The role of the tour guide in packaging Ghana’s tourism

BY: PaJohn Bentsifi Dadson

Trends in the travel industry are truly advancing. Time was when tourists booked trips and packages, particularly to Africa, through the safety and assurance of the well-established tour operator.

Not so anymore. An increase in budget-conscious travel, a growth of savvy operators, and the ease of word-of-mouth Internet marketing is helping drive more independent travelers and tourist traffic our way. International guidebooks and access to an enormous cache of information on the World Wide Web has made it trendy for people to just pick their bags and take off to unknown territory to vacation and explore.

 

There’s an argument, however, that soon, there will be no more tourists. There will be adventurers, "fieldwork assistants", "volunteers" and, of course, "travellers". And, that the term tourist will be extinct. Why? Because “tourists” tend to destroy the natural environment and emasculate local cultures. Tourists bring with them nothing but their money.

Less than 40 years ago, tourism was encouraged as an unquestionable good. With the arrival of package holidays and charter flights, tourism could at last be enjoyed by the masses. The United Nations declared 1967 the ‘International Year of the Tourist’. A resolution was passed recognizing tourism as "a basic and most desirable human activity, deserving the praise and encouragement of all peoples and all governments". By the 1980s, tourism was the largest and fastest-growing industry in the world. By the end of that decade, in Great Britain, for example, some 20 million a year went abroad on holiday!

Here’s why there’s a growing need for the professional tour guide. The tour guide plays a most important role in representing their facility, community, city, country, where imparting of information is concerned, as they are to the industry, what a diplomat is to their country.

 Tour guide’s role

On a tour, the guide represents the industry, company and country. The guide, through their commentary and direction will show the traveller the intricacies of the people being visited and their livelihood. This is way more impactful the route to sustain tourism than encouraging a horde of people to come through your community on their own.

As with the growing trend elsewhere around the world, many independent travellers to Ghana today are linking up with guide operators and trooping in for walking tours. On such is Ghana Nima Tours, which the lead guide and owner, Charles Sablah takes visitors on walks through the communities of Nima, Pig Farm, Jamestown and such places on foot! It is proving very highly popular, with the tours being regularly listed and updated on international guidebooks and Internet sites.

Charles is a graduate of the HOTCATT (Ghana’s Hotel and Catering Training Institute) tour guide program and therefore offers his services to a professional standard. It was this Tour Guide program whose Class of September 1995, together with other enthusiastic and concerned practicing tour guides, that agreed to form a non-political, and a non-religious professional association of tour guides. From a small number in January 1996, the Ghana Tour Guides Association has now grown into some 300 strong membership with branches in eight of the ten regions in Ghana.

 One of the country’s foremost professional guides, Kwaku Passah, is the immediate past President of the Association. He believes it is time to pay attention to “the quality of the delivery of service being given within the industry.” As does the current President, Awuku Yirenkyi, also a well-known and respected guide. Previously vice president, the duo, together with their executives, past and present have over the years built quite a reputation for the association whose vision is to promote ‘resourceful professionals’, to have ‘positive impact’.

 The association also has a mission to “impact maximum satisfaction on our clients and tourism stakeholders by providing essential tourism information and services for the sustainable promotion of tourism in Ghana.” ‘Sustainable’, being the key word! If tourism is not organized, with its potential mass movement, it can well destroy a country’s environment including its culture and even its economy. Tour guides provide the trajectory within the scheme of things, skillfully aiding the traveller through the community with knowledgeable commentary so as to sustain the mythology of the culture, and the pleasure of the traveller.

 Both Passah and Yirenkyi are very keen to see a higher level of professionalism within the guiding sector in relation to the packaging of tours in Ghana. They understand its importance and are upholding all they can to see that the objectives of the association are met. Objectives that include promoting the scientific study and practice of the trade, and creating a platform and systems for professional development, maintenance and marketing of the association, as well as determining, developing and sustaining acceptable training, certification, licensing and operational procedures.

Capacity building

It is worthy of note to appreciate also that, since March 2011, the association has been able to launch its website – www.ghanaguides.com - and regularly undertake familiarization tours to some tourist facilities in the country. Also with support from the sector ministry, and the Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF) they secured funding from the Skills Development Fund (SDF) of The Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET) to train 173 (instead of 163 that were budgeted for) of our members in eight regions.

 With the radical evolution in international travel, the association is working to make more relevant its mandate and need, and intends to strengthen its Research and Development Committee to explore germane topics/subjects that would help in their service delivery. There certainly is a need to “get with the times”, as Passah put it.

 There are plans to have more collaboration with GHATOF and reach out to other players in the industry, while identifying needs to fill gaps in some aspects of service quality capability. “We believe an intervention to address this will help make tour guiding comprehensive. Consequently, TORGAG will continue to seek support from various agencies in areas of skills development for our members. We are looking at language skills as well fellowship and exchange programmes to understudy other internationally reputed Tour Guides in France, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa,” espouses president Yirenkyi.

Tourism is set to grow globally, and Ghana needs to be poised for this growth. It won't be easy to wipe out the massive, ever growing tribe of ‘tourists’ visiting places across the globe, with today’s figures standing at more than 700 million "tourist arrivals" each year. The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) forecasts that, by 2020, there will be 1.56 billion tourists travelling at any one time. It is indeed time to shape things up!