Ghana’s doors are open to all descendants of African victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade who wish to connect with the African homeland. Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA)’s deputy chief executive officer in charge of administration Ben Anane-Nsiah said in this interview with MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Accra. Ghana. He said that Ghana does not aim to monopolise the African-American Diaspora but encourages them to just visit, after which they may choose Nigeria, Rwanda or any other country on the continent to settle in. He also spoke about the strategic importance of the Nigerian market to Ghana’s tourism industry. Excerpts:
Kindly assess the Ghana tourism sector?
At the level of the Ministry (of Tourism, Arts and Culture, MOTAC) and the Tourism Authority (Ghana Tourism Authority, GTA), there have been deliberate investment in upgrading certain sites, access, so that people can have fire safety requirements. Examples are Kintampo, in the Brong-Ahafo region; some other sites, also, like Guosu, some in the Western region, and so on. There is work ongoing to enhance certain places, like Bonre, in the Ashanti region; the Kente museum is under construction. If you look at the national museum now, it was closed down, refurbished and is now open to the public. There are a few more things they want to add; the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park will re-open after undergoing a real refurbishment worthy of the name of the father of pan-Africanism. Though there have been public sector commitment, I must say, but then, of course, those of us in tourism would always want some more in terms of bigger budgets to do more things than what we are doing now. But, at least, at the level of government, there is an appreciation and an understanding that this sector can do more for employment, can do more for income distribution, can do more for generating resources without necessarily threatening the environment. So, I’ll say that on those levels we are doing well. Also, our marketing. Conscious of the fact that we do not have the mega-dollars that Malaysia and all the other people have to be advertising on CNN (Cable News Network) endlessly, we have to adopt very creative ways of getting our message across. One is partnership: partnership with the private sector, celebrity endorsements, using events to create a certain reputation that the best place to be in the world is Ghana; series of very high quality events. In a way, we are shepherds: we are not organisers of the events, but have very strict endorsement criteria. So, if you want to do your event, you come and tell us, for instance, that you want to do a Luther King’s Festival in Ghana. And, we’ll want to know what your objectives are, who is your target market, what are the security measures. We look through all those, where you need public sector support: to make sure the police are there, fire service are there, etc. Those things we put in. And, of course we give you the marketing mileage using our social media platforms, and so on. Our engagement with our number one market now, which is the United States, has deepened. Next in line is our big brother, Nigeria, which is very significant and important to our flow. Some of our hotels are virtually surviving because of their Nigerian patronage.
Not much attention is being paid to the domestic tourism subsector compared to the African-American visitors. Why so?
That’s not exactly correct. We should look at the dynamics of the market, if you want to go to the technical definition of it. You have a large chunk of excursionists who don’t stay overnight.
The thing is that most people don’t see what they are doing as domestic tourism activity. For example, I go to the beach on a Sunday or a public holiday. For me, I’m just having fun, but forgetting that it is impacting the restaurants, etc. You don’t see planes, you don’t see people with an American accent, and so on; but domestic tourism is happening that way, and the numbers are growing. It is not everybody that will necessarily go to a tourist site, so capturing the numbers (of those who patronise beaches as a form of domestic tourism) sometimes become challenging. But as for the sites, the numbers are there. However, if you go, for example, to a festival, and you don’t stay in a hotel, but you are there, (for instance), you go to Kwahu, and you stay in your friend’s house, you are impacting that people. Sometimes it is difficult to have the numbers to buttress all these, but the service we do tell us the numbers. For instance, the Kwahu Paragliding Festival has a big positive impact on the economy over there. And now other regions in the country are beginning to develop an Easter programme. When you go to the Volta region, for example, something is happening. You go to the Western region at Christmas, it’s a big thing. The north is coming up with all kinds of things. So, it’s a multiple engagement that we can all shift to that is happening. We are also involved in working with schools. We are deliberately working with partners to create tourist clubs in schools. When you go to secondary schools, you may have some sort of tourist clubs that plan to go on tours at least once or twice in a semester, and so on. And there are work places (I don’t want to mention names), who have tourist clubs; and, they deliberately plan to go and have fun. So, it is not true that domestic tourism is not thriving. (But) it doesn’t need as much effort to reach the domestic market as it would the international market.
And the focus tends to be on specific segments of the international market?
