Enhancing sustainability in tourism – the case of Volta Region


By Constance GBEDZO

Tourism in Ghana is considered the “Hidden Treasure”. It is also considered by many as the ‘Hen that Lays the Golden Egg’. Some writers have described tourism is an ‘economic juggernaut’. It’s that huge, powerful and overwhelming force industry that has the potential to transform the economic fortunes of Ghana.

Tourism is ‘a temporary movement of people to destinations outside their regular places of work and residence for purposes of leisure, recreation, personal development or congress, study, health, profession, etc. devoid of any monetary gains’. It is ‘a product of a complex and composite phenomena, which is an amalgam or array of some essential variables which include attractions, sites, events, accessibility, accommodation, catering and entertainments’.

Ghana is undoubtedly an untapped tourists attraction which abounds in a fantastic collection of remarkable attractions, unique and specific to each of the sixteen 16) regions of Ghana.

Indeed, Ghana has wide range of tourist attractions and facilities that can be categorized into four major areas of interest to the tourist in Ghana, namely: establishments, historical heritage, cultural heritage, and natural heritage, which cater to the interests of both international and domestic tourists. Ghana has everything required by the coastal tourists (sun and beach lovers), rural tourists, mountain tourists, city tourists, agricultural tourists, etc. Ghana has great historical underpinnings that are marketable to the globe through tourism.

The sector offers vast array of employment opportunities. The most crucial sectors in tourism include accommodation and transportation activities. Accommodation establishments, such as hotels, hostels, and guesthouses need a diverse workforce, including skilled managers and financial operators to housekeeping and culinary workers. Transportation services require airlines, technicians, and other travel providers. These sectors employ many professionals who contribute to the unified experience of travelers.

Tourism is that crucial for Ghana’s industrial growth. It has the potential to alleviate poverty due to its inclusivity and the sustainability measures needed to ensure a hearty and prosperous tourism workforce. Unfortunately, this is the sector we have paid a lip service to and reduced to sloganeering antics for far too long. As a nation, we need to pay a little more attention to the tourism sector by redirecting appropriate funding for its operationalization.

Sustainable tourism in Ghana

This describes a form of tourism that ‘protects the social and natural environment, and allows for a high level of benefits and/or participation of the local or host communities’.  Others also look at sustainable tourism as that which ‘meets the needs of the present tourists and hosts region while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future’. This definition makes provision for the management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems.

In Ghana, we are beginning to witness expansion into tourism commerce. We require a more rapid development of infrastructure to offer services and accessibility for travelers. In the advanced countries, the public has become weary of the multitudes, and exhausted of jet lag. People have woken to the evidence of environmental pollution, and have begun to search for something new.

Tourists have become environmentally conscious and friendly. People are now enlightened on the environmental needs of destinations and experienced travelers. The publics are yearning for alternatives that offer small-scale dispersed tourism development, with fewer demands on investment and a higher level of community participation. This includes nature walks tours, bird safaris, camel safaris, guided nature walks, horseback safaris, horse racing, barge and car tours, bicycle tours, home and farm stays, youth tourism and an increase in domestic tourism.

Ghana should be taking advantage of this looming market of sustainable tourism or eco-tourism or new tourism or responsible tourism or nature tourism or environmentally friendly tourism. We are endowed with everything to do with ‘Eco –Tourism’, also known as ‘a responsible tourism in which the integrity of both nature and culture are protected so that the benefits of tourism and conservation can be sustained indefinitely’.

Ghana has an environmentally responsible and relatively undisturbed natural areas to enjoy, study and appreciate nature with the potential to promote conservation with low negative environmental impacts, and provide for sustainable or lasting and beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local population.

Ghana has potentials in eco-tourism where our communities can own and run initiatives or run a joint venture with the private sector with equitable community participation, as a means of using natural resources in a sustainable manner to improve their standards of living in an economic and viable way.

All the key elements of community-based eco-tourism that are considered as a sustainable product can be seen and/realized in Ghana. These include; the natural environment has the primary attraction with cultural environment playing a secondary role; sustainable use of the ecological and cultural environments; focus on education and interpretation of the resource and provision of benefits to the host communities; involving the local/host communities in the planning process, allowing them to give their input on the project proposals and perhaps be involved in the implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation of the project.

Ghana therefore, has a sustainable tourism product that is environmentally friendly with minimal footprints on the environment. It has the potential to accept the vulnerability of host communities and cultures, open to state regulation but genuinely democratic, participative, and typically small group/activity related.

We only need to balance the economy with the ecology, enhance its quality with social infrastructure and adopt integration of appropriate technology, make it educational, and get the support of funding agencies and NGOs. We should also be in position to enable the host communities to take active role in such projects.

Classification of tourist sites in the Volta Region

Volta has an impeccable tourist destination with strong cultural, historical, and heritage tourism products, natural eco-tourism sites and authentic and unspoiled destination. The cultural and natural diversity of the Volta has earned it the name the “microcosm of Ghana”.  Volta offers safe and secure destinations to tourists. The people are friendly and warm. Volta has interesting Community Based Eco Tourism sites captures in the figure below:

In the Volta, some local communities are involved in all the planning processes in respect of the development of the resource.  Consequently, tourism management teams have been formed in these communities to manage the resources. In addition, a home lodge schemes or home stays have been introduced in some communities with the premise that home owners act as hosts and involve the tourists in their day to day household, community, cultural, social activities, etc. The idea of a home lodge facility is to offer visitors the opportunity to sample the typical Ghanaian hospitality.

