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Battle of the Manifestoes… Tourism Loses!

– Prof Kwaku A. Boakye-
CEO
Tourism Research and Advocacy Centre
Cape Coast
Senior Lecturer of UCC

It is the campaign season once again and over the next 7 days or so, Ghana’s electorate will go to polls. Various issues have been raised key amongst them, the economy, energy, health and to relatively smaller extent, education.  Yet, once again, tourism has been pushed to the back burner.  So far none of the contestants, (not even those with personal investments in the tourism sector) have mentioned tourism on a platform. Well, this is based on the TV coverage I have watched so far- I must confess.  But given the general apathy we have as a country towards tourism I would be very surprised if my earlier assertion is not true.

This is not surprising given the fact that over the past 15 years we as  a country have  not given much attention to tourism. Tourism is one of the least funded Ministries. Why  this disdain? Why do we as a country place so little emphasis on tourism? The countryside is loaded with countless attractions virtually begging to be tapped and exploited for tourism and revenue.  Yet we appear to abandon all of these in favour of Oil.

What is  the hype about oil anyway? Just fancy the frenzy that the country worked itself into when news of the oil find in the erstwhile Kufour Government broke. Yet, tourism gives Ghana more revenue than Oil! if the figures from the Ghana Tourism Authority as reported in the Daily Graphic are anything to go by then Ghana gets more from the visitor trade than the business of the black gold.  Yet, tourism does not get half the attention or effort the nation places on its oil sector. It appears that tourism is generally seen as an afterthought  but is a sector that can easily give Ghana more money than the much hyped-oil.  So far the figures have suggested so. Data from the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) showed that between 2012 and 2014, tourism receipts summed up to US$6.09 billion, more than double the US$3 billion that oil exports brought to the economy during the same period (source:http://www.graphic.com.gh/business/business-news/ghana-can-learn-from-dubai-in-tourism-dev-t-unwto.html)

Why this sad situation? Is it the cause of media disinterestedness, government apathy or lack of the right noises from the appropriate quarters?. To the extent that a popular Akan adage suggests that if you do not talk about your haircut you end with a terrible outcome, We at TRAC are inclined to suggest that the tourism story has not been well articulated and told.

Let’s consider just a few of the wonders that tourism can work for poor countries:

  • Tourism can be:
    • A creator of jobs for all ranges of skill sets- from waitresses to destination managers
    • A source of revenue, and  foreign exchange for government
    • A stimulant of local economic growth through forward and backward linkages
    • A conserver of the environment
    • A preserver of culture
    • A relatively higher yield investment as compared to other economic sectors
    • A protector of the bargaining power of developing countries in the export market

Now to the purpose of this piece- At TRAC we decided to conduct a small  desk study to assess  the plans that  political parties (being the main formulators of policy) have for Ghana’s tourism.  Consequently we analysed the respective manifestos of both parties and undertook the following preliminary content analysis.

The tourism content for both manifestos  were found at the following places in the respective documents:

NDC Manifesto:  Theme Two: Strong Economy for Jobs and Transformation Pages 48 &49

NPP Manifesto:   Chapter 17: Tourism and Creative Arts.  Pages  169 & 170

Isn’t it  an interesting coincidence that  both parties have only two pages on tourism?

 

Some good ideas

  • It is elevating to note that the NDC if re-elected into office will be seeking to designate tourism as a non-traditional export. This is very important as it will give the sector the needed recognition and support for service providers (the private sector) to become efficient.  Tourism service providers have over the past 3 years intensified their complaints about the  difficult environment they conduct their business in.
  • It is equally heart-warming for the NPP to seek to champion a system where part of the proceeds from tourism is distributed into the host communities. This also a very laudable proposition given the fact that research by TRAC has suggested that there is manifest discontent in the host communities of major tourism attractions, largely created by a perceived lack of tangible benefits from tourist patronage.

The Unclear Areas

I wish there was a forum where the parties could be engaged to further explain some of the interesting promises they have made. While we wait for such a platform (if ever it will materialize this year) a few questions will suffice:

  • The NDC promises to create additional tourism district offices—brilliant! But what happened to the 5 that were established as a pilot? And how many of these offices will you establish and where? What will their functions be relative to the existing organisational set up of the MMDAs?
  • When the NPP promises to use ecotourism as a tool to conserve the natural environment, are they aware of the fact that most scientific studies have established that tourism has failed in Africa as a tool for achieving both conservation and livelihood enhancement?
  • When the NDC promises to increase the sector’s contribution to GDP and are silent on the actual figures how measurable is this?
  • When the NPP claims they seek to develop the country into a MICE market, are they aware that that participants of MICE are not necessarily tourists?

Some research –based realities  about Ghana’s tourism.

  • Perhaps after Agriculture, tourism offers Ghana the greatest potential for sustained economic growth.
  • Tourism is the one of the least funded economic activities in Ghana
  • Ghana currently has a 15 year Tourism Development Plan which is barely operational.
  • Ghana’s tourism problems are structural in nature and range from misaligned policies through to inadequate support for the sector to an inappropriate operating environment.
  • The existing operating environment poses a major challenge for many tourism service providers. High utility tariffs, multiple taxes and poor infrastructure are but a few of the challenges they face.
  • There is currently very high apathy against tourism in popular destinations across the country? Just go to Elmina, Abrafo and Cape Coast and some parts of the Volta Region to verify.
  • Ghana does not have even 20 (yes, just 20) fully developed tourist attractions worthy of international standards.
  • The domestic market holds the key to the development of Ghana’s tourism.

So dear reader,  your guess is as good as mine as to whose manifesto and plan of activities best shows an understanding of the  reality of the  Ghana’s tourism situation. As both manifestos have shown, tourism involves more issues than have been captured by the leading political parties.

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