In the age of globalization and inveterate travel, the tourism sector has grown into a mammoth industry for many countries around the world. Same cannot be extrapolated for Ghana, albeit with a heavily omnipresent a rich landscape of ecological fields, rivers, wildlife, and more.
Opinion: A closer look at Ghana’s tourism industry
In many Third World countries, non-renewable resources have been unable to move the needle for many of their citizens trapped in the lower echelons of the economic pyramid. Unfortunately, many of these countries are endowed with places of innate economic value—but have lived far below their potential for sustainable development.
For example, the indispensability of the industry to the future of the global economy is typified by the grand ambitions of heavy non-renewable resource endowed countries such as oil-rich Dubai, to invest strategically into their tourism hotspots. Interestingly, extant data shows that in 2017 alone, over 17 million tourists visited that country. More than half of Ghana’s population. The concomitant economic benefits of investments in tourism is widespread in nearly every facet of that country’s economy—jobs, real estate, foreign investments, aviation, agriculture, among others.
Unfortunately, this is not true for Ghana’s tourism space—the spotlight here is on ecotourism. Tourism that promotes economic wellbeing of communities as well as sustains the health of their natural environment. Over the last two years, I decided to take an experiment of road trips across the nooks and crannies of Ghana. Road trips for pleasure or sightseeing are not quintessential to our national culture. Most people relish the perspectives; I think.
Luckily, I found myself traversing many parts of the hitherto Volta Region of Ghana, as a first-timer. At perhaps one of the most famous tourist sites in the country (Mountain Afadjato), everything seemed disharmonious on arrival. No well-organized transport from the nearest village to the tourist site. Tourists have to rely on unsafe scooters. “How can that be?” I asked myself. Growing up as a child, I heard so much about this locale as early as age ten. Alas, eighteen years later road networks and transport system to this vicinity are almost in shambles. Retrospectively, I lost my mobile phone through that experience. It seemed to me that the Tourism Ministry—or whoever is in charge—has shunned their duty to our beloved country.
Government could construct roads leading to the destination to boost commercial vehicle participation in community tourism. The ripple effects of road investments will push community tourism to new heights.
In the Upper East Region of the country (my home region), eco-tourism seems to dominate much of the landscape with some opportunity to interact with wildlife of heritage importance. On a recent visit to the Paga crocodile sanctuary (the chief crocodile pond in the area), I was stunned that there was no regularized process to check us—myself and a friend—in as visiting tourists. I was stunned by the experience, though not surprised. We were swiftly serviced—I do not mean that favorably— standing. The money we paid was received by one man as though he was running a sole proprietorship venture. No records whatsoever to capture our visitation to the center. The question then remains how is revenue accurately accounted for at the tourist site? This seemed to be omnipresent in most tourist centers across the country. I vividly re-count a similar experience at Afadjato in the Volta Region.
One might speciously argue that it is the most feasible modus operandi for tourist guards to sustain themselves. Alas, I think that is a flawed reasoning. It contradicts the ethos of national development. No serious country has built its tourism industry with staff subsistence contingent on daily revenues of tourist sites. To build a sustainable tourism industry, tourist guards need to be offered remuneration that is independent of the revenues of these centers. Thus, a call for government to pay attention to that segment as part of strategies to build a sustainable tourism sector.
In the Western Region, Nzulezu is perhaps a place that sounds like a “Disneyland resort” for most people. I must confess—it is terrific place for sightseeing, and getting to understand some of the heritage sites in Ghana. However, the current state of this age-old enduring village on stealth is quite worrying. My recent visit to the destination was so revealing of the dearth of basic human infrastructure for the village including healthcare, schools, and other social services. Lo and Behold, malaria is a serious public challenge for the villages protecting this heritage site. However, with zero qualified health personnel to provide health services. The question remains how we manage our tourist sites sustainably so much so that those who matter would benefit from them.
In my humble opinion, not didactic policy proposal or blueprint, the state of the tourism industry—particularly the tourist sites that are inextricably linked to the landscape and health of our ecological environment—is subpar. As a result, rings an urgent call for action. A structural transformation of community tourism will not only help our dear country to fully mine the hidden bonanza of this golden industry, but significantly improve livelihoods of poor people in these communities and their precincts.
By Abdul-Washeru Mba-Kunateh Alhassan
The author is a Sustainability Consultant and holds a Master’s Degree in Climate Change and Sustainable Development. The author may be reached at email@example.com
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