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Opinions of Saturday, 8 December 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Tapping Deep into our Tourism Potential in Ghana

Part 4 (Final)

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
2nd December 2012

It is instructive to ponder over the factors which motivate people to travel around as tourists to places such as Ghana, or to any other place in the world. Some people are motivated to travel to see Ghana because of what they hear from other travelers or they have Ghanaian friends who influenced them. Others travel to Ghana on account of having been born in Ghana or they had a relative who once worked in Ghana, or they had a loyal worker who was Ghanaian. A tourist is anyone who travels outside his country of usual residence and stays for more than a day. It is also anyone who travels for leisure, pleasure, sight seeing, photography and to have novel experiences. Such casual travelers are on excursion or vacation and they usually travel light, mostly in a group called backpackers.

They seek budget airlines, budget hostels and budget everything because they are mostly middle class or working class. Others are mostly students who travel on student visas on university exchange programmes, or renowned researchers who want to deepen their knowledge and horizons. Some of the worst destinations in the world are said to be dangerous places like Somalia, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Congo DR and some parts of Nigeria. Some of these states have been dubbed failed or rogue states because of serious security concerns and likelihood of terrorist attacks, or because of oppressive regimes or lack of proper governance structures and very low infrastructure development.

On the other hand, there are other destinations which are considered veritable tourist paradises. These include numerous islands in the pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans such as Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Seychelles, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tasmania, Cape Verde, Canary Islands, Equatorial Guinea, Tahiti, Fiji, among others. Since 9/11 and the Tsunami in South East Asia in 2004, many popular tourist destinations have raised their security profiles and improved their early warning systems, using satellites and GPS tracking. There are welcoming places which have pull factors and there are off- putting places which have push factors.

Some of the worst places to visit may have unpleasant climate such as the hot deserts or the frigid Polar Regions. Others may be inaccessible mountain areas or damp and wet marshy jungles of the Amazon, Congo forest or Sarawak and Borneo in Indonesia. There are many things which motivate people to travel to see new places. Some travel for fun, relaxation, adventure and romance. Those seeking romance engage in sex tourism, and they may head to places like Thailand, India, Gambia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Rwanda the Netherlands and Dubai.

Within Ghana, Tourists may head to Koforidua, Tema, Takoradi, Agona Nyakrom, Krobo Odumase or Aflao. Those tourists who are interested in exotic plants and animals (Flora and Fauna) engage in ecotourism. This is directly related to mass tourism which is not sustainable. They may head for Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and parts of West Africa in Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Of interest are the lemurs in Madagascar and the big five in Zambia, or the tigers, pandas and elephants of India, China and Burma.

There are some tourists who seek wild adventures such as surfing, white water rafting, mountain skiing, bungee jumping and sky diving. People might leap in parachutes over the precipice of the Grand Canyon or fly off from the Eiffel Tower or the Burj Khalifa or the Empire State Building or the Tower of London or the London Eye. Such adventurous tourists may head for places like Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, France, USA, Canada, Brazil, Switzerland and Germany.

In Ghana, tourists seeking adventure may go to climb Mount Afadjato in the Volta Region or they may go for the rope walkway in Kakum Forest near Cape Coast. Some tourists like going on pilgrimage to holy places such as Israel, the Vatican, Portugal, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Tibet, Nepal and Spain. In Ghana, they may visit the Theosophical Society headquarters at Saltpond or visit the Akonedi Shrine in Larteh Akwapim. Some may visit the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) of Dr Mensah Otabil or the headquarters of the traditional churches in Ghana. There are some tourists who are researchers and educationists who are carrying out empirical research to validate some concepts and they may need information in time and space. They may travel for work and leisure.

Such researchers may go anywhere in the world to conduct their research. In Ghana, they may affiliate with our leading universities at Legon, KNUST, UDS, UCC, UEW, among others. Because of advanced research facilities and rich sources of information, researchers from the LEDCs may find themselves going to places like Japan, China, Brazil, UK, Canada, Germany, USA, France, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, among others. Many tourists want to trace the ancient routes taken by explorers such as David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Mungo Park, Speke, Clapperton, Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, Murchison, Bolivar, among others.

In Ghana, they may want to trace the journeys and expeditions undertaken by people like Sir Garnett Wosley, Gordon Guggisburg, Ekem Ferguson, Sir Charles McCarthy, Commander Hill, George McClean, among others. Many tourists now travel around the world exploring business opportunities to exploit first mover advantage and to have competitive edge over rivals. Thus, multinationals sponsor and send out their scouts and agents who roam the face of the earth, prospecting and assessing political country risks and profiles, using their own developed criteria. The information they gather can be packaged and stored in their databases, and perhaps sold or shared with subsidiaries, strategic partners, among others. These business scouts combine business with leisure.

