– let’s enhance the experience to make our national tourism globally attractive
The two-day Tourism Summit that took place at Peduase – Aburi in the Eastern Region, on 29/30 May 20223, where key stakeholders in our Tourism space deliberated enthusiastically on Ghana’s Tourism potential was insightful. The two-day summit was on the theme, “Rethinking Tourism for Economic Growth and Job Creation.” It was organised by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture and the Ghana Tourism Authority. Some 400 participants took part in the event. The summit aims to encourage critical thinking about tourism’s future and its impact on national development.
Kudos to the Minister of Tourism Creative Arts and Culture Dr. Ibrahim Mohammed Awal and the CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Mr. Akwasi Agyman for successfully organizing this event. His Excellency the President, Nana Akuffo Addo, whose presence at the event added weight to the significance of the occasion among others, suggested that players in the industry must adopt a four-fold approach – Preservation, Promotion, Policy Leadership, and Partnership – to make the tourism sector a driving force for national development. It is worthy of note that The President sat through the entire first session of the event.
Also present were key public agencies such as the National Commission on Culture, The National Theatre, The Immigration Service and Academic Institutions among others. As would be expected the private sector was well represented. The travel agencies, airlines, hoteliers, restauranteurs, chefs, tour guides name them. Also present were Diaspora organizations, event organizers, artists, travel writers, bloggers, and journalists. To sum this up there was a good representation of stakeholders in the Tourism and Hospitality space as well as Traditional Authorities led by Nana Otoobuor Djan Kwasi II, Aburihene and Adontenhene of Akuapem.
The Country Director of the World Bank Pierre Laporte was there to add his voice to the conversation and mentioned the World Bank’s support to Ghana’s Tourism Sector. The CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority Mr. Akwasi Agyman shared the vision of his organization to make Ghana the destination of choice for travelers “seeking authentic experiences”. The Ministry aims to achieve a target of two million international arrivals by 2025 resulting in potential earnings of $4bn. Great ambition for a country with great tourism appeal, I share the optimism and hope that we can hit the right levers to realise this dream within the target timeline of two years.
Topics discussed included jumpstarting the economy using tourism as a key driver, easing the business environment for tourism growth, tech and data-driven growth in tourism, and building synergy to mention a few. Let me share my excitement here about the fact that this forum took place and has birthed a desire to scale our tourism sector to high levels for economic impact. As a Customer Experience advocate, I want to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts about driving our tourism by deliberately planning our customer experience as a key differentiator. Here are a few of my thoughts to bring this to fruition.
As was highlighted at the forum, the Covid-19 pandemic affected our tourism industry adversely and was highly disruptive. Thankfully there are clear signs of recovery and I assume that the event has happened as an indication that our leadership has spotted great opportunities and is keenly strategizing to address tourism as a national asset. Here are a few suggestions to add to the ongoing conversation. First, let’s take a serious look at how we differentiate our customer experience (CX), we need to be customer-centric. Second, we must intentionally develop our CX Strategy nationally if we want to be internationally attractive.
Third, we must work on high standards in CX to make Ghana a destination of choice. Fourth, let’s work to break silos and make it easy for tourists to enjoy every bit of the experience we offer which should be the highest standards possible.
Customer Experience as a Differentiator
Tourism as a national asset has great appeal for most of our West African Neighbours. Nigeria for example boasts some key attractions. Lagos is said to be an important location for black cultural identity, with many festivals held there each year in different months. Abuja is home to several parks and green areas with the largest one being the Millennium Park. Sierra Leone has a vast expanse of beaches stretching along the Freetown Peninsula. There are also other popular beaches like the world-renowned River Number 2 Beach, Laka Beach, Tokeh Beach, Bureh Beach, and Mama Beach. The Gambia and Liberia all have their unique appeals.
My point here is that as much we boast great tourism potential for tourist sites and attractions, we face competition within the sub-region. This calls for a unique approach to ensure that we offer a better appeal for the discerning tourist or visitor. We must aim at becoming customer-centric. This is not new to us here in Ghana as we are known to be very hospitable people. However, if we want to earn significantly from tourism, we must be deliberate about customer-centricity. We must make improvements to the customer experience our priority. This way we will attract customers who attach great importance to the quality of services and experiences.
Here is an example to highlight the importance of Customer Experience. a few years ago, I met this Englishman on his way to Ghana. He had just retired and was making his first visit to Africa incidentally he chose to come to Ghana. A Hotel in Elmina offered him an attractive package including a pick-up from the airport to Elmina. They also offered him a tour package which according to him sounded very interesting. The said hotel obviously offered him a unique experience from the start of his customer journey right through to the final touchpoint. Among everything else we are planning let’s seriously consider the customer experience.
Customer touchpoints are critical to the experience. Years ago, on my trip to Singapore, we found ourselves stranded at the airport. We had arrived on a Sunday when nobody was at work. The front desk lady asked who our facilitating ministry was and we informed her it was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although the office was closed the security officer managed to link us to the officer in charge and presto our problem was solved. From our immigration services to our cab and Uber drivers through to hotels and all service points, we must be ready to deliver great experiences to keep our visitors satisfied.
Customer Experience Strategy
To improve our customer experience, we must aim to do the simple things right. Customer experience is about making the customer feel special when interacting with your brand at your various touchpoints. To improve our customer experience, we must aim to offer useful services and offer practical ways of supporting the customer when their needs have to be attended to. This does not really need anything special to please the customer. It is about doing the simple things right. Also, note that customers are emotional, how we deal with the interactions is key to handling customer issues to enhance their experience.
