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Opinions of Thursday, 21 April 2016

Columnist: Enimil Ashon

Tourism Safety And Security Fair - Why you must be a part

The then Ghana Tourist Board swept everybody off our feet with “Inter-Tourism” at the Trade Fair Centre in 1985.

Everybody who was somebody in the industry, every hotel and restaurant worth their salt, all the major foreign airlines, among many others, participated in this exhibition in which business mingled with pleasure in a profitable partnership to attract more international tourists and rake in more tourist dollars.

The then government just declared tourism as one of the five priority areas of the country’s economy and the whole country was buzzing. Loud was the bang. At the height of it all came those Neoplan luxury tourist coaches that arrived by road from Germany across the Sahara.

By whichever adjectives the event is described, one thing stands out: Inter-Tourism ’86 is an event that never seems to fade from memory. Since then, there have been other plans, attempts and efforts. Indeed, some have borne fruit, but (if you ask the Methuselahs of the industry) none comes close.

Early this year, I had information about plans by a certain Tourism Safety and Security Initiative (TOSS) to organise a major earthshaking international tourism fair this year. I welcomed it but gave it no further thought. My interest was heightened when Mr Kofi Yankah, the Dateline Marketing boss, gave me a call to announce his new appointment as the CEO of TOSS.

TOSS

TOSS is not a new kid on the block. It was registered as a Ghanaian tourism non-governmental organisation way back in 2000 as an offshoot of Maxpal Intermediaries, an insurance brokerage firm. It has a track record of successfully organising Ghana’s first workshop on Safety and Security in October 2008 in collaboration with the (then) Ghana Tourist Board, Vanef Company and the Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF).

It was when Kofi mentioned Mrs Doreen Owusu Fianko as one of the brains behind the project that I got up from my seat and removed my hat.
In tourism and aviation, there are few visionaries. One of them is Aunty Doreen (that is what everybody calls her). This woman was bitten by the tourism bug when, in 1972, fresh from Legon with a BSc in Economics, she tasted the industry as a National Service person at the Ministry of Tourism. Since then, she has been eating, drinking and breathing tourism and travel.
Aunty Doreen earned the nation’s respect in her days as the Executive Director of the (then) Ghana Tourist Board.

The respect for her grew when she served as managing director of Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL). Under her direction as MD of GACL, the Kotoka International Airport became a multiple award winner year after year.

Issues

That is why when Kofi Yankah reeled off the list of men and women on the TOSS Board, including her, I knew that finally, at long last, Inter Tourism ’85 was about to meet its match.

But competition with existing or past fairs is not what motivates TOSS. At the back of the board’s mind is how much Ghana stands to lose if, as a direct result of inadequate safety and security measures in the industry, the country suffers a shortfall in international tourist arrivals.

In the mind of the TOSS board, the alarm bells ringing are the fears of terrorist attacks. They know too well that in West Africa, most of the attacks have been around tourism plants, especially hotels and resorts; hence the need to gather all stakeholders together to save the industry.

Terrorists, however, are not the only security threat in tourism. Within hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions, there have been reported cases of theft. The industry also faces concerns with safety and issues of environmental sustainability.

For TOSS, these are enough motivations for a getting together of stakeholders to think, strategise and act while doing business and striking multi-billion dollar deals. These are the concerns that have given birth to the need for an international conference that will also exhibit tourist and allied products and services.

The event

So, on April 7, this year, the International Tourism Safety and Security Exhibition and Conference was launched. Slated for May 25 through to May 28, 2016, at Pavilion A of the International Trade Fair Centre, the exhibition and conference has as its main theme, ‘Promoting Tourism Through Safety And Security Awareness’. It has a sub-theme that captures the need to preserve the environment clean for a healthy tourism development.

Its thematic areas suggest a multi-disciplinary campaign, namely creating tourism safety and security awareness; working towards the establishment of a Tourism Police; concern for safe public transport; emphasis on health and sex adversity; insurance/banking; safety schemes, without losing a handle on Ghana’s cultural Heritage.

The exhibition will be a platform for all tourism-related businesses, corporate bodies, industries, ministries, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations and investors to expose their products and services to the rest of the world.

Ghanaians have a saying: “You can smell a good market day from the stroke of dawn”. That seems to be the fate of the forthcoming exhibition and conference. From all over the world, investors and participants are making reservations for space. Among them are some of Ghana’s development partners and donor agencies whose activities have a direct bearing on promoting tourism through safety, security and a clean environment. What gives TOSS the good feeling, however, is the interest coming from Africa, particularly experts from Nigeria, Cameroun, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Kenya.

With the type of board TOSS has – made up of reputed personalities with local and international expertise in Marketing, insurance, business management and it systems development – the world is promised a professionally organised exhibition.

Among the activities is a roundtable forum on the proposal for the establishment of a Ghana Tourism Police. International experts from countries with tourism police experience such as Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Tunisia have been invited to give an insight into how it works.

Ghana’s IGP, Chief of Defence Staff and other local security experts will be on hand to give presentations on their operations and their expected impact on tourism in Ghana.

The exhibition and conference already has a website. There is evidence that its facebook page is one of the most “liked” around the world. Prospective exhibitors are directed to the website to download or fill out the application form. An exhibition booth or space goes for GH¢1,000.

Within Ghana, payment can be made at the offices of TOSS and partner institutions such as Ghana Tourism Authority, Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF) and Ministry of Tourism reception centres throughout the country.

Come May 28, 2016, how can we measure the success of this initiative?
Hear Doreen Owusu Fianko: “If in the next five to 10 years we see greater awareness of safety and security practices at all tourist sites and facilities, TOSS would have made a name.

If through our initiatives and support from the government, general public and organisations, Tourism Police Posts are dotted along our coastal areas, forts and castles, eco-tourist sites, malls and heavily patronised hotels
and facilities such as shopping centres, we would have made a difference, and that is our prime motivation.”