Dear Honourable Barbara Oteng Gyasi (MP), kindly accept my congratulations for your assumption as Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture.
One thing your predecessor will be remembered for was her ability to ensure that the tourism discourse was trending almost every time. She can be credited with bringing tourism awareness to the Ghanaian mind. It appears the fever caught the attention of H.E the President who mentioned it twice in his recent engagements to the state. First during his 2019 State of the Nation Address and secondly, at the 2019 Independence Day celebration at Tamale. In fact, during the latter, he even charged Ghanaians to pursue domestic tourism by asking us to explore Ghana before going to Dubai. Just yesterday, the British High Commission celebrated the Queen’s 93rd birthday with an emphasis on tourism. Major campaigns such as the Year of Return and the Full Circle Festival have helped to boost the country’s image.
Madam, you are thus inheriting a tourism sector that is popular and trending. For some of us who have watched tourism over the last 25 years, this is a great sign. Never before in the country’s contemporary history has awareness on tourism been this heightened. This benefit notwithstanding, the tourism sector is faced with some major challenges which continue to stifle its growth.
Firstly, it appears that much of the buzz has not translated into actionable palpable programmes at the micro level. A case in point is the much heralded ‘See Ghana, Wear Ghana and Eat Ghana campaign which fizzled out just after its launch. The same can be said of the Akwaaba Hotels and the 30 tourism ambassadors who were appointed. It appears that many of the programmes were targeted more at media recognition than real policy-oriented change on the ground.
Secondly, available scholarly evidence suggests that the benefits of tourism are not being felt at the meso and micro levels. Let us ask ourselves what the towns of Cape Coast and Elmina have gained after consistently hosting tourism for three decades.
The third challenge relates to the fact that our tourism product requires a significant facelift.
Almost all the major attractions we have are either in their raw state, in a state of disrepair or have not been diversified. Hence a visitor who came to Ghana in 1995 is likely to be offered the same itinerary 24 years down the line in 2019.
Madam, there is no reason why Ghana cannot be a major tourism powerhouse in Africa. There is no reason why we cannot double our attraction patronage rates. All we need to do is to reorganize our tourism around 4 Ps: Policy, Product, Promotion, and Personnel.
The first is Policy. A policy gives a clear indication of the philosophy and programmes for managing tourism. Having a policy clearly outlines goals for tourism and, most importantly, also helps to bring all stakeholders on board towards a focused goal. We must certainly have a functional policy driving the organization and conduct of tourism in Ghana. As at now, Ghana does not have a clear functional tourism policy.
Product relates to the second ‘P’. As indicated, Ghana’s tourism product needs a major facelift. There must be a major national move led by your ministry to identify and develop new tourism attractions and add value to existing ones. Fortunately, the tourism Act 817’s call for the establishment of District Tourism Desks provides the legal authority for tourism development to be undertaken at the district and regional levels. By creating new attractions we can make the country more diverse as a destination and ensure longer periods of stay and by extension, earn more revenue from increased spending from visitors.
We must also seek to Promote (the penultimate ‘P’) tourism. Here, the focus should be more on the domestic middle-income tourist. Madam, you will be surprised to learn that findings from studies carried by the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Cape Coast suggest that more than 70% of Ghana’s inbound (or international) tourists are millennials. These millennials are budget, low-income travelers and are not known to possess the spending power that is required to trigger major multiplier effects to bring the desired benefits we are all clamouring for. Rather, research has shown that the Ghanaian domestic middle class has higher spending power and spends more on tourism and leisure. On that note, it would appear more beneficial that we change our present marketing paradigm and commit a substantial part of our marketing effort to the domestic market. The GTA must be encouraged to revisit their ‘gye w’ani’ campaigns as well as inter-tourism trade fairs of the late 1980s and 1990s. These interventions helped create domestic awareness about tourism.
Finally, we need to train People (the final ‘P’). Aside attractions, it is personnel who make a destination competitive. By personnel, I am referring to both the frontline and the technocrats. More often than not, discussions on personnel are focused on the waiters, receptionists, tour guides to mention a few. However, we must also turn our attention to the managers of destinations and technocrats who equally need training. Periodic short courses on various aspects of destination management, like marketing/promotion, impact assessment, product development and management, safety and security can be organized for them to sharpen their skills and keep them in step with contemporary trends in the industry.
We must also formulate strategies by which the people at the local communities can benefit from tourism. One or both of two options can be deployed. The first is to provide special skill training for community members and support them with some seed capital to establish small scale businesses that can provide high quality services to the visitors. A study from Gambia found that businesses which provide visitors with transportation, fruits and vegetables and guiding services are well patronized and profitable and help reduce poverty.
The second option would be to create a social investment fund which is used to address the basic developmental needs of the host communities. Such a fund can be financed with a percentage of the proceeds generated from the state-owned tourism attractions in the communities. This approach has the advantage of helping people see the tangible benefits at the communal level and reduces their unrealistic expectations of individual gain from tourism. Studies have shown that communities which have such arrangements in place tend to view tourism more favorably and support it willingly.
Madam, as you may be fully aware, tourism if well harnessed can be a beneficial agent of development and can be channeled towards meeting H.E. the President’s vision of Ghana beyond aid. As a global force, it generated 1.3trillion dollars in 2018. Countries like the USA, Spain and, France, feed fat off their respective tourism industries earning 211, 68 and 61 billion dollars respectively from tourism in 2017 alone. Furthermore, it has the unique potential of being able to create jobs for a wide range of skill sets ranging from the unskilled to the highly skilled. Let us therefore commit to enhancing tourism’s capabilities to augment its contribution to the Ghana’s development.