Mr. Akwasi Agyeman is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Tourism Authority. He speaks passionately the need to open up Africa for tourism through single multi-country regional visas. He says Ghana is in top gear driving intra-Ghana tourism and foreign tourists. The people, rhythm and culture of Ghana suspenseful utmost tourism experience, in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business.
Q: What has your Authority been doing recently to enhance the movement of tourists into Ghana?
A: We have what we call the two-legged approach: number one is to promote domestic tourism and then we look at international arrival as the second leg. For the domestic tourism, we launched almost a year ago a campaign called See Ghana, Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana and Feel Ghana.
The idea is to get Ghanaians to travel amongst themselves, region to region, city to city, town to town. It’s going very well as you can see, even from the President to most of our business people, political leaders are all wearing Ghana. It’s part of that campaign that we wear our own and then the ripple effect to the economy to people who are into fashion. See Ghana, Eat Ghana for people in agriculture, producing and eating what we produce is also part of that campaign.
Then we have the international arrivals. We have grouped them into various segments: one of the key segments we have is Heritage Tourism and that is sitting on the castles, falls and history that we have, the slave trade and the merchants that came in from Europe and the Americas. We are selling ourselves as a strong Diaspora market for people to come back and trace their roots, history and heritage. Then we have the adventure tourists, more of talking to the European market for people who want to come and do water sports. We have them and we have been marketing to them.
So we have what we call a segmented market approach and then we have for our brothers in Nigeria and other West African countries the Leisure Tourism because it is easy 45 minutes you are in Accra and that is why access becomes quite critical. How many flights are within the sub-region? How many flights are within Ghana domestic? So, looking at the linkage between aviation or airports and tourism is quite critical. I am very happy with the process that has been started and the conversations that have been done and how we can work together to promote Ghana as a destination.
Q: As usually said, the essence of the Visa is to control movement of people and for security. Do you envisage a future where Ghana would issue Visa on arrival based on controlling measure and without a fee?
A: I think it is something that we as the Tourism Authority have been pushing for because we are in a very competitive market space. We are competing with Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, The Gambia and so on. And to that extent, what they do impact what we do. And we need to be the leaders, we need to show the way. We pushed for the Visa on arrival project. It’s there now. The second leg is okay, can we take out the Visa fees.
And I think it talks to the issue of data. We are compiling data to show, per visitor, this is how much we are bringing into the market. If every visitor is bringing in, say, $200 or $300, for example, that is the data we want to show the other agencies and ministries, that if we scrap the Visa on arrival and maybe we are doing a million visitors now, maybe we could do two million and the ripple effect and impact on the economy will far outweigh the fees that they pay on arrival.
It is not an easy fight because we were told other Departments and Agencies depend on that as their source of revenue. We want to make a strong case at the highest level of government that this money can be made at the back end. Through other funds, through other taxes, through other spends that go into the economy.
Q: The African Union launched the African Passport with a motive to uniting Africa and make Africa a Visa-free continent. What do you think about this?
A: We are pushing for that as well; but we have started with West Africa. We recently launched together with our friends in Togo, Benin and Nigeria what we call the WAIT – West Africa Integrated Travel. The idea here is that if we can do a West African Visa, whereby people can come into Ghana and go to Nigeria without having to apply for another Visa, then we would have started and shown the leadership that is needed for other African countries to follow.
East Africa has started with the east African Visa. We want to follow suit with West African Visa. So that together when we plug in, it becomes easy. Forums and discussions will help push the way out that this is what the authorities who are in charge of tourism are for. And if we are for it, then it behooves policy makers, AU leaders, to meet and start pushing that Agenda strongly. One thing that is quite critical in Africa is that the world is not waiting for us. People are doing things. You have e-Visa regimes all over the world.
So we cannot still be on that manual system; we need to move ahead and catch up. Catch up and overtake is our mission. So let us come together and see how we can remove the roadblocks of travel, the obstacles that get people not wanting to travel, the cost of Visas, cost of hotels, cost of everything; they are all intertwined.
Q: You said Ghana is competing with a lot of countries in the region; what is the unique selling proposition of destination Ghana?
A: Apart from the fact that we are the centre of the world at Longitude 0, and Latitude 0, we have our culture – very unique. The warmth of the people and the rhythm of the country, you can never have enough of Ghana. So, that is what we are selling: our culture, rhythm and the people. We are at the centre of the world, so it is easy to access; 6 hours to Europe, 45 minutes to most West African destinations, 10 hours to the Americas; destinations are quite close because of our unique position. So, we invite everyone to come and enjoy the warmth, people and rhythm of Ghana.