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Feature Article of Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Columnist: Boakye-Boateng, Prince

Ghana And The Celebration Of World Tourism Day 2011: My ThoughtS

The United Nations has set aside 27th September each year to celebrate World Tourism Day as a way of fostering awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural and economic values. The event seeks to address the global challenges outlined in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to highlight the contribution the tourism sector can make towards reaching these goals.
The event was created at the 3rd Session of the UNWTO General Assembly in Torremolinos, Spain, in September 1979. 27th September is noteworthy because it was on that day in 1970 that the statutes of the World Tourism Organisation were espoused. At its 12th Session in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 1997, the UNWTO passed a resolution to designate a host member-state each year as an associate to commemorate World Tourism Day. Ghana had the first privilege to host the worldwide event in 2009; same way Egypt is hosting it this year.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Tourism: Linking Cultures” and it is an opportunity to highlight tourism’s role in bringing the cultures of the World together and promoting understanding and mutual respect through global travel.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, in his World Tourism Day 2011 message remarked thus “there is no better way to learn about a new culture than to experience it first-hand. Tourism offers a wonderful connecting thread between visitor and host community. It promotes dialogue and interaction. Such contact between people of different backgrounds is the foundation for tolerance. In a world struggling for peaceful co-existence, tourism can build bridges and contribute to peace”.
The UN Secretary General has thus called on tourists and travelers to engage with other cultures and celebrate human diversity, recognizing that tourism is a force for a more tolerant, open and united world. Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary General, says that “the message of this year’s World Tourism Day is that, thanks to tourism, millions of people from different cultures are being brought together around the world like never before. This interaction between people from different backgrounds and ways of life represents an enormous opportunity to advance tolerance, respect, and mutual understanding.”
In Ghana, regional celebrations will be held nationwide, with the national event climaxing at the Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary in Hohoe Municipality of the Volta Region on 27th September. Preceding this on 24th September would be a tour of tourist attraction sites within the Kpando/Hohoe circuits including Amedzokpe Mountains, Wli Waterfalls, Kpando Torkor, the Kpando Grottos, and the famous Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary. The climax will be a Grand Durbar, an Arts and Culture Exhibition, a Local Gastronomy (food fair) and cultural performances at Tafi- Atome.
As we celebrate World Tourism Day 2011, there is the need to take some time to reflect on the contribution of the sector to the national economy. Presently, tourism is the 4th largest contributor to the nation’s GDP after Gold, Cocoa, and Foreign Remittances. It contributed $1.87 Billion to the economy last year. Perhaps this reinforces the call by the UNWTO Secretary General for countries to “consider tourism as a priority in national policies. Tourism can play a key role in terms of economic growth and development, particularly at a moment when many economies, for the most part in Europe and North America, struggle for recovery and job creation.
Tourism creates unity and national cohesion. The world’s fastest growing economic sector, travel and tourism, has played a dramatic role in bringing people of diverse cultural backgrounds together in a positive way. The ability of travel and tourism to create deeper, richer understanding is very vital as people across the world get a grip on how other people and cultures impact their lives. Visitation is the start-point to the creation of understanding and appreciation, not to mention the industry’s vital impact on employment, investment, identity, competitiveness and opportunity creation.”
Ghana abounds in natural, cultural, and historical heritage sites that can draw people of different orientations from both in and outside the country to sight-see and fraternize. Unfortunately, most of these sites are either untapped, or under-developed. Even the few developed ones are also not under the control and supervision of one identifiable entity – for example the Castles are in the hands of Museums and Monuments Board, while natural reserves and parks are under the purview of the Department of Forestry and Parks and Gardens respectively.
The Tourism sector is multi-sectoral, and the different stakeholder Ministries including the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Environment, Science and Technology, Chieftaincy and Culture, Local Government and Rural Development, Lands , Forestry and Natural Resources as well as the private sector must get on board if the optimum benefit is to be derived from the sector. Tarring of access roads to tourist attraction sites, avoidance of turf wars as to who controls what, inadequate resource allocations to the sector, all need to be given serious attention by policy makers and the private sector.
Also, District Assemblies should take a keen interest in the development of attraction sites within their jurisdiction. This will diversify their revenue generation base from the traditional market tolls and property rates to more sustainable revenue areas. Doing this will also attract investors into their areas and create jobs for the unemployed youth.
Available statistics from the UNWTO indicate that the year 2010 recorded over 940 million tourists worldwide. As we celebrate 2011, I appeal to all Ghanaians to, even if for once, join the growing global trend and take a break from their routine work schedules and join in this year’s activities so as to appreciate the benefits of tourism to them as individuals, corporate entities, and the nation as a whole. Experiencing different ways of life, discovering new foods and customs, and visiting cultural sites is a celebration of tourism’s role in breaking down barriers across cultures and fostering tolerance, respect and mutual understanding. These values represent stepping stones towards a more peaceful country, especially as we prepare to enter into election year 2012.