This week, my guest columnist is Mr Kwasi Addai Mununkum Otchere, a graduate student of the University of Ghana Business School. He makes a compelling case for shifting some public holidays to Fridays or Mondays.
Recently, Dr Randy Abbey made a call for holidays that fall between Tuesdays and Thursdays to be moved to either Fridays or Mondays.
The founder and leader of the Liberal Party of Ghana (LPG), Mr Percival Kofi Akpaloo, has supported this call, with particular reference to how that could be used to improve domestic tourism. These are logical proposals that need attention.
In 2012, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) reported that countries that have strong tourism industries had to first develop their domestic tourism potential.
For example, France, which was number one in terms of tourists’ arrivals in 2012, had 55.5 per cent of tourism consumption coming from domestic tourists.
Other top tourist destinations, such as UK, Spain and USA, had domestic tourism accounting for 60-80 per cent of their tourists’ arrivals. Africa’s most preferred tourist destinations such as Egypt, South Africa and Kenya had 40-70 per cent of their tourists being domestic.
Disappointingly, Ghana’s tourism industry relies heavily on foreign markets, with most of our arrivals being tourists from Western Europe and North America.
Data from the Programme Based Budget Estimates by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for 2019 revealed that out of a total number of 969,794 tourists’ arrivals, only 25 per cent were domestic.
But the lessons from COVID-19 should prompt us to minimise our overdependence on international tourists as it makes our tourism industry susceptible to economic, health and social conditions in these regions.
As a nation, that counts so much on tourism revenue, it is crucial to explore avenues to harness the full potential of the industry.
Deliberate efforts are needed to develop our domestic tourism and one of such avenues is the use of holiday economics to promote domestic tourism.
The term, which originated from the Philippines, means the movement of holidays that fall on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to the nearest Monday or Friday.
The primary goal of such policies is to enliven domestic tourism, reduce disruption to business and production schedules, and give employees long weekends.
The Memorial Day of America has a similar history. In June 1968, the US Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to move four holidays, including Memorial Day (originally May 30), from their traditional dates to a specified Monday to create a convenient three-day weekend. Other holidays that were moved from their traditional dates included Washington’s Birthday and Columbus Day.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January, instead of his actual birth date of January 15, for the same reasons.
When the Uniform Monday Holidays Bill was being debated by the US Congress, the key considerations were that “Three-day holidays offer greater opportunities for families—especially those whose members may be widely separated—to get together. . . .; the three-day span of leisure time . . . would allow our citizens greater participation in their hobbies as well as in educational and cultural activities; Monday holidays would improve commercial and industrial production by minimising midweek holiday interruptions of production schedules and reducing employee absenteeism before and after midweek holidays."
Indisputably, public holidays remain important and life-enhancing occasions in the history of every nation, and the reasons for maintaining them across the world are countless.
However, where a holiday is placed within the week influences how much citizens can benefit from it.
For instance, very few people will use a holiday that falls on a Tuesday to embark on an out-of-town trip for leisure when they must report to work on the next Wednesday.
Meanwhile, whenever a holiday results in long weekends (a Friday or Monday holiday plus Saturday and Sunday), many people take advantage of the extended weekend to engage in tourism related activities and group events.
In Ghana, apart from Farmers Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday holidays that always fall on a Friday or Monday, all other holidays can fall on any day within the week.
The proposal is that it will be economically prudent, if these holidays, especially the secular ones that fall between Tuesdays and Thursdays, are moved to the next Friday.
This will give people the convenience to enjoy longer weekends and could ensure a common schedule for groups to go on holiday trips.
As more people embark on these trips, the hospitality and tourism industries stand to benefit. People will consume more.
The economic activities of commercial transport operators will see improvement, and the aggregate effect will be felt on the economy.
Thus the immediate impacts of these long weekends are expected to be felt on tourism-related services and goods such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, travel and tour agencies, amusement parks and other recreation services.
These increases in personal consumption will consequently translate to increased production of goods and provision of services which will require additional labour.
In terms of productivity, the argument is that workers rely on momentum and continuity of work to reach optimal output.
When we report to work on the first working day of the week, it takes time to get into the rhythm of work. As we go through the week, it gradually gets easier to put our mind into work because we are already psyched up for it.
However, when we encounter a holiday in the middle of the week, we must switch from vacation mode to work mode more than the normal number of times in a week, thereby disrupting our workflow.
To achieve maximum output, holidays and weekends must be grouped together such that they are consecutive and unbroken as much as possible.
The benefits of stringing holidays together may be intangible, but we must remember that productive employees are those who can do the most work in a given period.
The benefits of allowing employees to keep their rhythm may be intangible, but these intangible benefits accumulate and eventually translate to actual financial savings.
The issue is that these are long-term savings, and we must be prepared to think long-term.