Interview: Sampson Donkoh

What plans are in place to allocate the money coming from the tourism fund?

SAMPSON DONKOH: So far a large portion of the money going into the fund is coming from upmarket hotels. The collection so far has been very smooth since the luxury market has been very cooperative. We expect to see challenges when it comes to collecting money from the informal sector though. The law allows us to take a one-time payment, a lump sum, which will facilitate the process related to the informal sector. For 2014 we expect a total amount of GHS3.5m ($1.8m).

Section 22 of the Tourism Act 817 of 2011 indicates areas where the fund should be used and starts with the branding and promotion of Ghana abroad. Promotional activities will make international tourists more aware of the country and increase visitor numbers. Another area will be infrastructure development. We will pick certain sites and renovate them. We are also planning to introduce several tourism activities at the sites so tourists don’t only come for sightseeing, but will have a wider choice of activities, which should increase the length of stay. Another focus will be improving service provision, which is still a big challenge due to the non-existence of proper hospitality training facilities, resulting in a lack of hospitality professionals.

Where do you see the biggest potential for private sector participation?

DONKOH: If a private sector firm has a business idea that we deem viable, we are willing to support that enterprise. We are aiming to establish more public-private partnerships (PPPs) since we are mandated by the Tourism Act to invest within the tourism sector. There is potential in accommodation, catering, transport and beach development. If an investor is interested, we provide technical services and advice free of charge and we guide them to the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, where they can apply for additional incentives. We are now putting together land banks, which we use as our part of equity, meaning that when the investor comes in he will not face any problems related to land acquisition, which used to be an issue. There are also many opportunities for coastal developments, especially in the Western part of Ghana.

What competitive edge does Ghana have compared to other African destinations?

DONKOH: Although many attractions are still in early stages we still have a competitive edge over several other tourism markets in West Africa and other African countries in general. Ghana has a tourism resource mix consisting of natural heritage, natural resources and culture. The biggest edge it has, though, is the warm and hospitable Ghanaian people themselves, especially in the smaller communities.

Currently business travellers still account for 90% of all visitors, mainly because leisure facilities are not well developed. There are opportunities next to the Volta Lake, where we haven’t seen any developments yet, so investments in that area will spur leisure tourism.

What is the outlook for the tourism industry for the next three to five years?

DONKOH: The target of the tourism sector is to compete successfully with oil as a lead foreign exchange earner in the next few years. Within two or three years we will start disbursing the funds, which should significantly improve our tourism resources. Currently tourism is the fourth foreign exchange earner, after cocoa, minerals and foreign remittances. I believe that we will be able to supersede even oil after 2015. We expect to see investment from all over the world, but so far we have seen particular interest from South-east Asia, especially China, as well as Nigeria.

We are also focused on the development of domestic tourism, since during the off-seasons local tourism sustains the industry. We have realised that Ghanaians are now more eager to travel within the country. Tourism will also help create jobs, redistribute income and conserve the country’s cultural and natural attractions.