchair. They require the care of our nursing staff. We continue to the creation of a model that is essential nowadays: An Island of Wisdom, in which a cracked piece of TIA glass façade is taken out, ground, repaired and returned to mint condition.
So, we reshape what happens outside the Airport doors.
We also work in two other very important directions simultaneously: two directions that are joined with a single spinal column and which is called supporting the individual. This is a most sacred thing: the Passenger and the Employee.
Both are witness to the fact that the Airport has opened doors to Art, Culture, Architecture, Photography, and Sensitive social issues, and for Young people who have no voice, but who have the talent.
Very few people know about the homes that TIA has built in the area around us because here there are poor people; or that it has taken care of children or the disadvantaged, for whom medical care has been vital. And still it continues to take care.
Of course, these are social responsibilities that do not require pomp and ceremony. The recipients gain the benefit, and for us, the Airport, this is sufficient. Within us, human sensitivity is alive; it wakes each day, grows ever healthier and is without concession. This is our essence, and is what we have chosen to do.
Meanwhile, the Airport remains cooperative with all the links that make up Albanian tourism and progress here is to the benefit of all. We encourage, and we will always encourage.
Next year, investments will be made throughout the air side infrastructure: to the runway, taxiways, apron, fire brigade building and the police building.
An extension to the Arrivals Area is planned, but news on this will be given in more detail at a later time.
And last, but not least:
TIA’s shares have been German, Canadian, and, now, Chinese. But the spirit of the Airport is Albanian, and, in the end, what pulses here every day, in thought and in action, is human values and the willingness to help one another on our journey; and we believe that Albania needs this more than ever.