The significance of tourism in the national accounts of many economies and the well-being of individuals is well acknowledged. Aside from the macro-economic contributions of tourism in improving trade balances, GDP and income per capita, tourism is arguably one of the few sectors whose economic benefits penetrate local economies. Its supply of both direct and indirect jobs is equally well acknowledged and documented. Like all other sectors, conscious planning and development are needed to enhance and leverage tourism’s fortunes.
However, this is in marked contrast to the ongoing political economy of Ghana’s tourism sector though declared one of the key strategic sectors in the country’s development agenda since 1993. We have failed to give it the needed building blocks and inter-sectorial planning linkages. Tourism does not grow to success in isolation, but it relies on and draws heavily from linkages that support the generation of income and movement of people and goods.
The 2018 budget is a case of many others in the league of ‘knee-jerk’ approaches to planning and managing tourism in Ghana. At its heart, the budget focuses on tourism as the ‘See Ghana, Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana and Feel Ghana’. While this idea feeds into the tenets of destination branding, government appears oblivious to the fact that destinations are not just branded based on slogans but innovative products.
Destination branding precedes product development. What product do visitors gaze at? What do they eat? and what do they wear or feel? It should be noted that local foods, dresses and lifestyles of Ghanaians are part of the natural offerings as a destination. Tourists will, by all means, experience these cultural elements of the destination once they visit. Indeed, we do not have to launch campaigns on these elements as a destination rather an integrated product development scheme based on a multi-product destination called Ghana is what is required.
Another worrying trend is the fixation on fanfares as the ultimate marketing medium for Ghana’s tourism products. We are of the view that the use of fanfares where musicians are brought together with other entertainment personalities is not and has not been successful as marketing medium for tourism. Have we ascertained the impact of such fanfares? More worrying is that at such events, we are not able to project any single concept of a product apart from eulogizing the age-old attractions. The huge monies spent on such events could help in the diversification of our attraction base. Even the existing attractions are deteriorating due to the lack of interest in product development and enhancement.
The focus of the budget on the ‘single window programme’ is another testament to not putting feed where our mouth is. We concur with the idea of digitizing tourism services only if there is a product to digitize. Aside our flagship attractions, principally the Elmina and Cape Coast Castles, the Kakum and Mole National Parks, little exists to attract and sustain the stay of potential visitors. This has consequences for tourists’ length of stay, expenditure, repeat visitation and overall competitiveness of the destination. Potential tourists accessing optimal information in one portal does not imply that they are inclined to visiting the destination.
However, if the provision of the information is preceded by the provision of a variety of activities and attractions, value for money will be assured and the chances of securing visitation and extending stays will also increase. Tourism is public sector led and private sector driven. The private sector’s commitment and usefulness to the industry can only be engendered by government’s (central, regional and local) provision of basic drivers such as the attractions and activities. All over the world, governments account for a substantial part of the attractions that serve as pull factors for tourists and private investments in other service products.
We reflect finally on our lack of quality data – the inability to gather comprehensive visitor data is a manifestation of our reluctance towards the sector. Quality data gathering is fundamental to industry planning, monitoring, evaluation of impacts and highlighting strategic issues for policy. Undoing the quality data problem in Ghana’s tourism industry requires a structural and systemic transformation in the sector, government-academia and beyond, and reflection on why this persists.
By Dr Issahaku Adam (Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Cape Coast) and Charles A. Adongo (Lecturer in Tourism Management at the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Cape Coast).