Set aback by millenia of global disruptions, mainly wars and pandemics, tourism in Ghana, like any other country, has borne the brunt of a devastating ravine in our tourism peaks in recent times.
Like other Black Swans, highly impactful but unpredictable events in centuries before, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed tourism for good. On the positive side, it has proven to be a catalyst in driving digital transformation, digital adoption, digital consumption, innovation and growth.
Among the types of inbound tourism in Ghana that have been rising stars is business tourism, and in particular Meetings, Incentives, Conventions (Conferences) and Exhibitions, MICE for short. It is true that both public and private sectors of Ghana tourism have jointly embarked on annually selling Ghana as a destination abroad at various trade fairs and exhibitions. However, inbound MICE tourism, whereby Ghana is the host, is just a dot on the map. It is an active process of pitching, bidding and hosting international MICE activities just like it is done in sports tourism for the FIFA World Cup, etc. It is about having the right infrastructure for facilitating MICE activities just as much about corporate and business travel.
And this is where the private sector has taken the lead to break the spell of COVID-19 on Ghana’s third largest foreign exchange generator with the staging of INTER-TOURISM EXPO 2021, which was outdoored at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC) last September. Key to the discussions was how to get the government to recognize and prioritize business tourism, especially the meetings industry, in policy making.
Capturing the importance of MICE as a keystone into tourism policy is the surest way of guaranteeing uninterrupted development in that direction irrespective of change in government. Setting up a Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is not just a public relations (PR) matter for scoring political points, but a strategic move in delineating the business of tourism industry regulation from tourism industry marketing.
A CVB is a destination marketing organization (DMO), completely different from a National Tourism Organisation (NTO) such as the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA). If not planned carefully, the NTO ends up micromanaging and suffocating the CVB in the struggle for resources and in the duplicity of functions. Unfortunately, Ghana may need a Legislative Instrument (LI) to set up an independent fully functional CVB that works in alliance with local government to promote a city such as Accra.
The Accra Tourist Information Center (ATIC) is still awaiting efficient and effective use since the Japan government funded it’s construction through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). How many tourists walk into a brick and mortar information center these days? Data, please?
Pre-4IR Ghana Tourism Strategy 2013-2027
The current reference document for Ghana’s tourism development is the “15-year National Tourism Development Plan (2013-2027), a strategic guide that does not have the following Tourism 4.0 words: “technology”, “smart”, “artificial intelligence”, “robotics”, “augmented reality”, “virtual reality”, “mixed reality”, “platformization”, “digital”, “metaverse”, “seamless travel”, “disruption”, “innovation”, “digital ecosystem”, etc. It should not be surprising if Ghana’s approach to digitalizing tourism is unfocused and unfolding at snail’s pace in spite of the speed at which the current government is pursuing digitalization. “Why did the drafters lack the foresight to include all the above futuristic development in such a strategic document?”, one might be tempted to ask. And where was the Tourism Private Sector? The Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF), unfortunately, has taken a drunkard’s walk and drifted away from its original mission as a powerful industry advocacy organization. Beset by conflagrations of governance and financial transparency issues, GHATOF’s influence has been that of a “non grata” status around the tourism industry table. GHATOF is dancing on a drifting and melting iceberg where change and progress is a mirage.
It fails to attract millennials and generations before who would otherwise inject energy and innovation into tourism business development in Ghana. GHATOF used to have two seats on the Board of the GTA but now they have none. Given the present circumstances, GHATOF will need a careful evaluation of its relevance in the tourism industry as other federated groups are emerging.
Since independence, a number of key Inbound MICE activities set the stage to propel Ghana into hosting business events. Down memory lane, the opener in the twentieth century was the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Conference in the days of Ex-President Kwame Nkrumah and then the Non-Aligned Movement Conference (NAM) in Accra in the days of Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings. Then came the Jehovah’s Witnesses massive Convention in Ghana, African Union (AU) Conference in the days of Ex-President Kuffuor, etc.
Whither Big Data?
Unfortunately, West Africa score lowest on business tourism according to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR) 2019. South Africa is top scorer in Sub-Saharan Africa with MICE. Ghana’s performance is abysmal in the areas of Air Transport Infrastructure, Ground and Port Infrastructure, Tourism Service Infrastructure and Business Travel. This buttresses complaints of MICE tourists in Ghana regarding their experiences. The TTCR 2019 ranks Ghana as 115th globally ahead of Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Mali but below Senegal and Gambia in our competitive set.
