Herbert Acquaye is the President, Ghana Hotels Associations [GHA], an hotelier per excellent. In this interview with African Travel Times Magazine Publisher/Editor, Lucky Onoriode George in Lome, Togo during just concluded Africa Hotel Investment Forum [AHIF] held from June 21-22, 2016. He explains why Ghana must do more to attract regional traffic to fill the ever growing hospitality sector.
Across Africa, there are regional or geopolitical hotel and tourism associations, why is West Africa different?
It’s good that you are mentioning this. In Ghana we have what we call Ghana Tourism Federation [GTF], an umbrella body for all tourism trade associations in the country. Though the federation has been in existence for almost 15 years, it only became very active in the last two years.
Since 2014, the federation started organising programmes and also began serious interactions with government and relevant agencies. The aforementioned said, it is our hope that every member nation of Economic Community of West Africa States [ECOWAS] are able to establish their own tourism federation, so that the national body in these countries can link up to eventually form a regional body.
Though, the Gambian federation recently invited us for discussion in line with what you have raised; putting place a West Africa tourism federation and I can see it coming soon.
I was privileged to be part of ECOWAS Hotels, Motels, Inns and Tourist Guide Elaboration Task Force to review the above mentioned in 2010, of which sums of money from the Spanish Government Fund and European Commission has not been implemented till date, what should be the role of ECOWAS?
Without doubt, ECOWAS has a role to play. Most recently, I was invited to a technical meeting where information collated from various member nations on standards among others was discussed.
Over the years, Ghana has made tremendous progress in the tourism sector, especially, the hospitality subsector, what would you say are major obstacles facing your members?
It is true that we have a vibrant hospitality subsector because of it is a very important component of the tourism industry in any country based on the huge investment nature. In spite of the growth of the sector in Ghana and most parts of West Africa, tourism growth generally is in decline if you followed the presentations that were made at this event.
The big challenge facing us is, how do we grow the sector? In my country, our government insisted that it would handle marketing and promotion of Ghana as a destination, and that the private sector should not worry itself in that regards. Sadly, governments across West Africa, including Ghana have only paid lip service to tourism issues; because no conscious efforts have been made to improve regional intra-tourism activities.
What we have seen government officials do all the times, is going to America and Europe and sometimes Asia to do road shows, as well as participating in travel fairs and exhibitions, neglecting Africa with one of the fastest growing middle-class that can help improve arrivals within Africa.
Nigeria alone has the capacity to galvanise tourism activities in Ghana, just as Ghana can have same effect on Togo and Benin, yet nothing is been done in this regard.
Again, there are no conscious efforts to promote our products among ourselves in the sub-region. In today’s world, no country is relying solely on foreign market, especially in this era of insecurity and incessant travel warning that follows; we need to do much more than we are currently doing.
PANAFEST was a major event in Ghana many years ago, what is the situation with now?
PANAFEST can still give to Ghana what it used to give, but it’s currently under promoted and so the emancipation PANAFEST just pass-by yearly without much involvement or contribution from the private sector.
Without mincing words, not working as a team has rubbed the sector many pre-event and post-event activities that would have added value to the economy. It is also the failure of those in charge of not doing enough to carry our communities and the sub-region along, that is even more worrisome to people like me.
What can ECOWAS do to ensure that movement of people across the regional corridor is really free, because the level of extortion and harassment by various Immigrations and Gendarmes is unprecedented?
A lot can be done. It’s really sad and unfortunate. I think what we need to do as travel and tourism industry, is advocacy within our countries to put pressure on our governments to rain in these rogue immigration and security officials in all our borders.
Recently, there was a discussion over the actions and altitude of the Police and Gendarme. With a regional tourism federation in place, we can attend ECOWAS meetings with the view to influencing change of policy among others.
What do you think of this event [Africa Hotel Investment Forum] we are attending here in Lome, Togo?
The first benefit is that the programme has been able to bring regional operators together. Though, I would have been more comfortable, if the event is a little more successful. However, it has generated lots of discussions and we have learnt so much from the various presentations.
Figures and statistics that were presented show what we are doing well and areas that we need to improve on.
It was also nice to see people from outside Africa here for the very first time, to see and learn of the several opportunities that abound.
Above all, the issues discussed here will also help solved some problems identified going forward.