Last Friday, May 1, the Ghana Tourism Development Company (GTDC), led by its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kwadwo Antwi, visited the palace of the Benkumhene of Akyem Kotoku Traditional Area and Chief of Akyem Manso, Obrempong Sintim Poku III, to introduce a contractor to the traditional authorities. The contractor, Malin Construction Limited, is to develop the biggest tree in West Africa, ‘Oda Big Tree’, into a proper tourism space.
Within a period of three months, the construction company is expected to develop a project with a scope which includes a state-of-the-art entrance, a modern rest stop with restaurant attached, a well paved open space to host events and receptions like wedding, birthday, naming ceremonies and outdooring, church conventions, among others.
The work is expected to begin in the next two weeks after a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed between GTDC, the Asene-Manso-Akroso District Assembly (AMADA), the Traditional Council and the Forestry Commission.
The ‘Oda Big Tree’ is believed to be the biggest tree in West Africa. The tree is of the Bako species, and its botanical name is Tieghemela Heckle. It is located at Aprokumase in the Asene Manso Akroso District. Although many believe the tree is located in the Essen-Apam Forest Reserve, documents at the Forestry Commission suggest that the tree stands in the Asuboni Forest reserve. It has a diametre of 3.22 metres at 1.37 metres, 2.72 metres at 3.1 metres, making 12 metres in circumference and 66.5-90 metres tall. Its girth is 10.11 metres at 1.4 metres and 8.63 metres at 3.1 metres. History has it that the tree is over 400 years old.
The Chief of Akyem Manso, like many others, believes the development of the area will go a long way to help boost the local economy, create jobs, among others. The Akans have a saying that “the one who works on the perfumed herbs washes the hand not in vain”, so the ruling government, expectedly, was praised by the revered chief for the project. According to the chief, a previous NPP government had started a similar project, which was abandoned when it left power in 2008.
District Chief Executive for Asene Manso Akroso, Alex Incoom, in a Facebook post, said “this is another milestone chalked … for the District/Constituency”, adding “together our assembly shall see true and proper development.”
Tourism, the new gold
Ghana, over the years, has relied on its natural resources, including minerals. However, the country has a plan of ‘mining’ its tourism potential to boost the economy. Last year, a total of $1.9 billion was generated into the economy through activities related to the country’s “Year of Return”. The country’s commemorative campaign, the ‘Year of Return’, targeted African-Americans in the diaspora wishing to trace their ancestry and make pilgrimages to their countries of origin.
The programme also brought about an increase of over 200,000 in total arrivals into the country.
The country later launched ‘Beyond the Return’ to continue to boost its tourism potential. While many of the people who visited the country for the Year of Return concentrated their activities in Cape Coast and Accra, it is believed that the Beyond the Return, but for the unfortunate novel coronavirus, would have focused on all tourism potential in the country.
Globally, according to the World Economic Forum, travel and tourism as a global industry has flourished since 2017, and its contribution to global GDP (currently at 10%) is expected to rise by as much as 50 per cent over the next decade. In Africa, it is reported that approximately one billion people travel internationally each year. By 2030, consumer spending on tourism, hospitality, and recreation in Africa is projected to reach about $261.77 billion, $137.87 billion more than in 2015. United Nations World Tourism Organisation reports that international tourist arrivals in Africa are estimated to have increased by nine per cent in 2018.
Some countries in the sub-Saharan have seen strong performance improvements. These figures suggest that the tourism industry is booming across the world and it is now one of the major drivers of the economies of some countries.
What this means is that, given the needed attention, the tourism industry can be a major drive to a vibrant Ghana.
One of the biggest benefits of tourism to any country and locality is employment. Tourism creates skilled and unskilled employment. In a locality where the tourism sector is booming, souvenir sellers, food vendors, among others, naturally spring up within the community because they are aware tourists will need their services. This shifts the attention of the youth chasing white collar jobs to becoming entrepreneurial and creative, hence reducing youth unemployment in the area.
Employment from the tourism sector also reflects in the boosting of the local economy. This is because the money made, as a result of the employment, would be injected into the economy. Also, the income of the personnel who will be officially employed by the tourism company, the hospitality industry, among others, will all be injected into the economy, and thus improve the standard of living in the area.
Tourism also gives communities ‘exposure’. Many renowned places, home and abroad, have gained exposure due to their tourism potential. In Ghana, places like Aburi, Cape Coast, Damango, Kakum, Boti, Kintampo, Afadzato, among others, have become famous for their tourism potential.
More importantly, unlike other forms of economic activities such as mining, developing the ‘Big Tree’ into a tourist site will protect and preserve the environment and heritage. This will also mean protecting natural vegetation. The place can also offer the platform for cultural heritage to be showcased to entertain tourists and the local folks. It can further be a good venue for several entertainment and social events. It can be a source of pride for the local community and allow them to look at their history and cultural heritage and develop their own community identity. This will help the residents to maintain their traditions and culture while showcasing them to visitors.
Preparation for opportunity
While the GTDC, Forestry Commission, the local assembly and traditional authorities are doing their best to get the place in shape, it is incumbent on the people in the area to prepare themselves to meet such opportunities. Tourists will need accommodation when they visit the area. Hoteliers must therefore begin preparing to take advantage of this. Artisans, artistes, food vendors, event organisers, among all others in the tourism value chain, must begin to meet this huge potential that is coming. Admittedly, the novel coronavirus pandemic has affected individuals and businesses financially. Therefore, mergers or pulling resources together, among others, should be focused on in getting ready to meet the potential.
Many projects in the country unnecessarily delay for several reasons. Funny excuses are often given as to why a project delayed or a government couldn’t complete it. It is hoped that the three months’ duration given to the contractor to complete the project shall be adhered to. The integrity of the contractor, the DCE, management of the GTDC and the traditional council are on the line, with many, home and abroad, monitoring the success or otherwise of the project. The people must feel, know and see that FINALLY, the BIG TREE is a tourism potential to reckon with.
The author is the General Secretary of the Graduate Students Association of Ghana (GRASAG National) and a Masters of Arts (Communication Studies) student of the Department of Communication Studies, University of Ghana.