How we anticipate their needs and proactively address them is the game changer here. An airline providing an interactive map on its website to make potential customers’ lives easier is a good example of improving the experience. These days there are Apps that enable you to check in before you get to the airport to save time. Ensuring that the process works uninterrupted is a way of enhancing the experience. A Taxi driver should quote the right fare and avoid taking advantage of a foreigner to charge a rate that is far above the normal for the distance in question. It is all about doing the simple things and doing them right.
Years ago, a client I was consulting for, a Tour operator shared the following with me. According to him the average tourist will come to this country on a budget and expect to enjoy average services. Therefore, these average services must offer decent quality levels to make their stay comfortable. So, he mentioned that you walk into a hotel with a nice frontal ambiance only to find out later that the shower does not work, there’s no hot water, bulbs are not working with no replacement etc. He intimated to me that by addressing these simple things we improve the experience and satisfy our customers.
Note that customer experience is about the customer journey. In that journey, every touchpoint must deliver comparable experiences to keep the customer focused and interested in your brand. To deliver consistent experiences we must ensure that we are deliberate about how we engage customers at our touchpoints. This means our hotels, restaurants, transporters, vendors, tour guides, in fact, all actors in hospitality and tourism understand the importance of customer experience and are committed to playing their part in delivering unique experiences. Our goal is to differentiate our services through the delivery of out-of-world experiences.
Making Ghana a destination of choice
Undoubtedly the representation at the event that took place at Peduase ranged from the public sector, NGOs, private sector, international agencies, and diasporans, an indication that there is a commitment to work collaboratively to achieve the goal of making Ghana a preferred tourist destination. As much as the forum was adjudged by participants as a success there was unanimity in pointing out the importance of the follow-up actions to articulate all the wonderful thoughts and plans that emerged from the event. This event was unprecedented thus to follow through with concrete actions will make this story worth telling.
To make Ghana a destination of choice we must significantly improve the experience. It will require good management structures, regulatory frameworks, governance, and all the hard interventions that will make a difference. We must also seriously consider local participation. Ownership is a key part of getting things done. When you visit the castles, you get the sense that everything is run from Accra. How we change that is key to this endeavour. Imagine a tourist site run by local authorities with local youths heavily involved professionally. In the customer journey, a bad experience at a single touchpoint mars the whole experience.
Let’s note also the usefulness of developing work plans for specific projects and drawing some useful lessons to share nationally. We will be encouraging local interest and developing the capacity to support our tourism industry nationally. We must be willing to think out of the box and deal with the bottlenecks that have stifled our efforts in the past. Bureaucracy, silo thinking, poor culture at all levels, poor leadership, and a lack of system thinking. Drawing from my Singapore experience the country’s transformation plan included a process they termed “One stop shop”. Government services were accessible at one point.
Any business person traveling through Singapore needing to complete a transaction at several public sector entities could do this at one point. If he/she visited the Ministry of Agriculture say, he/she could at that ministry transact all the business with the Foreign Ministry, Finance, and so on. They were configured such that the ministries had representations everywhere which saved the business traveler the inconvenience of physically moving around. Business is fast and minimizes bottlenecks. We need not follow hook line and sinker what is done in Singapore obviously but we must think of innovative solutions to improve our efficiency.
To the question of how we can make our destinations attractive, here is my opinion. A key element of this dynamic is how we can significantly improve the customer experience by creatively adding value. Yes, we need good management structures, regulatory frameworks, governance, and all the hard interventions that will make a difference. I will add to this conversation by saying that Customer Experience is about thinking “Outside-In”, and empathizing with the customer. We must complement all the attractions of our tourist destinations with enhanced experiences.
In planning our customer journey, we must bear in mind that customers are buying the experience, not a physical product! The customer journey starts during the initial phases, with people looking for information, advice, content, or special offers. Additionally, they are looking for reassurance from any companies they might use. Providing future or potential customers with a great experience is pivotal in tourism. To earn the right for a customer to return or become an advocate one must deliver “Moments of Truth” regularly.
To grow our local economies, we will need the full participation of all. This means our local hotels are offering high standards, our restaurants are delivering at the highest level, our cab drivers are well-trained and can deliver professional services, and our local youths can aspire to be tour guides who have received the highest standards of training from our institutions who in turn are delivering fit for purpose curriculums. Our tourist sites are delivering insightful and entertaining services to keep our tourists fully engaged and there is a culture of strong collaboration among stakeholders – public-private sector, NGO’s, Diasporans etc.
The high-level deliberations that took place at Peduase set the tone for new energy in addressing tourism in Ghana. The real impact will come from how we disseminate the beautiful ideas shared and operationalize our agencies to deliver professionally at touchpoints. How the public sector collaborates with the private sector to manage the change by driving the agenda forward will speak volumes for how we intend to achieve our goal of enticing 2 million tourists into the country. I am reminded here, of an African Proverb, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together”. We must develop a strong culture of collaboration to realise the dream.
Let’s aim to go far in this journey. Ayekoo to His Excellency the President, the Honourable Minister, and CEO of GTA for starting the conversation let’s keep talking and follow through with concrete actions. We must not disappoint people who come to our country “seeking authentic experiences”. “Beyond the Return” and other flagship events are helpful but let’s make tourism attraction a regular part of our national drive to grow our GDP by sustaining it all year long.
|The Writer is a Change and CX Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],|