• Monday, April 22, 2024
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‘Nigeria and Ghana can turn rivalry into economic gain with tourism’

‘Nigeria and Ghana can turn rivalry into economic gain with tourism’

Goodness Okeke, chief executive officer of Ghana’s premier tourism brand, Standard Travel and Tours (STT), in this interview with MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Accra, said that Nigeria and Ghana can turn their historic rivalry into mutually-beneficial positive and economic gain by deliberately encouraging tourists’ from and into each other’s spaces. According to him, the governments of both countries can take the lead role in making West Africa the hub of tourism of Africa by working together to develop the industry in the sub-region. He also spoke on other issues: Excerpts:

How can Nigeria and Ghana use tourism to end some of the unhealthy rivalry between them?

Tourism is a tool that, I think, Nigeria and Ghana need to explore urgently. For instance, there are many tribes in Ghana that have similarities with the tribes in Nigeria. The Ga tribe, which is found in the Greater Accra region of Ghana, shares similar cultural traits with the Yoruba tribe of southwest Nigeria. The Ashanti, of the Ashanti Region, shares a similar inclination to trading with the typical Igbo of southeast Nigeria. Many Ghanaians from the country’s northern regions similarly trace their origin to northern Nigeria. So, there are many similarities between our two peoples. At the Igbo new yam festival in Ghana last September, cultural display by various tribes in Ghana who attended further confirmed the cultural similarities of our two peoples. Therefore, there should be no reason for unhealthy rivalry between our peoples. Ghana should be a safe place for anyone from Nigeria, just as Nigeria should be a safe place for anyone from Ghana.

As the world gradually normalises after the Covid-19 pandemic; should private-sector tour operators in both countries be encouraged by the governments to take a stronger role in making such an urgent reality?

That would be beautiful; that would be awesome; because so many Ghanaians are looking out for an opportunity to visit Nigeria. Just this past 2022, a lot of Ghanaians wanted to go to Nigeria on our ticket, but because of so many issues, they had to step down. But we are looking at between now and May this year when the elections in Nigeria would have been over and the security situation stabilised, and will like to partner any tour company in Nigeria to organise tours in Nigeria. Many Ghanaians have heard about the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Nigeria, they have heard about the Ogbunike Cave, and would love to visit these places. And we know that as long as we are here, that we are here for business, we are here to tour Africa; we are here to make Africa proud.

What are those things you thing that can actually attract Nigerians to Ghana?

A lot. Also, there has been this contest over the years between Nigeria jollof and Ghana jollof, which of them is better. If you are in Nigeria and have not been to Ghana, you are missing a lot. Apart from the Ghana jollof that you need to taste, there are so many things to benefit from coming to Ghana. I encourage Nigerian tourists to visit Ghana rather than go to places like the UK, etc. We have a lot of beautiful tour sites in Ghana. Ghana is also a very good economy for anyone to invest in.

But Ghanaians are perceived to be hostile to Nigerians?

On the matter of the hostility and fracas between Nigerian traders and Ghanaian traders, I will say that it is political. The reality is that up till today, Nigeria cannot do without Ghana, and Ghana cannot do without Nigeria. So, I will encourage our two peoples to put those things behind us. I urge Nigerians to visit Ghana and see things for themselves. Don’t forget that the peculiarity of the way that social media presents issues also comes into play here. The reality may be different. Truth is that the Nigeria-Ghana trade dispute is political. Let us put it behind us. Ghana has built a very good relationship with Nigeria over the years. And I know that with the good policies emanating from the two countries, those issues would be put to rest.

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How is the patronage of locals to domestic tourism like in Ghana?

Ghana has so many holidays. Much more than Nigeria, for instance. This year, STT will be rolling out packages for the respective holidays. Because when you come on holidays to Ghana, you will enjoy Ghana; you will understand that Ghanaians love to enjoy themselves. Unlike in Nigeria, where people go to work even on holidays, Ghanaians don’t joke with their holidays, trooping to beaches and the tourist sites that the country abounds with. So, from January to December this year, Standard Travel and Tours will accordingly be rolling out tour packages relative to the various holidays visiting tourist sites in Ghana. And, they will definitely be affordable, something that anybody can afford.

But the word out there is that Ghanaians do not like going on tours, even within their own country?

I do not believe that. To the best of my knowledge, Ghanaians love holidays a lot. And the government of Ghana has done so much by helping Ghanaians to rest. Because in a calendar year, you will see nothing less than ten different national holidays being observed officially. That is unlike other countries. So my plea is for fellow tour operators to consider using each of the holidays to organise beautiful tour events that will take the ordinary Ghanaian from their regions to experience a different region of the country.

How do you assess the effectiveness of tourism companies in Ghana?

