Countries that recognize the crucial role tourism plays in economic development are constantly developing strategies to remain relevant in the industry.
This doesn’t however hold true for Ghana, as key stakeholders in the tourism sector have failed to show commitment towards the industry over the years. It was an entirely different situation in the 1980’s down to the 2000’s when Ghana was leading its neighbours as the number one tourist destination. Ghana, in those times could record as high as over 500,000 tourists in a year. Tourism was promoted through useful programmes including Emancipation Day Celebrations, Pan African Festivals and the like.
The sector was one of the largest contributors to foreign exchange and GDP, aside cocoa and gold, and socio-economic and political stability which fostered growth in the economy.
However recent statistics, especially from the World Economic Forum, have shown that Ghana’s performance in tourism is rapidly dwindling. The 2017 edition of the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranked Ghana 120 out of the 136 countries that were sampled globally; a position which has remained same since 2015.
Also, out of the 30 Sub-Sahara countries sampled, Ghana ranked 17. The report, which considers factors such as the business environment, safety and security, health and ICT readiness, also places the country at 119 in ‘prioritization of travel and tourism’. The aim of the report, which covered 136 economies this year , was to provide a comprehensive strategic tool for measuring factors and policies that enable sustainable development of the tourism sector.
Why focus on tourism?
The relevance of tourism cannot be overemphasized. The sector remains a key sector for rejuvenation of economies of various countries. In countries like Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, tourism does not only serve as a major income generator but has also ensured a stabilization of inflation, increased foreign exchange and strengthened local currencies.
Figures from the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) have revealed that in 2010, foreign exchange earnings from the tourism sector rose by 17.9% in Kenya, specifically, from KSh 62.5 billion 2009 to KSh 73.7 billion which is equivalent to 606,250,000 and 714,890,000 dollars respectively. Statistics have also established that tourism is a key economic driver in Kenya.
The tourism sector generated approximately 10% of the country’s GDP and 9% of total formal employment in 2010, according to UNTWO and the trend has remained constant in ensuing years. During my ten day stay in Nairobi, these statistics highlighting Kenya’s performance in the tourism sector became believable after discovering the great deal of importance placed on tourism.
Every year, the country organizes a tourism expo dubbed Magical Kenya Tourism Expo which affords key stakeholders in the tourism sector an opportunity to network and share ideas. The advantage of this programme is far reaching as it does not only give Kenya, the host country an opportunity to market what it has to offer in terms of tourism to the world, but also generates revenue for the economy.
For instance, at one of the tourism centres I visited, about 10 to 15 tourists trooped in every 30 minutes to the same centre. I was charged about 1000 shillings [USD9.6] as a foreigner to have access to these places. So if about 100 tourists were to visit the place in a day [which is possible], about 100,000 Kenya shillings worth of revenue, which is equivalent to USD960 will be made a day.
State of Ghana’s tourism centres
While Kenya is making huge strides in the tourism sector, Ghana is still lagging behind and the laissez faire attitude various stakeholders have developed towards the industry has relegated us to the background. In highlighting major challenges that threaten tourism in Sub Sahara countries, the report indicated that the biggest problems for travelers were air connectivity, transport infrastructure, travel costs, visa policies and infrastructure and Ghana is not so far from these challenges.
We have failed to renovate our tourism centres. We never add on to the beauty. Our maintenance culture is really appalling and we do not see the need to invest in promoting tourism in Ghana. Ghana’s wildlife reserves, vegetation among others are deteriorating and we have not done much to provide remedies for these challenges.
Ghana will reap immense benefits from the sector if government commits to policy reforms that enhance an enabling environment for tourism which will consequently protect the sector’s assets base and build capacity in terms of revenue generation.