Ghana's hotel industry will be stretched to its limit over the next 18 months, as a string of international conferences and continent-wide events see visitors arrive in ever-bulging numbers.
There are simply not enough quality hotel rooms around. So dire is the situation that Ghana is receiving a bad name in the lucrative area of conference tourism.
In July this year, the African Union summit will come off in Accra, attracting an estimated 2,000 visitors. Next April, the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, will draw around 4,000 delegates from across the globe, whilst for the African Nations" Cup next January, one South African travel and tour company alone has requested a reservation of 1,000 rooms.
Rex Danquah of the Local Organisation Committee of CAN 2008 expects a million visitors for the three-week soccer fiesta.
For a tourism industry as young and relatively underdeveloped as ours, the constant chain of visitors will be a significant boost, but also a huge challenge - and skepticism has been raised by some industry insiders about Ghana's readiness to take on that task.
There are currently around 900 'high quality' hotel rooms in Accra, at a handful of three to five star hotels like Golden Tulip, La Palm, Labadi Beach, Novotel, MPlaza, Fiesta Royale, Alisa and the new African Regent Hotel.
That number is insufficient to cope with the high quantity and high calibre of conference guests, according to one leading hotelier, who even suggested there could be moves to relocate the prestigious UNCTAD summit abroad. Several Heads of State, officials of UN agencies and hordes of reporters will attend the UNCTAD summit. The Geneva-based UNCTAD comprises 192 countries.
The 12th annual UNCTAD conference is due to take place in Accra from April 20 to 25, 2008, and marks another feather in the hat for Ghanaian diplomacy, with the country increasingly being recognised for its role in not only sub-regional but international relations.
Alan Kyerematen, the Minister for Trade and Industry was quick on the marks when he called last year for the setting up of a joint planning committee of representatives of UNCTAD and the host nation. He assured a three-member UNCTAD Technical Mission that visited the country that "Ghana would rise above the challenges."
This March, Ghana leapt onto the international stage with its 50th anniversary celebrations – as the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to reach the Golden Jubilee mark of its independence from colonial rule, March marked the beginning of two years of big events for Ghana.
A shortage of hotel rooms would be all the more embarrassing if discovered in the glare of this international spot light.
But the Trade Ministry has denied any problems with the UNCTAD conference. Seth Evans Addo, the Chief Director of the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Private Sector Development and PSI has said that although his Ministry is in charge of the event, it has received no notification or has no knowledge of any accommodation issues. He declined to comment further.
Another source within the Trade Ministry also denied knowledge of any relocation move, whilst Frank Agyekum, Government Spokesperson on Governance said that he wants to believe Government is well-prepared for the conference, and that they would not have taken on the event if they did not have the capacity to provide for the guests.
Sources at the Ghana Tourist Board have also denied the suggestion that the conference may not come off.
Indeed, they rather speak positively about the impact UNCTAD and other conferences will have on the hotel industry in Ghana, which is already a growing sector.
Adeline Boateng is the Quality Assurance Manager at GTB. She pointed to not only the UNCTAD conference but also a number of other visitor events, including CAN 2008 and the African Union summit this July, which will put pressure on the hotel industry in Ghana.
But the pressure is one they are ready to handle, she said, insisting that the Tourist Board is "working toward" the conference. Currently, there are about 3,000 appropriate hotel rooms in Accra, she said – with 2 to 5-star hotels, as well as selected guest houses, considered to be of an acceptable standard.
GTB has been told by the Tourism Ministry to prepare for 3,500 UNCTAD conference guests; a capacity which Miss Boateng says should be achievable, considering the flurry of new hotels currently under construction.
913 hotel rooms
According to GTB figures, there are 913 hotel rooms which are 80 to 100 percent complete, across 15 hotels in the city; and a further 1,152 hotel rooms which are 30 to 80 percent complete, across 20 hotels.
Luxury accommodation includes the renovation of the 250-room Ambassador Hotel, which will be opened as Ghana's second five-star accommodation. Several international chains have also made moves into the country, with companies such as the Holiday Inn taking advantage of tax breaks and VAT exemption incentives under the 2006 Tourism Promotion Act.
Hoteliers already in Ghana are positive about the impact UNCTAD and other large events will have on their businesses, although some voiced gripes about Government's handling of the industry.
George Dzadhor, Greater Accra Regional Secretary of the Ghana Hotels Association, told The Statesman that Accra is ready for the visitors in terms of hotel numbers, but that more must be done to improve the quality of hotel accommodation.
"There are new hotels going up – the industry is growing – but there are many, many small hotels in Accra," he said.
These smaller businesses have several times called on Government for support and financial assistance to improve their facilities, but so far, according to Mr Dzadhor, there has been little response. "Government says that we should go and take out a bank loan – but the interest rates are too high, it is too difficult," he said. "What small hotel owners want are grants."
He lamented, too, poor communication between government planners and hotel owners and managers over the numerous events and conferences. For the recent 50th anniversary celebrations, for example, the Ghana Hotel Association had not been contacted in the run-up to the event, meaning they had little idea how many visitors to expect.
So far for the UNCTAD conference, the Ghana Tourist Board has acted as an unofficial liaison channel between the Trade Ministry and the hotel association, but there has been no official request or communication about the number of rooms which must be made available.
Source: The Statesman