The Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts has declared September a Month of Tourism, initiating a national theme, “See Ghana, Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana and Feel Ghana” to promote domestic tourism and encourage the culture of domestic travels among Ghanaians.
The Deputy Chief Executive, GTA, Eckow Sampson recently at a media briefing assured of government’s commitment to developing the tourism sector.
Mr. Sampson assuring Ghanaians of government’s plans to develop the sector which has great potentials to transform Ghana’s economy yet struggles to keep afloat the numerous challenges it is fraught with, is not enough.
This is because stakeholders in the tourism sector have encouraged successive governments to make efforts to upgrade and revamp many tourist destinations across the country but little or nothing has been done with the most energy expended on telling the citizenry plans of governments to develop the sector which have always remained on paper.
What Tourism Is
The Association of International Scientific Experts in Tourism (AISET) defines tourism as the sum total of the phenomenon and relationships arising from the travel and stay of non-residents in so far as this does not lead to permanent residency and is not concerned with any earning activity.
It can also be defined as a collection of activities, services and industries that delivers a travel experience, including transportation, accommodations, eating and drinking establishments, retail shops, entertainment businesses, activity facilities and other hospitality services provided for individuals or groups traveling away from home.
Tourism can be categorised broadly into domestic and international and further classified into Health Tourism-journeying to spend time to get well after an illness by combining medical exercise with holiday and rest, Sports Tourism- leisure activity associated with the watching of sports, Cultural Tourism, Social Tourism, Cult and Religious Tourism, etc.
There is direct satisfaction to individual tourists who experience enhancement of the overall and physical quality of their person, thus, contributing to their productivity.
Employment and wealth generation - This is by far the biggest gain of tourism to any host community, resulting in a boom in mostly unskilled form of employment such as selling food, retailing and other services.
Improved standard of living of the host community - As tourists spend money for services such as food and souvenirs which are locally provided, these monies then get back into the local economy and then used to better the living conditions of the locals.
Tourism Potentials in Ghana
Ghana, a country steeped in rich culture, abounds with tourist attractions ranging from historic coastal forts, to idyllic beaches, remote nature reserves full of exotic wildlife and bustling modern cities.
Mention can be made of notable tourist destinations such as Cape Coast Castle, Kakum National Park, Mole National Park, Larabanga Mosque, Boti Falls, etc.
The Volta Region, full of history, culture, scenery, wildlife and one of the friendliest people in Ghana boasts of popular tourist sites including the tallest mountain in Ghana, Afadjato.
There are also the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, Wli Falls, Fort Prinzenstein, Kalakpa Nature Reserve, Ghana’s cleanest beaches, Keta, home to the beautiful Aborigines Beach Resort among others.
There is no way one will talk of tourism and not mention the hospitality industry, a major player in the tourism sector. This is where Sogakope, the District capital of South Tongu in the Volta Region which is increasingly becoming synonymous to hospitality, comes in.
The Hospitality Industry in Sogakope
Sogakope is located on the international highway from Togo through Ghana to Ivory Coast.
Mostly known for its river tourism, thus, christened the “River City”, Sogakope is home to the Lower Volta Bridge (also Sogakope Bridge) which connects the capital to the neighbouring community, Sokpoe.
The Lower Volta Bridge is also the site for the famous Tortsogbeza, an annual festival celebrated by the people of Sokpoe town during Easter which involves diving off the bridge.
The river aside being endowed in the production of fish such as tilapia and fresh water clam locally called “adodi”, it also offers opportunity for a variety of water sports, wind surfing, water transport with Ghana Highway owned passenger boat plying Akuse-Ada-Foah stopping en route at Sogakope, Tefle, Agordomi, Sokpoe, Vume and Agave all in the district.
Sogakope is also known as the “Bread City” occasioned by the mass bread production in the town making most commuters plying the Accra-Aflao and Accra-Keta roads to usually stop over to buy bread and snacks.
It is arguably, the hospitality hub boasting of over ten finest hotels and resorts including the award-winning Holy Trinity SPA & Health Farm, luxurious Villa Cisneros, Shekinah Glory Hotel and Sogakope Beach Resort.
For the impact, majority of the employees at these places are locals. Also, tourists and visitors to the “Bread City” also patronise the bread and adodi among others, thus, injecting money into the local economy.
