National tourism agenda: why not first things first?

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

As reported in this paper recently, in the January 19 issue, there are plans for a chain of hotels, to be known as ‘Akwaaba Hotels’ to expand the hospitality industry. The targets are mostly low budget domestic and foreign tourists.

The Akwaaba (meaning ‘Welcome’) Hotels project was announced by Catherine Afeku Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture. Her ministry will be partnering private investors to build the chain across the country “to provide affordable accommodation to people who patronise the country’s tourist attractions.”

The high cost of hotel accommodation has often been cited as a major cause of the low numbers of domestic tourists.

Illustrating the January 19 report was what looked like an artist’s impression of an Akwaaba Hotel: a building with a V-shaped entrance, topped by two circular levels which look like wedding cake tiers. My verdict: a most unattractive design!

If the Ministry wants to introduce a chain of hotels for its purposes, why not organize a national competition for interested architects to submit designs for the best to be chosen?

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And I have a few more questions for Mrs Afeku: has her ministry investigated why existing hotels are so expensive? If yes, what were the findings with regard to electricity and water bills?

Will the Akwaaba Hotels be put on a different, less expensive billing for their electricity and water? What about staff salaries?

Furthermore, who goes out of their way to invest vast sums of money to build a hotel and then, without justification, begins charging rates beyond the pocket of the average client?

It has been reported that the World Bank is to give the ministry a grant of GH¢50million, which indicates that the Bank finds merit in the ministry’s plans. However, my view is that Mrs Afeku needs to tread extremely cautiously.

I suggest that the ministry should first work to solve the problems hampering the operations of the existing hotels so that they become affordable. After all, the hotels are already in existence and it might take less effort, and time, to help them carry out the tourism agenda than to start this new venture.

If she succeeds and in future the Akwaaba concept becomes a reality, obviously the newcomers, too, will benefit from the improved terrain because the hurdles would have been removed.

Therefore, my suggestion to the Minister published last year in this column still applies (June 30, 2017, ‘Putting Ghana on the world tourism map: basics first!’). Let’s start, for instance, by ensuring sanitary conditions at tourist attractions; let’s have toilets along our highways and at tourist sites.

“It should be possible for the Ministry of Tourism to facilitate private investment in the building of rest stops on all the highways, perhaps using a standard design approved by the Ministry and stakeholders … (and also to provide) toilets at public places and along the highways ....”

I’ve heard of ‘Adventure Tourism’, involving physically challenging or dangerous activities, which some countries specialise in and which reportedly earns them a lot of money. However, I’m yet to hear of tourists being drawn to a country where finding a decent toilet in towns or on the highways is simply a nightmare.

So, Tourism Minister, before the Akwaaba Hotels, first things first!