Africa: We have to be very aggressive with our marketing-Ghana Tourism Boss
Mr. Kwasi Agyeman, a former banker, broadcaster and president of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), now the acting chief executive officer of Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), who was in Nigeria recently with a large delegation to attend the Akwaaba travel and tourism trade exhibition, speaks to ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on the agenda of GTA and the new move to put his country’s tourism on the global map.
Ghana Tourism Authority is fully represented at Akwaaba African Travel Market 2017 after so many years of absence. What informed the change?
Ghana is fully represented and for the first time in very many years and so far we are very excited to have taken a decision to take a stand. The networking opportunities has been enormous, we have met a lot of people from various countries. To us, it is a good networking platform in our quest to integrate West Africa properly when it comes to travel and tourism. And to that extent, we are very happy that we came, we are happy that we made all these contacts and we are happy that we have been able to showcase what we can do if West Africa comes together as one tourism block.
That has been our drive. That we make sure that across West Africa – Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and others that we come together and find ways to multi – sell our countries as one multi – destination block. Our partners in South Africa have done it, East Africa has done it and it is about time that West Africa also takes that step and so we are leading that effort. That is why we are here, we have engaged the various actors, the various tourism professionals and people in the ministries and government on that quest.
But how do you deal with the many barriers, the road network for instance?
Yes, the road blocks are real issue because if you travel from Accra to Lagos by road it is so frustrating. Just between Seme and Badagry border we have 17 stops and sometimes less than a kilometre apart and sometimes 100 metres apart and it is frustrating for the travellers. That was why we came by road to see the road blocks so that we can go back and tell the policy makers that these road blocks must go down so that we can integrate properly as one West Africa block and sell West Africa block to international travellers and local travellers.
We also advise that we travel among ourselves, Nigeria for instance has more than 150 million people, and if Nigerians are travelling within Nigeria there is no need for anyone to go outside or for we to go outside to bring tourists from outside. That is what we have been promoting in Ghana. We have a campaign that we are running – “see Ghana, eat Ghana, wear Ghana and feel Ghana.” It is to tell Ghanaians that we can do it. We can travel among ourselves in Ghana, we can do adventure in Ghana, and that we don’t have to go to Dubai. We can do heritage site in Ghana and we don’t have to go anywhere so that the money stays within our West Africa bracket so that we can improve on the services that we offer.
What would you say are some of the lessons participants derived from Akwaaba this year?
The lessons that we have seen is that we need to be aggressive as West Africa tourism authorities and operators. You saw what Dubai came to do. They are not playing, they are selling their products, and they are selling now medical tourism. South Africa is also here doing road shows and they are selling. So it is for us to go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves how can we properly sell our countries? We have been doing it but there are lessons that we pick from the success story of Dubai and other markets to position ourselves well in destination marketing place.
What is the mandate of Ghana Tourism Authority?
Our mandate generally is to look at regulating the industry, the hospitality industry as a whole – hotels, restaurants, attractions and also marketing and promotion. Also, overseeing some investments together with the Ghana Tourism Development Company. Both of us are here and we are looking at ways that we can attract investment in the tourism sector into our country. That is one aspect. The second aspect is also to properly develop the attractions that we have. Ghana has a lot of natural attractions, the biggest natural lake in West Africa and the biggest man made lake in West Africa. So, we have a lot of attractions, it is for us to harness them, make sure that we improve on tourists experience as they come in there. We are looking at how we can harness technology for example, to create an experience that will make people stay and when they stay the local people benefit so that it doesn’t becomes an in and out thing for people.
Aside these, what are some of the projects that you are working on?
We are currently working on the re-enactment of the slave story so that there will be a video at the heritage sites where people will stay and watch. We have Wi-Fi zone that we are putting up there, and we have several rooms that we are developing over there. What we call the heritage room so that people can come and trace their history whether they are from Ghana or from Nigeria. They call it Africa connections where they test your DNA. We are trying to do these things because of the African – Diaspora market, which is one of the biggest markets for us. In February for instance, we are doing what we call ‘Back to Africa,’ we are bringing a band from Washington DC to perform in Accra. Already we have about 100 people sign up.
Those are some of the things that we are doing on the marketing side. Then we are also working on capacity because to be able to really stand out we need to improve on our service delivery. Service is what will distinguish us from others. So across all the value chains we are doing a lot of capacity building through the hospitality training institute that we have – SHORT MGT (School of Hotel, Restaurant and Hotel Management). But SHORT MGT is not only just going to be in Accra but we are looking at various satellite campuses in the various regions so that people can learn. Presently we have started tourism levy collection, so we generate some income and that income is what we are using to build capacity in the industry. Then finally, we are doing a lot of stakeholder engagements, as you came see we came with 27 people in the bus. Some are tour operators, some are chefs, some are caterers and hotel owners.
That is the kind of stakeholder management that we want to develop so that together we know that each person rest on each other. We can’t market and then leave the hoteliers behind and the hoteliers can’t go if the regulation is bad. That is what we are doing as a tourism authority and I will say so far so good because we have made some successes. Last month for example, we launched the service chapter for Ghana tourism, which will determine the service standard that we expect from the regulatory body and also from the industry. We are just about launching a call centre so that for 24 hours people can report incidences of bad service and poor customer service so that we can track them. These are some of the things that we are doing and we are very confident that working together with our various stakeholders in Ghana we would put our tourism on a different light.
What are some of the challenges confronting GTA?
For the West Africa one I think this whole road block and the issue of implementing agencies not working together is one big challenge. But specific to Ghana, a few challenges. You know it is a mindset thing and we have come in and are trying to use information technology (IT) and we are currently working on a single window platform, which will bring everything together. For example, for tour licensing operation you go online to fill the form and when it comes to marketing every hotel is going to get it own micros site. When it comes to booking hotels you go onto the site, you book it and it is called visit Ghana.com. That is the project that we are working on but to do that you realise that you have some legacies, people are used to certain ways of doing things, manual things, the paper work is so huge and people don’t want to move away from that because that is their comfort zone. So, changing the mindset is a problem. Two, I am in a very competitive tourism market now. In our own country we have had Dubai Tourism come there two times this year and South African Tourism they are coming there next week (Last month) and that will be their second trip this year.