Ghana: A new authority

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Reforms in Ghana’s tourism sector have given new powers and responsibilities to the newly-formed Ghana Tourism Authority, which will now play a direct role in channelling investment and launching new initiatives, with a particular focus on regional development and sustainable, community-based tourism.

Tourism has become an increasingly important part of Ghana’s economy. In 2010, the sector accounted for an estimated 6.2% of GDP, bringing in some $1.88bn, up from $836m in 2005. Visitor numbers rose to 930,000, up from 430,000 in 2005.

The Ghana Tourism Authority Law (Act of Parliament 817), approved in May by President John Atta Mills, replaces the old Ghana Tourism Board (GTB) with the GTA. This new body will play a more wide-ranging and proactive role than the tourism board – a non-profit organisation – which was more of a regulatory body.

Frank Kofigah, deputy executive director of operations for the GTA, has told the local press that the authority will have powers to develop and manage income-generating tourism programmes and products to compete on the open market.

The GTA retains many regulatory functions. It is able to develop and manage tourist sites and is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of tourist products. It is hoped that its powers will help drive up standards in the sector. At present, service quality is variable, and a significant unlicensed segment operates.

One of the new body’s first moves will be to establish and oversee a tourism development fund (TDF), financed by a 1% levy on tourism products. The TDF will help fund the tourism authority, supplemented by seed capital from the government and donors, as well as the organisation’s own profit-generating activities. The fund is expected to support promotion and marketing, education and training, and associated industries such as handicrafts.

The GTA will also start to decentralise its operations to encourage greater decision making at the local level. Regional branches of the authority are already taking a hands-on role in the sector. In October, the local press reported that the GTA’s wing in the eastern Volta region had launched a comprehensive programme of tourism development and promotion. The regional tourism authority is working with a range of operators in the sector, including hotels, guesthouses, caterers and tourist site guards, running training courses to help them achieve international service standards.

A shortage of skilled human resources has also long been a hindrance. In 2009, the GTB estimated that only 15% of tourism professionals had formal training. The expansion of the education sector is helping to address this issue. Many major universities now offer tourism and hospitality programmes, and the number of vocational institutes developing courses tailored to the sector’s needs is on the rise.

July 2011 saw the opening of the Ghana College of Tourism and Hospitality Management, which focuses on short-term practical courses and has formed partnerships with a number of hotels, including the international Golden Tulip brand.

The decentralising approach of the GTA should also place renewed impetus on the expansion of Ghana’s rural, community-based tourism sector, which has been nurtured in recent years through the Ghana Rural Ecotourism and Travel Office (GREET), established in 2002 with the support of international donors, including the US Agency for International Development. GREET aims to support self-sufficient, community-run and eco-friendly tourism projects that support economic and social development among communities, as well as providing funds to reinvest in them.

Ghana’s tourism potential is substantial. The country benefits from immense natural beauty, a long coastline, a large number of historical sites and a reputation as a safe and stable destination. While infrastructure and underinvestment in rural regions has limited the growth of tourism offerings in less-visited regions of the country, the creation of the GTA should put new momentum behind the sector, enhancing both standards and competition, while ensuring more inclusive and targeted developments

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