Left out of the loop

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 1997, 12:00am

Has anyone asked you, lately, what sort of features and facilities you would like to see at Chek Lap Kok terminal? No? Strange, that. Nobody has asked me, either.

And as far as I can tell, the people designing our vastly-expensive, overdue airport have not bothered to ask most mobile Hong Kong travellers what entertainment, catering and business services we want.

In Singapore, I can report without astonishment, the authorities and airport officials take a different view. They practically beg people who use magnificent Changi Airport for their opinions, likes, desires and expectations. Not satisfied with having the best airport in the world with two gigantic, efficient and user-friendly terminals, jet-ahead Singapore is now busy building an enormous third terminal complex.

Planners there want frequent fliers to know what is happening. Instead of working under cover of secrecy, as is the habit of our Airport Authority which seems to loathe confiding in the public, the folks at Changi are constantly exhorting travellers to tell them what they want in Terminal Three.

Throughout the two existing terminals, there are racks of brochures, pamphlets, questionnaires and the airport's own magazine all giving information and asking opinions.

Changi is a dream. Smooth moving walkways whisk you to efficient, smiling, swift immigration. Trolleys are oiled, and functioning, and are plentiful. As you stand in a gigantic hall awaiting your baggage, you are separated from the arrivals hall by a glass wall. Waiting visitors and friends can see when you get your bags and walk towards the exit.

Get to the taxi queues, and you find orderly, effective lines, clean taxis with maps and low fares. Every step of the way things are helpful. There are useful tourist information and signs asking you how things can be improved.

'What do you want in Terminal Three?'' ask prominent notices. There are boxes filled with questionnaires; give a thoughtful suggestion and the authority will pay up to $50,000 for the best notion and fly you around the world.

Why don't we see such signs at Kai Tak? Why isn't the authority asking the same question? Why haven't they been asking us for years, publicly and constantly? Smoking at Changi is banned. There is an air-tight ghetto for the addicts, a sealed pariah zone where the hapless nicotine addicts stare at blank walls and enjoy their disease in private. What a splendid concept.

The other areas of Terminal One and Two are like upmarket malls. Soft music plays. Tasteful carpets are underfoot. Huge gold and silver carp swim under classical Japanese wooden bridges surrounded by park-like rest areas. There is an orchid garden, for mercy's sake, with 100 varieties of tropical blooms, two new species guaranteed every month.

To shop in Changi Airport is a better bet than buying in Nathan Road. Everywhere, signs vow that if you are not totally satisfied with your purchase, the shop will change it or give you your money back. No questions asked. This is a sacred promise backed by the full might of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and the republic's government. Are we doing this at Chek Lap Kok? I don't know. You don't know. We haven't been told. Why not? According to Clinton Leeks, the corporate development director of the Airport Authority, they have done 'two public surveys' at Kai Tak asking travellers what they want. Well, that's not enough. There should be permanent stands offering information and seeking it.

Our airport tsars have been chatting with airlines, tour agents, hotels and 'the tourist industry', he says. All well and good, but instead of speaking to the people who make money out of airport users, why doesn't the authority speak to the 10 million tourists who use Kai Tak? It's important to know what they want, more so than what some tour agencies desire.

Mr Leeks, an energetic and forceful servant of the people, says five government officials sit on the authority. So what? How do they know what I want? How can they tell what tourists need at a new airport? Well, says Mr Leeks, the authority gets input from them about what the Government believes is needed. Once again, big deal. How would they know if they haven't asked us? He says there will be pre-opening trials next year where the authority will use guinea pigs to see if there are gaps in the system. Next year? The place is due to open in April, so if serious gaps are found, it will probably cost millions more of our money to make the mistakes good.

Come April, or May, or June when the ballyhooed airport opens, I trust I am proved wrong. I hope so. I pray the Chek Lap Kok terminal will rival Singapore. The way things are going - 'it's all OK, leave it to the trusty Airport Authority' - I doubt it.