So, almost invariably, a bigger chunk of your resources go there (the international market). For example, if you want to engage the US market, you must fly on the plane, go to international fairs, advertise in a magazine, and so on and so forth. So with that kind of focus, if you look at the marketing budget, how much you are spending, there may be the perception that we are over-focusing there. But, no; we are not. In our target, we have a certain number of domestic tourists that we look for, that we’ve worked on. Same thing for international tourists. But even for international tourists, the question may be asked, Why are you going to America and not to Pakistan? Or, Why are you going to Nigeria, and not elsewhere? Simple answer is that it’s market: where your people are, people who have a link with you. Ghana and Nigeria go way, way back, for instance. My late mother, for example, spoke fluent Yoruba, purely because it was a Nigerian man who was responsible for my grandfather’s cocoa farms. You know the way Africans raise their children: they pick you up with everybody; they beat you when you misbehave right in front of your mother; they feed you whether your mother is there or not; they take you as one of them. There is also the commonality of the colonial experience that we (Ghana and Nigeria) have had; we went to the same military academies. Almost everybody in Ghana has a Nigerian friend they went to the same school with; we act in the same movies. So it is very easy for us to feel comfortable in Nigeria, and vice versa. A lot of them came to school here; they have friends here. So the weekend (air) traffic (between Ghana and Nigeria) when Virgin Nigeria used to fly was five, six flights per week. AWA (Africa World Airline) makes a lot of money on the Nigeria route. So, the flow is big. And, the strategy for that market is different; the one for the US is also different; and, the strategy for Europe is also different. Because the typical African-American that comes here is motivated by something quite different from the profile of the typical European who comes here. The Europeans may be backpackers who may be special-interest groups such as bird-watchers, volunteers and so on. As opposed to, say, upper middle-class, college-educated African-Americans or youth-student people who are intrigued by, and want to find out more about, their diaspora connections. The Nigerians who come are just like everybody else: they are old, they are young, whatever. They just come. They are at the markets. Some of them might not stay. So, you look at all the dynamics of the (specific) market and you craft a way to reach that market. So in a nutshell, we haven’t abandoned the domestic tourism subsector. We know and appreciate the fact that it is important to have a solid, resilient domestic tourism market.
Are you thinking of encouraging the flow of tourists from Ghana to your neighbors, especially the immediate ones, here in West Africa?
In our scheme of things we look at that as regional. The other way is more popular. We have more francophones crossing the border and coming here, something they call colonie de vacance. We have a lot of Burkinabes, before their crisis, coming to look around. Togolese come. As for the Togolese, they are considered as our brothers across the border. When they are here, we don’t even consider them as foreigners. It’s the Nigerians who come either as family groups, or they drive in with their own cars. Some of them even have houses here, a lot of them have bought buildings here, and they shuttle around. So, when they are in town, it’s almost like your cousin is in town for the weekend. Some of them even come to church here, and go back to work. They are perfectly integrated into the system such that sometimes people don’t even capture them in the data. These go to show that the regional market is so important to us.
Do you think Ghana’s campaign to attract more international visitors still elicit the kind of fervent response from the target markets as it previously did, especially given the fact that many who had come to resettle in the country are said to have now changed their mind and leaving the country?
No, that is why we need to be clear about what we are saying. First of all, the African-Americans are not a monolithic group of people with the same responses, actions and engagements with the mother continent. No! Some are radical conservative republicans. That is one. Some want nothing to do with Africa. Some think we (Africans in the Home land) sold them, that we are crazy people. That’ fine. And, there are some who are involved in the civil rights movement. You know at that time there was a lot of connections between the African liberation struggle and the American civil rights movement. There are some who were there; and, there are some who don’t care. We know. We have never said they should all move and come and live in Africa. That has never been our objective. And, we have never said they should renounce their (original) citizenship (either of the United States or elsewhere). All that we are saying is that we know by history that some of our people, much against their will, ended up there. And therefore, we cannot treat that African Diasporan the same way we treat, for example, a Korean or a Chinese who wants to come. Our doors are open. They (African victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade) went against their will. If they want to connect home, we must make it as easy as possible for them to do so. We encourage them to come first as a visitor. If you come as a visitor and you think you want to stay thereafter, then we must ease up the re-settlement process for you. In Ghana, for example, there is a Homeland Return bill, currently in the works, that seeks to almost short-circuit the process of integration of Diasporans. That’s what we are saying. And, it’s not an exploitative kind of understanding that we have. We don’t expect them to come here and bring us money, dollars and so on. It’s not every African-American that has money. But even if he is a poor person, even if he is a pauper, he is still an African. And if he wants to come home, we must receive the person the way we receive an African. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. And, fortunately for us, our immediate post-independent history put us right in the fore-front o the pan-African struggle. We had a very sophisticated founding president (Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah) who saw the big picture. And, Ghana has maintained that posture throughout in the way that we engage with other Africans, and so on. So, if the African-Americans think that because of our history or by virtue of our history that they want to come, that is fine. If they don’t want to come, that is fine also. But we see the numbers growing, because we believe that the Year of Return was very successful; and, we’ve kept the engagement continuous at various levels. To sum up, I don’t know what the population of African-Americans is right now, but there are those who want to come and can afford it, there are those who want to come but cannot afford it, and there are those who don’t want to have anything to do with us. And, we have never said that Ghana should monopolise the African-American Diaspora. We are saying, Come. That’s the first step. If you decide after that to go and live in Nigeria or Rwanda, we have no problem with that; you’re on the continent. And, that is why when things happen to them, there’s usually a response from us. For instance, when George Floyd was killed, our president issued a statement. Someone might say, Is that not interference in someone’s domestic affairs? Maybe yes, maybe no! So long as he’s an African, he’s from here! And, if something happens to our brother, we have an interest in it. You know what I’m saying! That is why when Venus Williams wins a tennis tournament, we rejoice. Yes, she is an American; but, she is also an African. It’s a plus for us. So, when we the appointment of (General) Lloyd Austin as US defense secretary, we are happy. When we see a (General) Colin Powell, we are happy. He may be Republican, he may be anything; but, he is one of us. That desire to see Africans succeed everywhere is what propels our engagements with not just the Diasporans but also other Africans, also. I don’t know if there is any Nigerian, or any African, in Ghana who has ever been stopped in Ghana for not having residence permit. We are very liberal and tolerant of other Africans resident here. Because deep down, we know that every African should feel at home here.
