A few days ago, the media set that agenda, which generated a lot of national conversation on that disturbing topic.
Sex tourism, according to one definition, “is to travel to engage in sexual activity, particularly with prostitutes.”
Another definition also says it involves “trips organised within the tourism sector, or outside this sector but using its structures and networks, with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at the destination.”
An Accra weekly set the tone for this discussion without cross-checking with the relevant agencies as to what constitutes sex tourism and what goes into branding a destination as such.
Countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico among others nations, have been widely acclaimed as destinations where sexual exploitation is pervasive.
In those countries, prostitution is not considered a crime whereas in Ghana, prostitution is a serious crime which is punishable under the law.
Tourism is dynamic and is going through changing times and that is why regulatory agencies must be on the lookout, especially in vulnerable countries such as Ghana.
The services of the escort agencies, who serve as go-betweens or intermediaries, especially for tourists or expatriates, and provide clientele for prostitutes are of great concern. These clients include tourists from Ghana’s major generating markets in North America, Europe, the Caribbean and some West African countries. Sex tourism has been closely linked to poverty.
The use of the Internet in travel and accommodation arrangements has sidelined the conventional ways of travel, that is through travel and tour operators or intermediaries. These days, services can be anonymously accessed through the computer or mobile telephones, thus, making it difficult to trail travellers and their modus operandi and increasingly making it easy for them to access sex services.
To this end, the profile of paedophiles and patrons of prostitution or sex purveyors has changed. Far from the old male paedophiles of yesterday, the present day sex tourists exploiting the vulnerable are mostly young. These days, women are also exploiting young people for sex in certain destinations.
Sex exploiters are not short term tourists. instead, they are visitors who make frequent visits to one country. These long- term visitors or tourists make friends and establish relationships in local communities, a situation which helps them get away with their wicked acts without the least suspicion. With the increase in the number of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere where foreign nationals are encouraged to buy property and stay longer, the opportunity for sex exploiters to integrate into local communities is becoming widespread.
By policy, Ghana does not promote mass tourism, that is the type of tourism where chartered aircraft full of tourists are flown to a destination. This type of tourism promotes sex tourism.
Ghana’s tourism targets the business, conference and leisure tourists, or the up market category or the big spending visitors who we encourage to stay longer by packaging our history, culture, ecology and other products to create opportunities for them to spend.
As a country, we are aware of the changing times and the fact that there are vestiges of prostitution existing in Ghana. In the first 15-year Tourism Development Plan which was packaged in 1995, it was revealed that prostitution did exist in Ghana and was supported to a considerable extent by tourism.
The motivation for many prostitutes, according to research, is not only for economic survival, but an opportunity to make more money than they would in other possible occupations available.
Again, it must be emphasised that Ghana’s social carrying capacity cannot also support sex tourism, which is generated from mass tourism.
This is because by policy, Ghana prefers a moderate level of tourism development and use, which could bring social and cultural benefits and not generate serious problems, whereas an excessive level of tourism development and use may reduce benefits and exacerbate problems.
As a result, an appreciable level of tourism development needs to be maintained for each tourism attraction or site. This could be observed particularly as an important policy in traditional areas that are more vulnerable to undesirable social changes. The social carrying capacity must, therefore, be considered along with environmental carrying capacity in order to arrive at appropriate capacity levels.
Why sex tourism cannot be countenanced in Ghana is that the country’s tourism carrying capacity is a basic consideration in achieving sustainable tourism development. Again, sex tourism is not taken into consideration in planning our national and regional tourism policies, plans and projects, which are based on the premise of sustainable development. Ghana cannot, as a country, bequeath to future generations tourism products that are built on sex.
Most prostitutes prefer tourists, and, especially, white tourists as customers because they pay appreciably more than local or regional West African customers.
Ghana government’s policy on tourism warns that if prostitution is allowed to spread, it could have far reaching negative consequences on the country as a quality, non-mass tourist destination, hence the law enforcement agencies’ high handedness on that social menace. Prostitution, as we are all aware, leaves in its wake venereal diseases such as HIV and AIDS, gonorrhoea, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases.
In South-East Asia, countries such as the Philippines and Thailand have become internationally known for sex tourism. This has tarnished their image as desirable destinations for many types of tourists and these countries are now trying to improve their respective images.
Some countries in West Africa are also being associated with sex tourism, which distorts their image as credible destinations.
In any case, Ghana has sufficient attractions based on its history, culture, and natural environment and other touristic assets and does not use sex tourism as an attraction.
Sex tourism would be counterproductive to the types of tourism and tourist markets that Ghana wishes to develop and promote based on its tourism development and policy.
That is why the Ghana Tourism Authority will go to any length to arrest prostitutes or sex offenders who operate at night clubs and brothels together with the law enforcement agencies in occasional swoops.
Prostitution is illegal in Ghana and is punishable by law and that is why offenders are arrested and put before our law courts. In countries which are designated sex tourism destinations, prostitution is not an offence. That is the difference between Ghana and those countries.
The desire to make Ghana a non-sex tourism destination is a national crusade which requires all hands to be on deck. In our tourism behaviour code, tourists are advised to be discreet about their sex lives and to also avoid fondling or any intimate physical contact such as kissing publicly.
By Ben Ohene Ayeh/Ghana