The African market should form an integral part in Ghanaian Tourism's Strategy in developing the country as a tourist destination.
A staggering 61 percent of tourists visiting Ghana come from Africa and 88 percent of these African arrivals come from neighbouring ECOWAS. The three top countries are Nigeria- 40 percentage, Cote d' Ivoire – 14 percent and Togo- 9 percentage. (Ministry of Tourism- Tourism Data Series – Issue 30/ February 2005)
Even though, the data release did not include amount of money spent by these tourists, whatever amount they must have spent cannot be ignored. Even though, there is massive trade traffic between Ghana and its neighbouring countries and that accounts for 38 percent of reasons for travel to Ghana. 38 percent are holiday makers with 20 percent visiting friends and family. For whatever other reasons that people travel to Ghana, our business is to generate repeat tourists as well as generate additional ones.
When it comes to Africa, Ghana should have two main strategies- a growth and a defend strategy similar to that of South Africa.
Defend strategy- in order to keep and also to increase our market share of the West African tourist traffic. We must do what it takes to increase length of stay of our visitors, which will translate into increasing spending and definitely, will generate repeat visits. Tourists from Africa visit our country primarily for business or shopping – rather than for wildlife or culturefari or for leisure purposes. Majority of arrivals from ECOWAS are by road, posing several challenges to our tourism industry. The roads from our entry points to inland are not in good shape and there are no rest stops where travelers can have brief rests midway. There are no toilette facilities. Some of the few guest houses sparsely dotted in smaller towns along our highways have cockroaches that look like birds in the rooms. The wash rooms are nothing to comment about. Some are simply horrible! To change this, the Ministry of tourism should be encouraging interested entrepreneurs and probably the district assemblies to provide such facilities for travelers to pay and use. Strict standard culture must be encouraged and monitored effectively. The various village communities can establish such facilities and attach craft shops and mini tourist information desk where visitors can shop and also learn about near by attractions. When these are done, visitors would be spreading monies along whichever routes they will be taking. The pieces of information will be directing tourists to hitherto unknown attractions, thus the very few interested in other attractions will be spreading to other areas of interest. We are looking at spreading tourists spend across the entire country.
Another way of marketing our country to our existing ECOWAS market is by offering packages to special events such as highlife and hiplife festivals, unique festivals such as “aboakyir”, emancipation day and PANAFEST. The coming Ghana's 50th birthday and CAN 2008 are just a few of the lot we can market. On the one hand they come to attend the event, on the other, we encourage them to shop or explore other parts of our country. Tour operators should be sponsoring even brochure production and their tour packages included in them. Ghana's 50th birthday and CAN 2008 brochures should be out by now as it takes time to save for specific travels.
It has also been an emerging trend that many Nigerian business executives are spending their weekends in the cool of Akosombo and Accra. I have personally encountered many of these people who sneak here to find solitary. It is about time we investigate what really are the pull factors in order to adopt strategies that will keep them coming and staying longer.
Establishing new markets in Africa should be another strategy. We can focus on Nigeria for the many similarities and proximity (easy access) and the size of it market and the spending lifestyle of young Nigerian business executives. South Africa would not be a bad target as they are trying to reach the rest Africa spreading their business tentacles.
Growing these markets is, however, not easy as most Nigerians and west African are yet to understand the concept of leisure tourism as it is a relatively a new experience to them. OPPORTUNITIES There are several ways of encouraging tourists from Africa to visit Ghana – shopping being one of the most important. The ministry of Tourism and its marketing agency –the Ghana Tourist Board (GTB) should be working closely with several tour companies to develop packages that would encourage visit to our country. For example two years ago, when about seven thousand Jehovah Witnesses visited Ghana, l happened to guide some of them to many of our attraction sites. One attraction that was in so much demand by groups from West Africa especially the Nigerians was Makola market. The Nigerians insisted that without a visit to the Makola market, their tour of Ghana would never be complete. Guess what, they spent close to five hours shopping in Makola, and yet complained that we did not give them enough time to shop. Such is the popularity of our Makola market. Special shopping packages can be offered to groups from neighboring countries.
The Akosombo dam and the Kakum National Park were also in high demand and special sightseeing and shopping packages can also be targeted at schools and social groups. Such packages for example would include bus fare to and from Ghana, hotel accommodation, as well as discount vouchers for restaurants, movies, cultural performances and other entertainment. A SAFE DESTINATION A very important characteristic of Ghana that attracts people from ECOWAS and indeed all over Africa is the fact that the people regard Ghana as a relatively peaceful and safe destination especially in terms of low crime rate and general the peaceful nature of the people. Our proverbial hospitality is also amazing the visitor.
After four incident free elections in a row, Ghana has been accepted as maturing as a democratic nation. THE FUTURE If government is not doing enough to push our tourism agenda forward but is rather strangling tourism businesses with wicked taxes and laissez fairs attitude to policy implementation, we the ordinary entrepreneurs should make it our business to come together again and make our umbrella trade body Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF) stronger so that we can do it ourselves for ourselves. Let us give training to our managers and staff on best practice and customer handling excellence, these are the little things that will make Ghana a preferred destination and the few who come here would do the world scale advertising for us through the ever effective word of mouth advertising. Gradually we shall over come and get there some day. At the moment, all our marketing to Africa and the world takes place from Accra by the individual businesses. Such fragmented efforts have not paid that much. If we work together, Team Ghana can definitely ensure that Ghana becomes one of the most popular destination for all those traveling within the African continent. We shall get there. Richard Kwame Debrah (Tourism Analyst) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.