I do not have enough fingers on both hands to count the number of times Ghana’s tourism administrations have attempted to translate domestic tourism from dreams to reality. Nearly every Minister since the 1980s has promised and failed to resurrect internal tourism. They easily get sidetracked by the dollar.
I have followed tourism in Ghana since the 1980s but I do not remember the number of Domestic Tourism Marketing Plans: so many. They offered hope but little show.
Let no one, however, diss the latest effort launched in Accra on Tuesday by the President. The thinking behind it is laudable. A build up on the successful ‘See Ghana, Feel Ghana’ campaign of 2018/19, Dr Muhammed Awal and the GTA boss, Akwasi Agyemang, aim to entice Ghanaians, through video documentaries on STC and VIP buses, events like gastronomy fairs, ‘Discover & Win’ essays etc to travel and see, taste and feel Ghanaian endowments of nature, history, heritage and culture.
Will it work? Previous efforts have not yielded monumental success. Even Panafest and Emancipation attract very few local tourists, besides artists.A 2015 report by the Ghana Statistical Service says that “only 15% of Ghanaians travel for leisure”.
When Ghanaians move at weekends, they are going to a funeral. Occasionally Christians travel for conventions. Though the Ghana Tourism Authority lists funerals in its domestic tourism definition, seldom do funeral visitors venture outside the funeral vicinity to enjoy a tourism attraction located even five miles away, nor do the spiritually hungry Christians leave the convention venue to take a look around.
At these gatherings, food and drinks are served, so the local economy is not serviced. Hotels and restaurants do not register much increased patronage.
But domestic tourism is important. Dr Joseph Mensah Ansah, a tourism academic, mentions the opportunity it offers for interaction with people in communities other than one’s own, resulting in “the proper appreciation and understanding of their way of life and removing all previous prejudices.”
Domestic tourists spend money in the communities they visit. This encourages the communities to further invest in revenue generating ventures.
Indeed, in the industrialized economies, especially USA, the UK and China, domestic tourism is a bigger contributor to their tourism success story. The number of Americans and Chinese that move out to spend weekends, annual vacation and family get-aways in-country are more than those who go out.
That is why I pray that the latest Akufo Addo effort succeeds.
But (and please, this note is not born of cynicism) what happens after these promotional tours? Will subsidized fares always be on offer? Even if government provides buses, how long will they last on our “tourism roads”?
I suggest that the most critical factor in our tourism promotion is ensuring that the roads to tourist sites are not a disincentive to travel. Remember the Kakum National Park experience. The road did not have pot holes; there were man holes that crushed the suspension under their vehicles after every trip. Yet this Park is the highest tourism revenue generator in Ghana.
Ten years ago, I visited the Boti Falls, the most popular attraction in the Eastern Region. Three months ago, when I visited again, I swore it was going to be my last. Commercial vehicles which reluctantly agree do the trip double or triple the fare – because of the impossible last five kilometres of road.
Another put-off is accommodation. It takes a year’s saving to afford accommodation for three nights in a comfortable hotel in Ghana. Ekua Sena Dansua, as Tourism Minister, promised eco-lodges. Catherine Afeku promised Akwaaba Hotels. No show.
Yet, I will not prophesy doom for the latest Akufo Addo effort.
I see hope, and it lies in the World Bank funded Tourism Development Project administered by the Ministry. I suggest that Awal approach the World Bank to tweak the allocations a little to favour construction and/ repair of roads leading to tourist sites.
Without good roads, men, domestic tourism is a pipe dream.
I think the authorities should consider teaming up with Ghana Education Service for a return to the good old days of school excursions. With good roads, parents may be willing to pay a token for their wards to travel in groups to see other parts of Ghana and make friends. They will stay in dormitories. It worked in my day, so why should it be impossible today?
The GTA’s Marketing Unit should take the lead in encouraging travel clubs in schools, workplaces, churches, and associations. It is a shame that we haven’t marketed the Larabanga Mosque for mass Muslim tourism.
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