• Monday, February 26, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

‘How Nigeria and Ghana can boost West Africa tourism’

png_20230429_130120_0000

Nigeria and Ghana can be the pivot of tourism in West Africa post-Covid-19 just by simplifying the visa process for international visitors. Dr. Damien L. Duchamp, hospitality and tourism industry expert and executive director of Hospitalented.org, in this interview with Martin-luther C. King in Accra said all that both countries needed to do was to create a 2-for-1 option that doesn’t require difficult paperwork and, also, to bring in an airline partner that will offer affordable rates between both countries along with that visa. Excerpts:

How do you assess the present state of the tourism industry in Ghana?

The industry is growing. In order to maximise the potential of the industry, there needs to be a balance of products and services offered by operators, education to constantly replace and expand operators, governmental support including related organisations, and external customers – the visitors who bring in funds from the outside.

On the operator side, there are countless Ghanaians that are looking to offer products and services to visitors. Some are mature in terms of their education and ability to serve the needs of non-Ghanaians, but most are new to the industry and could benefit from working with mature operations before venturing out on their own. The majority of individuals who offer services are not necessarily trained to do so. Hopefully they are licensed in some way, but that doesn’t mean they are properly trained.

In terms of education, there are some legacy programs and then there are schools that seem to sprout up every year. Individuals see the buzz around ‘Year of the Return’ and what appear to be droves of visitors – and they see an educational opportunity.

The challenge is that there are very few 100percent tourism professors that teach in Ghana. Many lecturers come from the periphery of the industry, and their exposure may be limited to what already exists in Ghana.

The benefit is that you have different perspectives, but the core knowledge base for tourism is limited. There are elements of tourism education at every level, but often they are disconnected. There is a lot of potential to align tourism education from primary to university education.

Attempts to create partnerships between Ghanaian tourism programs and schools outside of Ghana have generally not succeeded.

On the consumer side, if you are coming from other parts of Ghana or neighboring countries the tourism is okay. If you are used to how things are in Nigeria or Benin, how tourism experiences are delivered in Ghana will seem familiar.

There is a different kind of patience (i.e. customer service) if you are from West Africa. The exception is for French-speaking visitors. We don’t have enough French speakers at tourism-related businesses. If you are coming from the global North (U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) the experience is inconsistent.

A visitor can have an amazing experience at their hotel or Republic Bar, but they may have bad experiences in other places. Certain sectors don’t realize they have an impact on tourism, and that
gives an overall bad experience to tourists. Every ‘touch point’ for visitors should be scrutinized and raised to a higher level. This includes everyone at the airport, drivers, police, etc.
The government is supportive of the tourism industry, as they should be.

There is a recognition that
tourism can be a huge economic driver for the country, but the execution of that support is where we have issues. There are competing priorities between what the leadership wants, and what actually
happens at the base level.

The Year of the Return and Beyond the Return were great marketing slogans to capture energy around African Americans coming back to Ghana, but there are fundamental challenges that have yet to be addressed. The goal should not be to get people here once, but rather many times over.

There continues to be strife between government, agencies and chiefdoms when it comes to tourism sites. If they could work better together, each would benefit greatly. While there are some legacy tourism organisations, new ones sprout up all the time. They are led by
people who see the possibilities of tourism, but they don’t always have the resources to make positive change in the industry.

I feel there is too much competition between the various leaders, and not enough work on the ground level to move forward.
The overall state of tourism in Ghana is aspirational. It’s the most beautiful place in the world in my opinion, but that fact gets lost in poor service experiences. We have all of the necessary pieces in
Ghana to be one of the leading tourism destinations globally, but operators, education, government, organisations are not aligned.

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and the havoc it wreaked on the global economy, including Ghana’s; how can Ghana tap into tourism to urgently turn its economy around post-pandemic?

The focus needs to be on the front-line. Follow the path of each visitor, and make positive changes at every junction. Ghanaians need to see the long-term benefits of making small changes instead of trying to make money up front. That’s understandably hard to do when the economy is in a bad state and people need money now. Another opinion is that the focus needs to shift away from making money off of African Americans. Ghana’s tourism leadership is ignoring so many tourism populations around the world. That would be a relatively quick fix.

How do you assess the response of international tourists to the Ghana government’s campaign to attract more visitors to the country? What more can the government do?

