Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Ghana. The sector is growing both in the number of tourists and the amount of private investment. However, as Accra-based reporter Joana Mantey tells us, the industry is also grappling with various challenges.
Ghana has assorted tourist attractions. It has been described as “a bird watchers paradise, a heritage lover’s passion and an adventurers dream.” The country is well endowed with unique cultural traditions that help promote village and community based tourism.
Tourism Minister Jake Obetsebi Lamptey says forest animals and other delights await visitors in ecotourism parks.
“We have the oldest, stone building, the Elmina Castle built in 1482, we have a shared history with Africans in the Diaspora, and also a shared history with a number of European countries and the America’s because it was Africans who went from here to help develop America, West Indies, Canada, South America. We have not really marketed Ghana so it is still for many an unknown joy to come.”
Marketing could be an obstacle but the key challenge may be getting people to invest huge sums of money in airfares. A flight from the US to Ghana can cost nearly two thousand dollars. In the opinion of the Minister, the country remains an overpriced destination.
“Air fares from the Americas and Europe are still not competitive if you compare prices of what you have to pay to New York and to Accra. They need to decrease the prices then we can increase the numbers.”
Decreasing airfare prices is dependent on European carriers, which dominate the routes to Africa. Ghana International Airlines, a joint venture between the government and other investors, has fewer than five airplanes.
Other challenges include poor infrastructure and lack of tourism facilities, including adherence to provisions outlining international standards on efficient services.
Records show that less than a quarter of the 120 thousand people employed by the industry have had some formal training. Plans to boost training facilities at some teaching hotels and Ghanaian Universities have only just begun. Despite these problems, the minister said that between 1992 and 2002 tourism arrivals increased from about 213 thousand to 500 thousand. During that same period, the amount spent by tourists increased from $166 million to $600 million dollars.
The largest generating market is our sub region. [There are also] large numbers of Ghanaians in the Diaspora who come for holidays. Then we’ve got other Americans and Europeans, Denmark, the Dutch, a few Italians, some Germans and a few Japanese and China as well.”
Obetsebi-Lamptey said that under a new program aimed at revamping the industry, one million tourists have been targeted to generate one point five billion dollars for the country by 2007.
Is the country just looking for numbers to make this dream a reality or does it have a defined target as far as tourism traffic is concerned?
“We don’t want criminals to come. Also in today’s world we don’t want terrorists to come in which is why we maintain a visa regime for visitors. We want the most serious tourist, slightly more affluent who will not only enjoy the beach, the people and the culture but also give back to us. We do welcome student tourists. They don’t spend a lot of money but go to the rural areas and put some money into these places where adult tourists don’t normally go. They are generators because they go back and tell their parents what a wonderful time they had and maybe two years later their parents will also come and visit.”
And is there adequate room and board from the growing number of tourists ?
“Most of the hotels are small business hotels. From next year a number of international brand names will open up. So we are hoping that we will get the sort of expansion in hotel rooms that we need”
The minister said there are plans to upgrade the existing infrastructure, in particular the roads in the interior of the country, which many tourists utilize. He said the development of conference tourism is also high on the country’s agenda.
“We have been blessed that Ghana is a peaceful country. And now we have communication links and things. We have good connections with international airlines. There will be a major conference center opened within the next two years and all the hotels that are coming up are also bringing in some facilities. All of this will help to generate conference tourism.”
The Minister said efforts to boost domestic tourism as a way of maintaining steady income in the industry during the off-season are underway.
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