They are found all over Africa, as Africa is an emerging market, posting some of the fastest GDP growth rates in places like Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Botswana and Zambia. In 2011, tourism contributed 2.3% of GDP in Ghana. Tourists who are connoisseurs of samba music may go to Brazil for their carnivals and sexy samba/salsa dances. Also those who savour calypso, sunshine, sex and beaches may go to the Caribbean Islands to enjoy their carnivals. For jazz, you may head for the USA. For highlife and funk, you may go to Ghana and Nigeria. Congo DR is famous for their rhumba, expensively dressed musicians, and their erotic dances. Kwaito soulful music can be found way down south in South Africa, where we have had the likes of Hugh Masekela, Black Ladysmith Mambazo, King Kong, Elizabeth Singana, Mirriam Makeba, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Brenda Fassie.

These days, many people from the First World travel for health tourism to undergo cheap but efficient surgery and health treatment in India. Perhaps we in Ghana have to invest in our traditional herbal medicine in order to attract tourists who are seeking treatment for infertility, baldness, weak sexual prowess, among other ailments. Senegal and Mali attract many tourists on account of their great musicians such as Salifu Keita, Akon, Kante, among others. The Malians have been known to have esoteric knowledge about the heavenly bodies, especially Sirius. They have wonderful historical artefacts such as the famous ancient Sankore University in Timbuktu, and the Senegalese boast of the slave island of Goree.

In Ghana, we have many castles along our pristine beaches which tell tales of our rich historical heritage as regards our merchandise intercourse with several European traders, dating as far back as 1472, including the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Swedish, French, British and at an earlier date, with Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Many tourists go to Germany to experience the taste of their quintessential beers. In Ghana, our beers are also tasty, coupled with our delectable spicy menus. Take for instance night life at Oxford Street at Osu in Accra. Beer brands and seafood aplenty. Many tourists flock the Mediterranean climate cities of Cape Town, Perth, Los Angeles, Malaga, Sagres, Le Havre, Athens, Nicosia, Larnaca, Malta, Genoa, Rabat, Tripoli, Tunis and Casablanca because of pleasant weather and healthy foods, including wines, grapes, seafood, olive oil, citrus, among others.

Some tourists like buying indigenous crafts as memorabilia and souvenirs in the form of gold, copper, silver, bronze and wooden works of art. These are collectors who hope to gain in the future by selling their collections at huge profits. In Ghana, they may go for our earthenware pots, Kente and Adinkra fabrics and designs, smocks of heavy cotton men’s wear from. Northern Ghana, decorative and exquisite designed cane and weed baskets, our adinkra gold motifs and ornaments, high quality wooden furniture, wooden dolls and statuettes, famed for bringing fertility luck to barren women, carved wooden stools which are replicas of our ancestral golden and black stools, which are mystified symbols of power and authority behind all the thrones of chiefs in Ghana.

Some tourists want to experience unique cultures and novel rural experiences. These engage in rural tourism, as opposed to urban tourism. These are the ones who elect to live among rural communities to experience first hand, the way of life of rural people. This is also community-based tourism. With the vast possibilities and vistas opened up by the use of ICT facilities, we can use VOIP, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email, SMS and other communications to reach people in the global village. Thus, a lot of friendships are being formed, thus increasing tourism potential in Ghana and everywhere. It is now very easy to form friendships and networks with people across racial, religious, political and social divides.

We are indeed in a globalised world with seamless boundaries and there is a convergence and diffusion of cultures, in an imperceptible way. It is wrong to equate globalisation with the Americanisation of the world, because Americans are also being influenced by the world as now they are breaking out of their cocoons to comingle and exploit the world outside the USA. As Americans travel to work outside or to participate in sporting competitions, world festivals and conferences, the rest of the world is rubbing on, on them. It is a two-way traffic of give and take. Ghana is gradually becoming a preferred destination in West Africa, though we need to greatly develop our infrastructure such as railways, rural roads, electricity and water supply, among others. We also need to aggressively market our tourism potential.

Tourists prefer to go to places with neat environments, where epidemics are low and where the standards of living are fairly high, though cost effective. Tourists like to travel to countries with stable currencies, low inflation rate and low cost of living. Places such as South East Asia, Botswana and the Caribbean have such attributes. Most tourists like to travel to places where the people are friendly, where there is a stable and democratic government. They detest places where the leader is a bully and the government is seen as bellicose and belligerent towards tourists. They go to places where there is a government of laws rather than a government of men, which does not respect the rule of law or human rights. Tourists avoid countries where immigration, customs and bureaucratic procedures are long, winding and off-putting. Tourists detest rude, rotten, corrupt and incompetent immigration, customs and security officials or civil servants.

Tourists detest unnecessary delays and extortions at entry points or humiliating searches of their person at entry points, which may invade their privacy or subject them to public ridicule and opprobrium. Tourists enjoy countries where there is a free media, and where the basics of food, accommodation and transport are relatively cheap, safe and easily accessible. All these plusses can be found in Ghana in some large measure. Uppermost, tourists prefer countries which are considered very safe from terrorist attacks.

