GHANA TO FOCUS ON MICE TOURISM

Ghana 2018 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Catherine Afeku, Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Arts, on priorities in her new position, the agriculture sector, and Ghana's competitive advantage.

What are your priorities as the new Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Arts in Ghana?

The tourism sector is what we call the rough diamond of Ghana. We are blessed with the new administration's vision to promote tourism as one of the economic pillars for growth, job creation, and diplomacy. There are three priority areas we are working around the clock to get into reality. The first critical one is hospitality training. The entire nation sees tourism as a viable economic activity; however, we need skilled personnel in that sector to promote service. The manifesto of the New Patriotic Party had specifically stated that we will build a state-of-the-art hospitality training school with with five satellite campuses modelled on international best practices. The second priority is the development of the creative arts. We have many business hotels, though no leisure hotels for tourists. We have also embarked on an ambitious project to construct affordable, elegant hotels across the country to showcase the ethnic handicrafts, arts, and décor of Ghana. We have registered the patented name as GH Akwaaba Hotels and these will seek private partnerships because growth is built via the private sector. The third and final priority area is Marine Drive, a project that has been on the drawing board for 60 years. When it takes off, 241 acres of coastline will be developed to house hotels, a boardwalk, a marina, cruise ships, and theaters. It will be a designated tourism enclave that will take off between October and December. These are the three main projects, though there are others that were halted as a result of these three developments we are focusing on.

How does the ministry plan to enhance the agricultural sector?

The first month I took office, we ambitiously started a project called See Ghana, Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana, which spells the word sew and indirectly promotes fashion of the Ghanaian culture and fabrics. Eat Ghana ties in directly with agriculture because we encourage the hotels to promote Ghanaian cuisine, thereby promoting homegrown produce such as tomatoes, peppers, and coco yams from Ghana. Everything that is grown in Ghana can be served western style at our five-star hotels. Ghana is the second-largest producer of cocoa in the world next to the Ivory Coast, and we want to promote cocoa consumption and its health benefits. This will indirectly benefit farmers, our government, and the GDP. We will also build a cocoa museum that is in the process; plans have been drawn up and we are now awaiting financing.

What were the highlights of the 2017 World Tourism Forum?

That is one of the biggest selling points for Ghana; MICE is big business and Ghana is strategically positioned in the ECOWAS zone. The World Tourism Forum was a platform to share with investors from all around the world what Ghana has to offer, and they were overwhelmed by the hospitality. It was the first-ever summit in Africa and we were chosen over other large tourist countries on the continent. With the collaboration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior, we will work with the Vice President's office to ensure that e-visa becomes a reality to improve tourism traffic. One of the projects that links in with our top three is an iconic building to tell the world that Ghana is the center of the world since we have the longitude and latitude of 000.

How are you diversifying the entry destination for Ghana?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working tirelessly on this such that hopefully by 2018 Ghana should be seen as a country where e-visa is available, and that will improve tourism traffic. Also, the airport expansion is a major boost to us and we are working with the Ministry of Aviation to make sure there are more terminals and more flights coming in. We only have 34 international airlines coming into Ghana and it could be 50.

What are the biggest challenges in the tourism sector?

We are not selling ourselves well enough. One my greatest challenges is to get destination market organizations to fly into Ghana and sign agreements with them so we should have desks in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Arabian Peninsula so that people will know and hear about Ghana. We have the oldest mosque in Africa, Larabanga Mosque, which is 600 years old, and the oldest handwritten Quran. That is a big sell for our Muslim diaspora. In addition, there is fashion, music, and film, which is another billion-dollar industry that we intend to promote.

What is Ghana's competitive advantage and where are opportunities for investors?

The three Ss: Ghana is stable, safe, and a smiling nation. The laws are strict and we protect FDI and PPP. Investors feel safe. Through the Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC), people can find out about the treasures of Ghana, the investment opportunities, and our reputation as a democratically and economically stable country in the ECOWAS zone. Ghana is replete with history and has 62 slave dungeons dotted along the coast, more than any other country in West Africa. If we are to drive traffic from the Caribbean and the Americas, people can trace their heritage to the west coast of Ghana and can return to see and feel it. Former president Obama visited and saw the magnitude and power. It can only be done when we share that knowledge with the diaspora, which is a huge market for us.

What are your expectations for 2018?

In 2018, I look forward to seeing the Marine Drive tourism enclave take off. I would like to see tourism being a catalyst for job creation and also to encourage investment, more specifically in the tourism, art, and culture sector. Especially in film, as we want to see Ghana as a haven for film production. We have so much to share and need to use film to tell our story.