Greetings Mr. President and on behalf of all in the tourism fraternity we wish you a warm welcome to the hottest seat in Ghana.
H.E. like all others before you, I can sense your burning desire to place Ghana on a path of rapid socio-economic development. The problems facing Ghana’s economy are the same and have remained unchanged throughout our close to 60 years as a country. In your opposition years you rightly labelled Ghana’s economy a ‘Guggisberg’ one – an allusion to the fact that our economy has remained the same in structure.
We have to diversify Ghana’s economy. It is trite knowledge that proceeds from Cocoa and Gold our two traditional exports at best, fluctuate and are thus unreliable. Our manufacturing sector is almost moribund and keeps shrinking on aggregate in real terms year on year. The least said about Agriculture the better. H.E Ex-President John Mahama also noticed this and once called for the creation of more pillars for the Ghanaian economy to stand on.
Mr President, as you form your strategy to reverse these trends I humbly invite you to take a more determined look at tourism.
Ghana is blessed with four major kinds of gold, black (oil), yellow (real gold) and white (salt). All of these have high demand but is our ‘invisible’ gold (tourism) that holds the greatest potential to speed the country’s march to socio-economic development.
Tourism earnings currently average around US$2.1billion per annum. TRAC sincerely believes that this amount can be at least doubled over the next five years.
You may find it intriguing to know that tourism generates more revenue for Ghana than oil! 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)
Tourism can be described as a friend of poor countries. Tourism has worked miracles for many countries through creating jobs, revenue for government and its agencies, demand for related goods and services and general goodwill.
Tourism has many benefits but let me focus on the two that meet Ghana’s most pressing needs at the moment, jobs and revenue.
- Tourism can be a creator of permanent jobs. Studies from poor countries such as Panama and Gambia have repeatedly shown that tourism can create permanent jobs for people. IN Gambia for example, research found that tourism created jobs in the informal economy such as taxi driving, fruit and art vending, tour guiding among others.
- Tourism increases government revenues and boosts foreign exchange reserves. For example, Ghana records an estimated 1 million inbound tourists annually. A two- dollar levy on each arrival that would earn the country Eight million cedis annually just from one source.
The figures get better as the arrivals increase, thus, to maximize benefits from tourism, we need to boost inbound patronage and this can only be done when we have many quality tourism attractions.
However, I regret to inform you that Ghana has a long way to go in creating a competitive tourist experience. Exit interviews we have conducted by TRAC suggest that many tourists feel that the country’s attractions did not offer much for them to explore.
H.E., Ghana’s attractions are in a bad state. Recent research has shown that many of them still exist in their raw state and the few that have been ‘developed’ leave much to be desired. Perhaps this could be one of the reasons why the sector has been experiencing stagnated growth lately. As a country we have not added substantially to the existing tourism attraction stock over the past three decades. Stated differently, a tourist who visited Ghana in the year 1992 (25 years ago) is likely to be offered virtually the same itinerary used at that time. It is sometimes quite embarrassing when prospective visitors to Ghana request a 7-day itinerary and we are struggling to find suitable activities for such a short period.
You will be surprised to know that Ghana cannot boast of 20 world class tourist attractions across the country.
The way forward is to fix the problem of attractions. TRAC proposes a way forward. We think that government can adopt an emergency policy of one region one tourist attraction. Such a policy will fit into your philosophy of seeking to devolve development from Accra. Sir, if Ghana continued this policy for the next 3 years, we could almost triple the existing stock of tourist attractions and in the process attract more visitors and by extension create more jobs and earn your government more revenue. By our estimations, a well-developed attraction creates about 30 direct and at least 120 indirect jobs for service providers such as taxi drivers, fruit, food and art venders among others. Hence by expanding the existing attractions and creating new ones, tourism attractions alone can generate up to 5000 jobs, 1000 of which are permanent. What a relief from the existing situation that would be!
Funding this policy should not be a challenge at all. The tourism fund, one of the very laudable initiatives of the outgoing government has so far yielded close to 7 million dollars. The country could use half of that money to build 10 tourist attractions annually. US$3million will translate into 300,000 or GHC 1million per region to develop attractions each year.
Congratulations once again Mr President and we wish you the best as you set about this arduous task before you.
Tourism Research and Advocacy Centre (TRAC)