Hostilities of the Industry
In June last year, the then Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Catherine Afeku embarked on a tour to some tourists sites in the Volta Region including Wli Waterfalls and observed that the poor conditions there were similar to other tourist sites across the country.
Of the poor conditions at the sites across the country, bad roads remain the biggest militating factor against the development of the sector. And instead of government officials taking steps to address the issues, they give promises which can best be described as empty.
Back in the “River City”, the story is same. Of the challenges confronting the hospitality industry, the issue of bad road stands tall. This is why.
The Sogakope-Gbenuakope road also known as the “Hospitality Lane” is concentrated with the industries. There are the Awoyo Resort, Villa Cisneros and Somewhere in Sogakope.
The rest are Holy Trinity SPA & Health Farm, Waterfront Paradise Resort and Sogakope Beach Resort.
The about 10-Km un-tarred road stretches from the junction after the Sogakope toll booth close to the South Tongu District Assembly linking the Dabala-Keta road through Gbenuakope.
This is the problem with the road. Any time there is a heavy downpour or during rainy seasons, that stretch of the road becomes an extension of the Volta River. It gets so flooded that commuters (unskilled swimmers) will need canoes to ply the road. “River City” indeed.
Imagine being a first time tourist seeking accommodation or visiting any of these beautiful places situated along the Volta River and the only way to get there is to either swim in the flooded and muddy water or wait for God knows how long for canoes to ferry you around.
The Seeming Unconcern
The industry players had one thing on their lips, “things are not right.” To them, after paying salaries of workers, utility (electricity and water) tariffs, unthinkable penalty rates, taxes (Environmental Protection Agency and Ghana Revenue Authority), “there’s virtually nothing left for you” to undertake other things including corporate social responsibility projects. They said though the operating costs were worrisome, the bad nature of the road leading to their businesses was the real burden.
They lamented the inaccessibility to the places during rainy seasons and dust in the rooms during the dry season saying, these were negatively affecting their business.
According to the manager, Villa Cisneros, Francis Agbetawokpor, “we’re suffering” having to take care of the 30-year old 20-acre facility with electricity bills about GH¢19,000, GH¢22,000 per month among other statutory payments without the enabling environment like a good road for business to thrive.
Blaming it on failed leadership, Mr. Agbetawokpor wondered, “how does a contractor make a road from the main junction, Soccom area where the High Court is down in front of this area, go through SOGASCO and leave this road that goes to Gbenuakope and links Dabala?”
District Chief Executive for South Tongu, Emmanuel Louis Agama acknowledged the problem with the road but mentioned that the assembly could not fix the road because a capital intensive project such as road construction was beyond its capacity.
Mr. Agama disclosed that the assembly had 2 months ago, appealed to the central government to grant a request for construction of a 20-Km township road and expressed hope that the request would be granted to enable work to start on the road.
The Volta Regional office of Feeder Roads responsible for maintaining such roads disclosed the outfit had commenced processes to that Sogakope-Gbenuakope Road tarred.
Operation Manager 3, Ing. Charles Nketsiah disclosed that officials had visited the road to gather needed information and that maintenance proposal had been sent to Accra for approval to set in motion processes for real construction work to start.
The Way Forward
Knowing the gains that can be derived from tourism – employing locals leading to improvement in living conditions resulting in the preservation of the natural environment and culture to attract more visitors for additional income which eventually benefits government for improved infrastructure and consequently development, government ought to take measures to revamp the sector.
As it is, good roads which remain top on the list of challenges hindering the realisation of full potential of the sector must be government’s priority.
Villa Cisneros Manager suggested that the authorities should construct the road through any mean and let government open a bank account and negotiate with the hotels along the areas to make monthly deposits of an agreed amount into the account for a number of years till government recoups the investment made in the construction.
In fact, government owes it a duty to ensure businesses thrive for only then will society and government itself benefit.
All the assurances and commitments are known to the citizenry but what is needed now is for governments to stop the lip service, get to work and make tourism attractive to reap all its benefits to help attain the Sustainable Development Goal 1 of “No Poverty” and who knows, the current government’s “Ghana Beyond Aid” may not remain just a mantra for long.