Most importantly, some tourists prefer a laidback country with conservative people without the spoilt manners of urbanites. Such places can be found in rural Ghana, especially in the north, and in some African countries such as Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Togo, Nigeria, Kenya, Benin and Cameroon. These days, many people travel to Dubai for duty-free shopping and sight-seeing. Dubai is a tax-haven and a hub of commerce. The man-made built environment is high quality in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Dubai, Indonesia, Japan and South Africa. These areas attract a group of tourists who admire modern skyscraper architecture.

The South East Asian countries combine their modern architecture with their unspoilt culture, cheap but quality manufactured goods, cheap food, transport and accommodation and the natural beauty of their evergreen landscape and fiorded coastline, with majestic and scenic bays, coves and sounds, dotted with islands. What with their lush forests and abundance of seafood and a variety of vegetables, fruits, among others. They have cheap but high quality electronic goods such as laptops, cameras, cellphones, ipods and ipads. The cost of doing business in South East Asia is far lower than anywhere in the world, hence their attraction of massive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). We in Ghana should emulate their example of hard work, modest living, being demure and well-mannered, among others.

Europe attracts the highest number of tourists in the world, almost half a billion tourists per year, with South East Asia attracting 217 million tourists (UNWTO Statistics 2011). The EU integration makes it very easy for cross border trade and free movement of people and capital across borders. It is on record that on the contrary, inter-Africa trade is only 15%. We need to accelerate inter-Africa trade through evolving forward looking policies on tourism in order to create more jobs for our youth. We need to change the orientation of our tourism in Africa from ecotourism to a new model which will lead to more value-adding activities and the multiplier effect by properly packaging, advertising and increasing our service quality delivery through proper research, training, empowerment and creating autonomous rural and urban tourist growth poles and value-driven profit centres.

This requires consistent and well thought out strategies for the medium and long term. Many workers in Europe, North America, Japan and South Korea plan their holidays by saving a lot of their earnings so that they can travel to their dream country while on leave from their stressful and humdrum work schedules. We need to encourage domestic tourism in Ghana because charity begins at home. We need to formulate appropriate policies to drive our tourism to reach its full potential.

If we create strong domestic demand for our own tourist services, then according to Michael Porter’s Diamond Model, we become internal customers who can demand stringent standards, which eventually will make us more competitive on the global market. I suggest that both private and public sector workers should demand tourism packages from their employers to help kick-start domestic tourism in Ghana. I know the very top managers receive handsome leave packages. This must be extended to middle and lower level workers. It is quite a pity that countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali do not have their own national airlines to fly their national flags and emblems. National airlines are powerful and visible unique selling points for potential tourists.

I think these countries should seriously consider reviving their collapsed and defunct national airlines. It is a source of national shame and embarrassment to depend on private airlines or the airlines of other countries. If we put our priorities right, we can efficiently and economically run them if we eschew bribery, corruption nepotism, unnecessary bureaucracy and undue political interference. Ghana has many things in her favour to double our current level of tourist arrivals. What with our rich traditional culture, our historical legacy of slavery and the exploits of our ancestors, the legacy of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Dr Kwegyir Aggrey, Busumburum Kofi Annan, Dr Robert Gardner, Dr Ephriam Amu, Professor F. K.A Allotey, among others. Last year 2011, Ghana earned 2.13 billion dollars from tourist arrivals of 1.087 million. Recently new hotels have been added in Accra to increase our accommodation capacity for tourists and international conferences. These include Movenpick, Protea, Kempiski, Blue Radisson, Sofitel, Royal Palm, among others. We need to attract some world class hotels to Ghana such as the Hilton, Sheraton, Taj Hotels, Intercontinental hotels, Sun Hotels, among others.

Our chocolates and our cocoa trade, our proverbial gold and diamonds, our forests and savannah grasslands, replete with birds and animals, and our scenic mountain ranges and scarps such as Gambaga Scarp, Kwahu-Kintampo-Akuapem Range, Togo Range and our fabulous rivers and lakes such as Rivers Ankobra, Volta, Tano, Pra, Oti, Birim, Afram, Lake Volta, Lake Bosumtwi and our golden beaches beckon. So also do our warm and hospitable people who say Akwaaba or Welcome to every visitor or tourist who sets foot in Ghana. These articles have sought to stimulate your appetite to travel to Ghana. It is the fourth and final in the series. I will keep you posted with other write-ups. See ya. Chao!

Note: The writer is a teacher of 42 years experience and his subject area is eclectic. He teaches Economics, Business Studies, Statistics, Business Communications, Public Administration, Geography, English and Social Studies. He has teaching experience in Ghana, Nigeria, and for the past 21 years, he has been plying his trade in Zambia. He is a freelance contributor to Ghanaweb and other online sites such as myjoyonline, infoghana, oneghanaone voice, news.gkrom, ghanavillage, ghanamma;, ghananewsaid, spyghanaweb, vibeghana, ghanaherald, among others. Google my earlier articles at: columnist sakyi and click on the first entry to see all the articles I have written and select any one you will like to read or review. I also write poetry.