Tour companies in Ghana need to site their offices more in rural areas and the less-privileged parts of town as it will boost tourism by helping the ordinary Ghanaian relate better with foreigners in the country. It’s often the case that if one has not had the opportunity of travelling outside one’s country and immediate environment, or mixing with cultures different from one’s own, one may feel intimidated and suspicious of the outsider. But with the benefit of such exposure, specifically via tour events, one’s perspective gets broadened and more tolerant of lifestyles different from one’s own. And, presently, this is the problem with the segment of the population that are often referred to, with due respect, as the lower-class people in Ghana. You realize that most of the misunderstanding between Ghanaians and immigrants in the country come from the so-called lower-class people. Comparatively, the upper-class people mingle, because they travel a lot; so, they mostly don’t have problem with foreigners in the country. The problem of accepting foreigners in Ghana is mostly from the lower-class people, so-called. So, tour companies in Ghana should be able to take tourism to these lower-class people and the grassroots, as that will enable them understand that there could be other equally beautiful and rich homes away from their homes which they could experience outside Ghana. And don’t even think that they cannot afford to go on tours. Truth is that they can. It only needs for tour companies in Ghana to design affordable and attractive tour packages with flexible payment plans.

What about concerns with costs?

It all depends on the sites the tour operators are taking the group of tourists to. It’s possible to package intra-West African tours to locations in specific West African countries. It should not be the case that we must only package tours to Europe, America, Canada, or elsewhere outside Africa as is presently the case with many tour operators in Ghana. We must also start thinking of packaging tours to each other’s countries in West Africa. Isn’t it surprising that someone in Ghana often does not have much knowledge of Cote d’Ivoire, which is just next door? Why don’t we package a tour to Cote d’Ivoire? I don’t think such a tour will cost the average Ghanaian more than Ghc1000. It could be far less than that, perhaps. Take a group of such Ghanaian tourists, for instance, to Cote d’Ivoire and educate them on the importance of intra-West African trading, and thereby boost relations amongst our peoples. May I use this opportunity, therefore, to urge the Ministry of Tourism, tour companies and the private sector to more seriously pay attention to ordinary Ghanaians in the country’s tourism master-plan with the view to educating them on the need to avail themselves of every opportunity to tour other countries in the subregion other than Ghana.

Beyond trooping to beaches on their public holidays, which you said are numerous, does the average Ghanaian really care much about visiting the many tourist sites that dot the country’s landscape?

Just like the Bible says that faith comes by hearing, deliberate sensitisation campaigns by the government is what is needed to change the situation. Don’t be surprised that most Ghanaians don’t even know of the existence of the various tour sites around their country. Most are more familiar only with going to the beach and the drinking spot. But promotion will change the mindset. And this is where the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture can play the game-changer role by frequently promoting the tour sites in the media. MoTAC can also target certain events, such as Valentine’s Day, for media promotion, way before the event day to make it easy for even people from the grassroots to easily subscribe.

Would you then advise that the government should extend the same degree of attention to local tourism just as it is presently doing to attracting foreign tourists, especially African-Americans?

Yes. It’s unfortunate that we tend to neglect what we have, and rather focus on what we do not have. I will like to say here that we need to promote the tour sites that we have here in Ghana. In 2022, the Minister (of Tourism) told us, the private sector players, that he was expecting an inflow of a million tourists into Ghana for last year. But, if we promoted our tour sites effectively to our local people, with the number of people that we already have in Ghana, including the grassroots, that government projection would easily have been exceeded. So, I encourage colleague tour operators in Ghana, MoTAC and the government to let us put heads together this year to promote our tour sites to all Ghanaians. Those sites that need to be renovated should be renovated. Let’s start promoting domestic tourism. When we do so, we will see that tourists from our neighbouring countries will also troop into more for the enhanced experience.

While the government of Ghana is encouraging tourists’ inflow into the country, many of the tourist sites in the country are in poor shape, however. How can this be remedied?

No government ever fixed a nation alone. It’s a collective effort. Private organisations can actually step in to take care of relevant tour sites. Government can also privatise some of the tour sites; for instance, the Ghana National Theatre. Last August, we had an event there. We had booked and paid for the hall. But when we got to the hall a day to our event day, we saw the place was so unkempt and messy. We had to hire people by ourselves to quickly clean the hall. So, I thought to myself, why waste this magnificent structure that the government built with tax-payers’ money; why not privatise it to ensure it is properly maintained? I believe if the Ghana National Theatre is given to a private company to manage, it’s condition will greatly improve, and will generate more revenue than now. I use this opportunity, therefore, to urge the government to do a proper audit of all the tour sites in Ghana with a view to bringing them up to standard, either by government alone or in collaboration with the private sector. Because we cannot have people paying $2000 or $3000 to travel from here to Europe just for tours whilst we have similar, and even better attractions here at home.