Interview: Charles Osei-Bonsu
What are the biggest challenges to achieving the goal of attracting 5m tourists by 2027?
CHARLES OSEI-BONSU: The first challenge that must be addressed is the bureaucracy for issuing visas. We must create an environment where people visit Ghana at the beginning of their travels. We have worked closely with the department of immigration, and they are beginning to see the potential that tourism has to boost the economy. The next issue is infrastructure, especially in the hinterlands. Ghana’s most frequently visited tourist sites are on the coast – the Cape Coast, the Elmina castles and the Kokrobite or Ada beaches. Yet this does not even scratch the surface of Ghana’s tourism potential. There are multiple wildlife parks and waterfalls further north in Ghana that are not visited because of the difficulty tourists have in accessing the attractions. We have confidence that there will be better facilities surrounding these attractions when the infrastructure is put into place.
What measurable changes will the sector undergo as a result of the National Tourism Levy?
OSEI-BONSU: The Ghana Tourism Act 817 mandates that more training be provided in the sector and that the industry be promoted throughout each region of the country. The first step will be to collect data and evaluate facilities. The second step is to implement an effective staff training process, in order to ensure a quality of service that can compete with international standards. Satisfaction with staff performance is a key indicator of a visitor’s willingness to return to a destination. Excellent staff create unforgettable experiences and require less investment than the alternatives. The development of the regional Single Window Tourism Destination project is also fundamental to making Ghana a tourism centre. Two-thirds of Ghana’s tourists come from outside of the ECOWAS region. In the past there was competition with neighbouring countries in order to attract visitors to Ghana as opposed to other regional tourist spots, but recent research has indicated that the entire region would become more attractive as a destination if there were greater opportunities to visit the attractions of several countries in one journey. As the region integrates, this will help to boost tourism in each country.
In what ways can West Africa increase its traffic as a regional tourism destination?
OSEI-BONSU: As purchasing power increases throughout Africa, we must boost the promotion of Ghana as a tourism destination on the continent. One-third of Ghana’s tourists come from the region, and we believe that number could be much higher. This regional market could be organised based on the logic of complementarity rather than competition. Airfares can be very expensive between countries throughout ECOWAS. In many cases it is more affordable for West African residents to vacation in Europe than in a neighbouring country. By creating better road infrastructure and more frequent regional flights, there will be higher volumes of tourist traffic. Also, the region is looking to reach an agreement that will lead to a harmonisation of travel visas. This is in line with the larger aim of streamlining the local visa processes to allow West Africa to strengthen its appeal to investors as well as to members of the diaspora and other groups of potential visitors.
How can Ghana’s regions best tap into the most underutilised aspects of their tourist potential?
OSEI-BONSU: Ghana is missing out on additional revenue at its major tourist attractions because we lack additional activities linked to the sites. The clearest example of this is in the Volta Region, which is still not fully aware of the impact tourism could have on its community. If we offer activities, what would otherwise be a day trip could become a longer stay, meaning that more money is spent in the regional economy.