What are the GTA’s major challenges?
I think the traditional complaints of public services that they want more resources to do this or that. It’s a legitimate complaint. But sometimes you must sit at the other end of the table and be a president who is being harassed for roads, schools, water, hospitals, more pay; the soldiers want more equipment for peacekeeping, they need jet planes, they need offshore patrol vessels. I mean, everybody is bothering you. Any time the president travels to any part of the country, he is confronted with the same complaints about roads; and, the chiefs are always telling you that if you don’t do their roads it will be difficult for their people to vote. So, within the constraints of the budget we try to do our best, though we cannot compare ourselves with our peers in other countries. I was just reading two days go about Barbados. The prime minister said he’s giving extra five million dollars to the Barbadian Tourism Marketing Incorporated to boost their marketing activities. Because they are in the winter season. People come there in December, in the winter season, because they are running away from the cold. Their summers tend to be dry. The numbers were low last season. Five million dollars. Even if their exchange rate is 1 is to 2, that’s 2.5 million dollars to boost marketing alone. If we had that here, we would be doing wonders. That’s about 20 million Ghana cedis. We’ll bring a billion people to Ghana with that kind of money. That’s just for marketing. I had a friend in Cote d’Ivoire who told me that getting to the end of the year, they had to do things to spend their money. Because, if they find out that the money hadn’t been spent, then they will cut their budget, as all the airport taxes go to them. Same with South Africa. But I’m not being jealous, or something. Everybody according to your clothe. I’m sure we are far better than some other destinations also. Nonetheless, there re a few things that we need to do that we want to do well. Like some of the public sites that are run by other organisations. We may not necessarily be in charge, but we need to be able to enhance. For example, the GMMD is responsible for the Castle, which is a major tourist site. If we could help them with additional resources to do a few more things, that would be nice. If we could boost, say, the quality of our beaches in terms of the cleaning, and so on. Those are the kind of things that we want to put our resources into doing. There are clearly things that we want to do. Like it’s been rightly said, we want to see people trained. For example, taxi drivers. We want to see all taxi drivers have a minimum tourism awareness certificate. And, those things require money. Some people need start-up capital way below the interest that the banks are charging. Somebody may say, ‘Take this one; pay back at five per cent interest’. The gestation period in the tourism industry tend to be long. Maybe he has to go compete for money the same way as someone who brings rice from Vietnam who will sell it in six months and make his money. Sometimes, it becomes a challenge. You want to invest into energy-saving devices, have a partnership so that some of the hotels can acquire some; some, too, that will bring down their energy costs. There are innovative things that we can do. Then, we want to train our own staff; we want them to be top-notch, people who can hold their own anywhere. I should be sitting here, having five of my guys in Singapore, two in Zimbabwe on exchange programmes; our marketing team is in Nigeria for six weeks working with the Nigeria Tourism Authority. So, there are things we can do, things we want to do. But, we are not Oliver Twist. Once we have; what we have, we’ll manage and stretch to the best of our ability. That’s why we employ social media quite effectively, because it’s an effective way of reaching a large number of people. And we pay attention to the feedbacks that we get from our surveys at the airport and other places. But it’s not everything that we can have control over. For example, the air fares. I can’t understand why on earth a 6-hour flight from Accra to London costs more than the one from London to Johannesburg. They’ll give you all kinds of reasons: that they are government taxes. I don’t believe so. They are doing so that just because it’s a monopoly, and, they are squeezing the life out of us. Maybe, when we have our own airline.
And, when will that be?
We are told that it will be soon. So, let’s believe that it’ll be so. This is within the remit of the Transport Minister.
Tell us about yourself. Who is Ben Anane-Nsiah?
I’m a proud African. I am very happy that God put me in this part of the world. I am the deputy chief executive officer in charge of administration, Here at the GTA, we call it general services. There are two of us (deputy chief executive officers); one is in charge of operations. We support the CEO. I have been with this organisation for a long time, almost 30 years; and, I’ve worked practically everywhere (within the GTA).