Investment opportunities in Volta tourism

The key objectives of the eco-tourism program include; increase opportunities for private sector growth in rural areas, ensure sustainable natural resource management, biodiversity and eco-tourism conservation as well as cultural protection at sites, build capacities of institutions to sustainably manage natural resources, biodiversity and eco-tourism, and to reduce poverty in local communities by boosting income, creating jobs and promoting income-generating activities.

Eco-tourism has the potential to create direct employment where individuals are directly involved in creating tourism output. These include hotels, airlines, travel agencies, tour operators, museums, national parks, state parks, and cruise lines. These industries exclusively cater to tourists and operate primarily because of their presence.  Players also cater to travelers seeking immersive and authentic eco-friendly experiences by further tailoring its sustainability offerings, collaborating with local communities, and meeting the demand for genuine local experiences. This can assist to unlock potential for authentic cultural interactions.

The ripple effect extends to various sectors that create indirect jobs, such as travel agency staff, guides, taxi and bus drivers, food and beverage suppliers, laundry service workers, textile workers, gardeners, souvenir shop staff, and airport employees. These employment opportunities are critical for the success of tourism, as they offer crucial support services to the primary tourism providers.

Sustainable eco-tourism finance

In view of the potentials of eco-tourism, Volta requires further investments to ensure sustainable tourism sector in the Region. We need to advocate for dedicated sustainable funding from the donor agencies, government, and financial institutions to unlock the many potential being held in the sector.

We need to appreciate the fact that sustainable finance has taken prominence in recent times in the wake up to the growing involvement of large investors internationally. The financial institutions are in search of investment opportunities in enterprises designed to create value in financial return, and for society as a whole, by contributing to the attainment of a sustainable programs with focus on comprehensive growth and/or climate wealth over the medium to long term. Financial institutions are currently designing sustainability finance products and/or services in the areas of impact investing.

The tourism sector is ripe for grab. The sector is preparing to attract tourists seeking a tranquil escape, and eco-tourists dedicated to preserving the environment. To elicit support from impact investors, players need to anchor their core activities on providing a unique eco-conscious vacation experiences to their clients. This would enable them to expand with reputation for harmonizing luxury and sustainability.

These finances are needed in the development of social infrastructure, boost private sector capital in eco-tourism ventures, skills development, policy reforms, and technology adoption, and to promote partnership participants.

Social Infrastructure: The road network to tourism attraction sites, rest stops, tourist information offices, water, electricity supply, etc. need to improve. There is need for adequate accommodation facilities. This would enable players diversify their luxury offerings by understanding guest preferences and creating tailor-made experiences, offer luxury accommodations, spa services, water sports, and guided eco-tours and serve as a hub for sustainability initiatives; such as marine conservation and local community engagement. Players need to host numerous high-profile events and corporate groups, by developing special events and themed experiences, players will reduce the impact of seasonal fluctuations and maintain year-round appeal.

Skills and knowledge: Players need focus on skills development and innovation, entrepreneurial and business management skills through workshops, seminars, and eLearning modules to address lapses in service quality. There is also burgeoning unmet opportunities in in the sector. To capitalize on these opportunities, the players need to enhance the managerial skills across the industry, and leverage their strengths in sustainability and community engagement. Players need to focus on skills development, and innovation to address lapses in service quality, marketing and technology adoption. There is also the need to enhance marketing efforts and create awareness about the tourism potentials in the Volta. This aims to promote and develop domestic tourism of Ghana.

Policies reforms: The industry requires proactive government policies regarding tax incentives, environmental conservation, and land acquisition for development, and finances. Donor involvements are required to address these investment and environmental issues. We need to enhance the commercialization of the tourism activities in feeding the monkeys by tour operators, recruitment and retention of well-trained guides, improvement of arts and craft centres, and product quality to enhance excitement over products and services of the sector.

Technology adoption: The players recognize that adaptability and agility are vital to navigate the dynamic tourism industry. There is therefore the need for investments in eco-friendly technology and unique ecotourism experiences that can attract eco-conscious travelers. This would go a long way to improve product quality and enhance excitement over the products and services of the many hotels, lodges and restaurant in the Region. It would also help to formalize business operations in the industry and attract funding.

I conclude with advocacy for sustainability. There is the need to ensure that hotels, lodges and restaurants and road infrastructures and other amenities are constructed with little disturbance to the landscape; enhance the use of renewable resources, encourage re-using and recycling waste products; and protective environmental policies that set out to replace destructive environmental activities in the region.

To ensure sustainability, operators must reduce the environmental footprint through waste reduction, energy efficiency, and water conservation with the help of eco-friendly technologies and experts. Also, staff will adopt eco-friendly practices to reduce industry’s environmental impact and enhance productivity by minimizing inefficiencies.

The key players needs to transform the region into a sustainable and leading eco-friendly destination in Ghana’s hospitality and tourism industry. This must involve engaging with local communities, innovating in eco-tourism, improving service quality through feedback and training, enhancing marketing efforts, adopting advanced sustainable practices, and ensuring adaptability to market changes, thus ensuring long-term sustainability, competitiveness, guest satisfaction, and positive contributions to the local community and environment.

At Commodities Investments Ghana Ltd (CIGL), we believe this has the potential to appeal to eco-conscious travelers.

>>>the writer is a Governance Expert

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