Can domestic and intra-Africa tourism be the answer to the effect of COVID-19 pandemic? (1 )

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Since the Coronavirus Pandemic, I have been following discussions on radio and television regarding the effect of the pandemic on the tourism industry both domestically and internationally. Many have called for domestic tourism whiles others have called for intra-Africa tourism as the solution to the impact of covid-19 on the industry especially in Ghana.

It astonishes me that this call is now seriously being considered when all this while we should have taken domestic tourism more seriously and put measures in place to ensuring its success. A survey of senior executives in the travel and tourism industry conducted by Oxford Economics on behalf of the WTTC provided additional insight. Nearly 86% of the respondents found that development of their local tourism industry had led to an increase in local job creation through increased foreign direct investments.

I wrote an article (Tourism Club, the answer to domestic tourism in Ghana) some time back providing a blue print of what we needed to do as a country in the promotion of domestic tourism and that includes the establishment of tourism clubs in schools, churches, companies, communities etc. The more domestic tours are undertaken in Ghana, the more economic activities are generated, and the more local businesses make money, the more local people are employed, the more jobs are created, the more local Ghanaian owned business are stronger and new businesses are set up and the more taxes government receives and the more funds are available to government to undertake and improve infrastructure developments among others across the country.

The survey again revealed that more than 80% of senior executives in the industry confirmed that local businesses outside of tourism have benefited indirectly from tourism development. Industries that benefit indirectly include agriculture, businesses services, construction, and real estate. It therefore means that, the effect of the coronavirus on the tourism industry will extend to other industries. I have taken that campaign i.e. (establishing tourism clubs) to the first and second cycles schools by seeking to establish tourism clubs but up until now, I have not received the required support I need from the Ghana Education Service to ensure its success. I must emphasis that the Ghana Tourism Authority has given us all the support we need and are eager to see domestic tourism thrive in this country. Some radio stations have also taken it upon themselves to ensure that they also promote domestic tourism by organizing tours around the country. Well done.

One big challenge tour operators face in their bid to promote domestic and intra-Africa tourism is that, most Ghanaians who may be interested to partake in domestic tourism fall within the middle or upper class and research show that about 80% or more within this category will prefer driving to their preferred destinations by themselves and go on to make their own accommodation arrangements. The tour operators’ profits will come by making these booking transportation and accommodation on behalf of their clients when organizing tours. Therefore, if these two components are being handled directly by their clients, how do they make money and even talk of profit? Profits they make go a long way to ensure they remain in business. For the lower class, it becomes even more difficult to partake in domestic tourism because they may see tourism as a luxury they cannot afford when their basic needs are not being met.

Studies shown that most people use their disposable and discretionary income for tourism activities which the poor lack. According to the World Bank, as at 2016 Ghana’s poverty rate stood at 56.9 %. Organisation of excursions and tours for schools is a viable option, however one challenge here is that, the schools will want to organise the excursions themselves because they want to make profit at the expense of tour operators. To add insult to injury, they overload the buses carrying these kids flouting road safety measures and putting the lives of these school children at risk. I have highlighted this menace in my previous articles and suggested the right procedures to be followed using the develop countries as point of reference yet it is still ongoing.

Considering the aforementioned points, it becomes difficult for tour operators to lead in the promotion of domestic tourism and just as hotels are closing down, some may also follow soon. Another big challenge tour operator face is the high cost of accommodation making Ghana a very expensive destination to promote. When it comes to festivals, those who attend these festivals make their own arrangements leaving out tour operators. It is the hotels and other forms of accommodation who then benefit. Unfortunately for them, these festivals happen only once a year. How they do leverage during the other times of the year remains a mystery.

When it comes to intra-Africa tourism, there are also many challenges identified. Some of them include the fact that a large number of the African population also live in poverty and poverty is a stumbling bock to travelling. Money is identified as a facilitator in tourism meaning without money it becomes difficult to travel, pay for accommodation and entrance fees at tourist attractions, eat in supposedly expensive restaurants, and purchasing of souvenirs. Another big challenge is the fact that those who can afford to travel around will prefer travelling to destinations like Dubai for their holidays. Such destinations seem more appealing compared to African destinations.

Could it be because it’s difficult traveling around the continent at affordable prices? In some cases, to reach some destinations on the continent, travellers would have to connect in Europe before arriving at their final destinations. This was corroborated by Dr Geoffrey Manyara who works as an Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa. He says “the limited movement of Africans within the African continent has meant that very few, say, East Africans have been to Central or West Africa and vice versa, and hence there is no way of knowing what opportunities are being wasted due to this lack of interaction.”

Another challenge is the borders imposed on us by the Europeans during the colonial days which has allowed trans movement to be difficult even though on paper there are protocols to ease movements, yet on the grounds, there are different stories. This is also corroborated by Elishilia D. Kaaya, CEO of Arusha International Conference Centre.

“The first thing we should do in Africa as a continent is to get rid of the colonial borders. Because Africa is one. We don’t need these borders that are created to control us. Many of the recent developments in Africa are a precursor of having a continent acting in Unison. Infrastructure is key. We need to connect all of Africa by reliable roads. Then we need reliable connections with Airlines, and good air communication among African countries. There is a lot of negativity in the media today about Africa. It is our responsibility to clear the air and ensure Africa is seen for its fantastic beauty and resources.

It is a fact that the AU has established goals to be met by 2063 on the basis of a 10-year implementation targets. First and foremost, the 10-year implementation plan, 2014-2023 seeks to double the tourism sector’s contribution to the continent’s GDP by 2023 from base year 2013, translating into about $338 billion. Additionally, it seeks to double intra-Africa tourism by 2023, that is, travel by African citizens around the African continent for tourism purposes. They recognize that some of the current challenges such as high cost of air transport; poor connectivity; and the unfavorable visa regime need to be addressed in achieving their goal.

According to the African Development Bank’s 2017 Visa Openness Report, Africans on average were required to apply for visas before travel to 55 per cent of other African states, unlike, their European counterparts. The European Union has the free movement of people among its fundamental freedoms and within the Schengen Area, which comprises 26 states, internal borders are a thing of the past. This has resulted in the free movement of goods and services, and, importantly, tourists. It is not by accident, therefore, that Europe now receives almost 50 per cent of global international tourist arrivals. Any person who wants too experience the real challenge in Africa should just travel from Ghana to la Cote d’Ivoire to Nigeria.

The COVID-19 pandemic will worsen things. Already most countries have closed their borders in a bid to curb down the spread. Lockdowns are being implemented across the continent. I don’t see domestic tourism being the solution nor intra-African tourism anytime soon. The reality is that, the situations on the ground were not smooth and post COVID-19 I believe movement of people will be stricter especially at borders. Expert say we should expect at least a 12month recovery period, but I foresee a much longer period. This current situation should at least ensure things don’t remain same post COVID-19 if we hope to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd, a Tourism Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at www.forealdestinations.com or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visit our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations

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