I’ve addressed part of this above, but I want to reiterate that the campaigns are too focused on populations that are already coming to Ghana. I would focus on underserved populations. I’ve been beating this drum for many years, but the government needs to make the process of getting to Ghana easier. Every obstacle that exists (e.g. visas) gives potential visitors a reason to go elsewhere.

Analysts say Ghana and Nigeria can be the pivot for increased intra-regional tourism in both west Africa and Africa generally, given their populations and economic potentials. Do you agree? And, how can both countries collaborate to improve mutual tourism between them?

Simplify the visa process. Create a 2-for-1 option that doesn’t require difficult paperwork. Bring in an airline partner that will offer affordable rates between both countries along with that visa.

One thing that stops so many people from visiting Ghana is the constant lack of clarity around pricing for goods and services. I consult with groups that are planning trips to Ghana, and there’s often an issue because pricing has changed. This has nothing to do with the exchange rate – as it was happening before the cedi began losing value. While West Africans may be used to the uncertainty of pricing from one day to the next, visitors will not tolerate it. If Ghana is to meet its potential as a
leading tourism destination, operators need to be more clear and consistent. Partners at every level need to state a price and stick to it. Again, the result of this is that they won’t come back!

Panafest is scheduled to make a comeback this year. How will you suggest the organisers can
make this year’s event different from previous editions?

Let’s make it easier for people to attend. Ensure that every part of a visitor’s contact is planned out so that there are no issues. Every visitor that comes to Ghana becomes an ambassador when they go back to their home countries. If they have a positive experience, they will not only come back – but they will bring others with them.

Kindly tell us about yourself?

Damien L. Duchamp is the executive director for Hospitalented.org, the culmination of over 30 years in the hospitality and tourism industry. Born in France, he leverages his European, American and African experiences in event planning, lodging, travel planning, restaurants, beverages and marketing. Highlights include producing major concerts with Ne-Yo, Common, The Roots and Ciara; launching brands and franchise concepts such as Cook&Go; developing a POS system for Recruit; and representing Evian Water in New York City. He is currently engaged in a fashion ecosystem (education, upcycling, tourism) project in Cameroon with FICOTA, and developing tourism applications using NFTs and augmented reality on the SuperWorld platform.

As a tourism professor, Dr. Duchamp seeks to offer education and training that is ahead of the curve. This has resulted in a conference on alternative foods (plants, bugs), unique courses (dark tourism, franchise development), and blockchain think tanks (Bitcoin, Ethereum). Passionate about customer service and hospitality, he has hosted countless tourism workshops, developed certificate programs and new curriculums, and is currently writing a book on tourism entrepreneurship. Prof. Duchamp is currently the assistant dean for online education at the Wegmans School of Nursing for St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York. He is responsible for a fully online Master of Science in Nursing program.

When time permits, Dr. Duchamp works on global education and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) projects through Hospitalented, TravelUnity.org, and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. He is especially committed to helping communities expand their economy through tourism – which requires significant skill development. Dr. Duchamp is a firm believer that almost anything can become a tourism site with a little creativity. ‘Prof’ excels at creating new revenue streams for communities large and small.

Dr. Duchamp earned degrees from SUNY New Paltz, Clemson University, and Gwynedd Mercy University. His doctoral research was focused on tourism, entitled Perceptions of the Hospitality and Tourism Industries by 18-24-year olds in Ghana, West Africa.

What do you like about Ghana?

I believe Ghana is the most beautiful place in the world with the most beautiful people. It has all the
resources to be a world leader. From a tourism perspective, a visitor can do anything here. We just have to build out the possibilities and address infrastructure.

What are your challenges living in Ghana?

When I stay in Ghana I generally don’t have many challenges. I think there is a broad misunderstanding by government and other agencies that anyone who is not Ghanaian is a tourist. Meanwhile, there are countless business, diplomat, education, media, NGO and other visitors who are in the country for long periods of time. We count them as tourists and we shouldn’t. This is on top of the many expats that have been living in the country for decades.

Do you have any final words?

There are many individuals in Ghana that are making a good living from tourism, but so many more could be making a better living. Government entities and organisations could increase the revenue generated from tourism in the country by 10-20% in one year if they worked better together and executed some basic principles. Ghana has the people, the resources and the opportunity. It’s all about execution.