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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Columnist: Obeng, Samuel Kwasi

The group approach to the domestic tourism drive

By Samuel Kwasi Obeng

The need for a strong domestic tourism sector has become very imperative to the overall tourism development of a country mainly because of how unpredictable international tourism can be. Crises like diseases, terrorism and civil wars are major barriers to reaping from international tourism because they create a sense of insecurity about the affected country in the minds of tourists. Instances of these crises and their shrinking effects on international tourism receipts exist in recent times. The Egyptian revolution of 2011, the outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) in West Africa, and the terrorist attacks in Kenya are some good examples.

The article, ‘Tourists abandon Ghana despite its success against Ebola’ written by Tom Murphy and published on May 1 this year on the Humanosphere’s website indicates that international tourist arrivals to Cape Coast in Ghana fell from 21,325 in 2013 to 16, 092 in 2014 because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Even though Ghana never recorded a single case of confirmed Ebola outbreak, fears of it metastasising across the sub-region like a cancerous tumour kept a very crucial number of international tourists at bay including the over 50 tourism ministers in Africa and private sector players who were scheduled to attend the first-ever UNWTO Regional Conference on Tourism Branding and Africa’s Image in Accra last year September. Thank God Ebola couldn’t steal our birthright to host the conference which has now been fixed on August 17 to 19 this year.
Tourism experts, using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory argue that security is one of the foremost factors tourists consider before embarking on a tour and if they cannot be sure of their safety, you can be arrest assured they won’t embark on that tour. Thus countries whose tourism industry and economy so much depend on international tourist arrivals and receipts suffer losses in revenue, job cuts and businesses folding up when these crises, which have the character of an armed-robber strike.
It is against this backdrop that the argument is made for domestic tourism to encourage locals to embark on tours, staycations and vacations within the country to keep stakeholders in the tourism industry in constant business. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts with its Explore Ghana initiative launched by the Hon. Minister, Mrs. Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare in 2014 is also pursuing the domestic tourism agenda with all the seriousness it deserves. Private organisation, Tourism Marketing Alliance Ghana is also following suit with its monthly tours.
But how can we encourage domestic tourism to become a potent sector in Ghana in the midst of the economic challenges which have had a debilitating effect on the standard of living in the country? Underlying a strong domestic tourism sector is the level of economic development with its concomitant effect on the standard of living. If the level of economic development is high, the standard of living will be high and people will have some money to spend on quality leisure and recreation.
Elsewhere in the developed world, people save money for months just to spend on leisure and recreational activities not only because they understand the importance of leisure and recreation to their wellbeing but most importantly the prevailing economic conditions in their country enable them to either earn more or spend less which in turn afford them to save for any cause. These foreign nationals from the developed world know more tourists sites in Ghana than most of us here in the country.
A number of reasons have been given to explain why Ghanaians are not enthused about domestic tourism. One of them is the ‘bibiara neho syndrome’ (translated to mean there is nothing worth experiencing there) outlined by Kofi Akpabli in one of his weekly articles in ‘The Mirror’ Newspaper. Even though I agree that this cultural disposition of average Ghanaians has been a bane to domestic tourism, underlying this apathy to domestic tourism is economic – the wherewithal. Once we deal with this economic bottleneck, the cultural factor can easily be dealt with.
But we cannot wait with a bated breath for this mountain of economic development to come to us before we vigorously drive our domestic tourism potentials else the sector will suffocate and die. Which best way can we then drive our domestic tourism potential to make it a strong sector in the midst of the economic challenges?
The in-group and out-group phenomenon exist pretty much in the Ghanaian society. Apart from the family, everyone one belongs to a social group(s), whether formal or informal and as such show much loyalty and commitment to the cause of the group(s) to fulfill their psycho-need of a sense of belonging. There are quite a number of things that many people wouldn’t have done on their own but because of the commitment and loyalty they have for their respective groups have been able or compelled to do.
Groups fight for members of their in-groups and where there is a cause with financial implications worth pursuing for members, groups come up with strategies to help the financially handicapped in the group. Moreover, the contributions of each member of the in-group reduce the cost that would have been borne by one person if he were to pursue a worthy cause alone. The above points are typified in the Ghanaian adage which says that a broom stick breaks easily when bent but not when a number of them are put together.
In our current economic predicament, the group approach of focusing and encouraging religious groups, corporate organisations, educational institutions, traditional groups and any other social group you can think of to make tours, staycations and vacations within the country a ritual by first driving home the relevance of leisure and recreation to our physical and mental wellbeing and its effects on success in any area of endeavour is the best way to affirming and making our domestic tourism sector a potent one.
The group approach will reduce the financial barriers to the financially handicapped, reduce overhead cost because the group stand in a better position to negotiate down the cost of transportation, food and accommodation than an individual, promote communal spirit and unity and help cure the ‘bibiara neho syndrome’ infected group members. The approach will also have a seminal effect on individuals and families making leisure and recreation in Ghana more of an individual than a group affair thereby boosting domestic tourism.
The South Africans, the Kenyans and many other countries are making it with tourism. We have all it takes to replicate it here in Ghana. God has blessed us with lemons, let’s make do and make lemonades out of tourism.