In a global ranking by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) statistics report 2019, Ghana ranks 82nd with 17 meetings in 2019 hosting less than 10,000 MICE tourists. Accra as a MICE City Destination ranks 191st out of 474 cities, and hosting 15 of the meetings in 2019. Ghana (ahead of Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal) and Accra (ahead of Durban, Addis Ababa, Abidjan, Casablanca, Maputo, Mombasa, Abuja, Tunis, Gabarone) both rank 8th in Africa as MICE destinations.
All the statistical data in the world on Ghana Tourism shall remain meaningless unless the industry learns to extract useful patterns from the analytics and big data. There are a lot of useless statistics out there simply because the capturers need to be reskilled and upskilled to move them up the ladder into the 4IR era. Backward lagging useless data is not very useful for any practical purposes whether for the government or for businesses.
Fast forward to MICE tourism in the twenty first century Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and we are looking at Ghana as an “Intelligent and Smart Tourism Destination” where screen tourism, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technologies, blockchain technology, big data, near field communication (NFC) technologies, digital gamification and artificial intelligence (AI) lead the way. But are we any close to this reality as a Tourism Destination? The COVID-19 pandemic made business travel expendable with little emotional attachment as remote work became the new normal. Ghana tourism must adopt a digital culture and deploy, innovatively, state of the art technology systems if we intend to venture into Smart Tourism and position Ghana as such. This means that our cities must also become “smart”, especially, Accra. Accra may not be the Dubai of West Africa or Africa as a whole but tracking the steps Dubai took to reach a “Smart City” status is not far from reach. Dubai started in 1999 and accomplished it in 2015, sixteen years in the making, from ICT Strategy to Big Data Act (Law). “Smart Dubai” has been launched and has an office. Uber airplane taxis, Dubai government blockchain strategy, Smart Dubai Index, Happiness Meter Index, are all measures in place to establish and promote Dubai as Smart City and a Smart Tourism Destination. Dubai’s vision is captured as: “To become the happiest city in the world”, and they seem to be on track in executing on it.
A lot of political nation branding have come and gone, simply because they were just part of the politics and not a concerted effort to brand the nation Ghana let alone position it properly in the minds of consumers for the various determinants that it is composed of. Brand Finance ranks Ghana as 72nd (below Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Morocco) among the world’s top100 most valuable brands in 2020. The Bloom Consulting 2019-2020 Country Brand Rankings Tourism Edition puts Ghana at 13th in Africa (ahead of Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Cute d’Ivoire). Bloom uses Digital Demand, Country Brand Strategy by the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), Tourism Economic Performance and Online Performance (using GTA website analytics and Social Media) as metrics. Ghana, however, has an “A” (Slightly Strong) rating compared to Nigeria “AA” (Strong) and Mali “AA”.
The big question is: “Good brand, Bad brand, how do we position Ghana as a MICE Destination in this 4IR era?”. To this, there are more questions that answers, you bet.
Positioning is not an isolated activity but is more meaningful within a sound competitive marketing approach and in a branded environment.
Positioning begins with where we are perceived to be in the minds of MICE tourism consumers and not where we think we are. Getting this mindshare is an important step in the process of gaining market share in the African MICE market. Mindshare can be converted into market share if the right strategies are deployed. Big data can only reveal the reality. And where we would like to position Ghana as a MICE destination is not just matter of ideas and simple imagination. A lot of the positioning we have erstwhile earned as a nation have been due to default branding thanks to our competitors and their misdeeds. But we can no longer afford default branding and positioning in this post-truth fake news and deep fake era. Since over 85% of tourists use some form of digital device to communicate, work and share experiences, only a seamless digital tourism experience in Ghana coupled with “phygital” infrastructural developments to support MICE can guarantee Ghana’s position as a premium MICE Destination in Africa.
In a conversation with the Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber for Tourism Industry Ghana mentioned World rankings aren’t enough to position Ghana and Accra as MICE destinations. Of course, non-performing competitors may make us look good in the rankings but the truth will out via perceptions by MICE tourists who have been here, “seen it” and “done it”.
by Jean Lukaz,
Consultant: Business Strategy, Innovation & Servitization