Why Ghana remains alluring to foreign tourists

February 2, 2023
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Ghana’s prime position as the center of the world, the country’s amazing landscape, iconic tourism sites as well as its stable political climate give it an allure that tourists from all over the world still find amazing and irresistible, chief executive officer of Ghana’s premier tourism brand Standard Travel and Tours, STT, Mr. Goodness Okeke, tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in this interview in Accra. He is also hopeful that the country’s luster will continue to be a win-win opportunity both to its people and to visitors to the country, especially for business and investment.
Why is Ghana such an attractive tourism destination for many foreigners?
There are so many reasons why tourists from Europe should visit Ghana. First, Ghana is the center of the world. It is a beautiful country and has some of the most beautiful tour sites in Africa. In addition, it is one of the most peaceful countries in sub-Sahara Africa.
We are proud of who we are. Plus, we have so many things that even those in Europe, including The Netherlands, Belgium, etc, are looking for: business and investment opportunities, for instance.
How do you assess the tourism landscape in Ghana and the effectiveness of tourism companies in the country?
Tour companies in Ghana need to site their offices more in rural areas and the less-privileged parts of town as it will boost tourism by helping the ordinary Ghanaian relate better with foreigners in the country. It’s often the case that if one has not had the opportunity of travelling outside one’s country and immediate environment, or mixing with cultures different from one’s own, one may feel intimidated and suspicious of the outsider. But with the benefit of such exposure, specifically via tour events, one’s perspective gets broadened and more tolerant of lifestyles different from one’s own. And, presently, this is the problem with the segment of the population that are often referred to, with due respect, as the lower-class people in Ghana. You realize that most of the misunderstanding between Ghanaians and immigrants in the country come from the so-called lower-class people. Comparatively, the upper-class people mingle, because they travel a lot; so, they mostly don’t have problem with foreigners in the country. The problem of accepting foreigners in Ghana is mostly from the lower-class people, so-called. So, tour companies in Ghana should be able to take tourism to these lower-class people and the grassroots, as that will enable them understand that there could be other equally beautiful and rich homes away from their homes which they could experience outside Ghana. And don’t even think that they cannot afford to go on tours. Truth is that they can. It only needs for tour companies in Ghana to design affordable and attractive tour packages with flexible payment plans.
How about concerns with costs?
It all depends on the sites the tour operators are taking the group of tourists to. It’s possible to package intra-West African tours to locations in specific West African countries. It should not be the case that we must only package tours to Europe, America, Canada, or elsewhere outside Africa as is presently the case with many tour operators in Ghana. We must also start thinking of packaging tours to each other’s countries in West Africa. Isn’t it surprising that someone in Ghana often does not have much knowledge of Cote d’Ivoire, which is just next door? Why don’t we package a tour to Cote d’Ivoire? I don’t think such a tour will cost the average Ghanaian more than Ghc1000. It could be far less than that, perhaps. Take a group of such Ghanaian tourists, for instance, to Cote d’Ivoire and educate them on the importance of intra-West African trading, and thereby boost relations amongst our peoples. May I use this opportunity, therefore, to urge the Ministry of Tourism, tour companies and the private sector to more seriously pay attention to ordinary Ghanaians in the country’s tourism masterplan with the view to educating them on the need to avail themselves of every opportunity to tour other countries in the sub-region other than Ghana.
Beyond trooping to beaches on their public holidays, which you said are numerous, does the average Ghanaian really care much about visiting the many tourist sites that dot the country’s landscape?
Just like the Bible says that faith comes by hearing, deliberate sensitization campaigns by the government is what is needed to change the situation. Don’t be surprised that most Ghanaians don’t even know of the existence of the various tour sites around their country. Most are more familiar only with going to the beach and the drinking spot. But promotion will change the mindset. And this is where the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, MoTAC, can play the game-changer role by frequently promoting the tour sites in the media.  MoTAC can also target certain events, such as Valentine’s Day, for media promotion, way before the event day to make it easy for even people from the grassroots to easily subscribe.
Would you then advise that the government should extend the same degree of attention to local tourism just as it is presently doing to attracting foreign tourists, especially African Americans?
Yes. It’s unfortunate that we tend to neglect what we have, and rather focus on what we do not have. I will like to say here that we need to promote the tour sites that we have here in Ghana. In 2022, the Minister (of Tourism) told us, the private sector players, that he was expecting an inflow of a million tourists into Ghana for last year. But, if we promote our tour sites effectively to our local people, with the number of people that we already have in Ghana, including the grassroots, that projection by the government could easily have been exceeded. So, I encourage colleague tour operators in Ghana,  MoTAC and the government to let us put heads together this year to promote our tour sites to all Ghanaians.those sites that need to be renovated should be renovated. Let’s start promoting domestic tourism. When we do so, we will see that tourists from our neighbouring countries will also troop into more for the enhanced experience.
While the government is encouraging tourists’ inflow into the country, shouldn’t a commensurate attention be paid to upgrading infrastructure at the various tourist sites in the country?
Yes. But no government ever fixed a nation alone. It’s a collective effort. Private organisations can actually step in to take care of relevant tour sites. Government can also privatize some of the tour sites. For instance, the Ghana National Theatre. Last August, we had an event there. We had booked and paid for the hall. But when we got to the hall a day to our event day, we saw the place was so unkempt and messy. We had to hire people by ourselves to quickly clean the hall. So, I thought to myself, why waste this magnificent structure that the government built with taxpayers’ money; why not privatize it to ensure it is properly maintained? I believe if the Ghana National Theatre is given to a private company to manage, it’s condition will greatly improve, and will generate more revenue than now. I use this opportunity, therefore, to urge the government to do a proper audit of all the tour sites in Ghana with a view to bringing them up to standard, either by government alone or in collaboration with the private sector. Because we cannot have people paying $2000 or $3000 to travel from here to Europe just for tours whilst we have similar, and even better, attractions here at home.