Editorial: Golden Experience, An Abyssinian Gold Plated Slogan?
RECENTLY, a group of West African journalists who toured Kenya's National Park, put up within three years, asked themselves one question: Why can't our countries do the same? They saw convoys of buses bringing school children to the place, who happily fed the giraffes. The environment is similar to the Accra plains. The lions, elephants and other animals lived naturally and thousands of people from across the globe travel to Kenya every week just to be near animals – that can survive here in our sub-region, too. The difference is that the Kenyans put their money where their vision was.
The National Commission on Culture's budget for this year is ¢43.7bn. This is expected to go up by another billion next year. Not surprising, when its main achievements last year were in organising workshops/conferences. The Ministry of Tourism has a 2005 budget of ¢24bn ($2.5 million), with $10,000 of that earmarked for Modernisation of the Capital City! Jake has set a target of one million international tourists annually by 2007/8. The President's Investors' Advisory Council has also spoken of the potential of tourism. Government says it sees tourism as key to the diversification of the economy. Absolutely vital if we are to minimise our over-exposure to cocoa and gold. But is this a fiscal language the Cabinet and the Finance Minister understand? Oh, they find it rather convenient to hide behind classique laissez faire barriers and say tourism is primarily a private sector affair!
Ethiopian airlines is fully owned by the government; Addis Ababa Hilton is partly owned by the government; yet they are both ran efficiently. The Botswana government has in the last decade invested over $100 million directly in promoting tourism. It has already yielded. Tourism has become the second largest foreign exchange earner. It contributes 7% of GDP and, since 2003, the Southern African country has attracted a million visitors a year. And the government now aims at doubling the industry's annual growth rate of 8% over the next 5 years. Remarkably, (See The Statesman, Fri 24-Sun 26 Jun, 05, P.9), the government of Botswana has a policy of using tourism to create employment in the rural areas, to revive the countryside and reduce migration to the urban areas. Their government sees tourism as a major factor to reduce socio-economic disparities among the country's different areas.
There are no visible tourists' information kiosks even in our major cities. To get a map of Ghana as a tourist, you may have to go to KLM, which has published one for its passengers. A traveller can travel half the country without coming across a decent urinal or café by the road side. We want to sell the country's good name without spending extra to make the tourist comfortable enough to spend more once here.
Where we appear to be ahead of our African neighbours is in slogans: GOLDEN EXPERIENCE!
Seek ye first thy PR slogan and all other things shall be added onto thee, perhaps. We say Ghanaians are hospitable. But, guests at a leading hotel like MPlaza consistently complain about the atrocious service they receive. Even the scheme by the sector ministry to develop the old, state-owned Eredec Hotel into a training centre for hotel/restaurant staff has been shelved due to lack of funding.
We believe the tourism potential of Ghana is enormous. What it would, however, require is a committed partnership between the private sector and Government. But, Government is not prepared to take the spending initiative even at the basic level. Since having its hands burnt by socialist experiments, Government now appears shy to invest in businesses that it believes the private sector can better perform. But, putting up a first class hotel today, like Nkrumah did, would only be wrong if the state goes it alone and it is not able to separate ownership from management. The difficulty with the past was the lack of corporate governance.
What Government needs to weigh today is the need to speedily develop Ghana's tourist attractiveness and the difficulty of any venture attracting start-up capital from the private sector. If the public's recent enthusiasm towards IPOs is anything to go by, then it means Ghanaians are willing to invest once they see that others have already dared invest in a bankable project. We consider it a great tragedy that tourism is not considered as a priority area in fighting rural poverty. The GPRS is woefully weak on that. It was only an afterthought, it seems. But, tourism could well be the safeway to wealth creation for the three northern Regions, especially, that have actually seen incidence of poverty increase. Recently, the French government sponsored the setting up of a small but rich local museum up north. Museums are often government- or philanthropist-sponsored projects. Yet, how many towns and districts have them? Indeed, how many districts have a Tourism Policy? As Southern and East Africa is showing, tourism is crucial to poverty reduction. There are areas in rural Ghana that one can say their best option for development is tourism. For, they may be too set in their traditional ways to develop otherwise, yet, if well marketed, they can make a killing through selling their culture and customs.
At the moment, it appears Jake's idea of making Ghana a Golden Experience for tourists is as pure as an Abyssinian gold-plated jingle. Let's get serious.