For those in Ghana who are big fans of tourism but are often invited to look elsewhere for expensive holiday, business trips and pleasure travels or just for sight-seeing abroad, mostly attracted by huge edifices such as the Eiffel Tower in France or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai among others, your world is about to change because government is set to transform the face of the tourism sector with some big ideas that would make her compete with other tourist destinations in the world. CLEMENT AKOLOH looks into this
Some of the Akufo-Addo led administration’s ambitious ideas for promoting tourism include the erection of a very huge iconic tower in Tema to be known as the “Center of the World Tower” to position Ghana on the international tourism map as the true center of the world since Ghana occupies very unique position on the world map as the nearest habitable land at the intersection of the Greenwich Meridian and the Equator line at only 610 Km from point Zero in the ocean to the land in Tema. Others include the Marine Drive Project comparable to any beach front development in the world and the citing of one of the biggest amusement parks in Africa in the Shai Hills area, among others.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Tourism Development Company (GTDC), Mr. Kwadwo Antwi, believes that the successful implementation of these ambitious ideas by government could unearth the true potentials of the sector to adequately contribute its quota to the economy.
Tourism in Ghana is said to be one of the biggest untapped resources in a country blessed with natural resources, diverse cultural heritage and inundated with historical artifacts which are pregnant with history and trapped into the many forts and castles dotted around the country. These things make Ghana standout among her peers in the league of nations as a worthy candidate to reap in the benefits that tourism offers.
The country is outlined in the south with long and beautiful shorelines, clothed with tall and beautiful mountains and long, serene rivers that flow all the way from the north to empty themselves into the sea in the south; and blessed with the abundance of a shining sun that provides a true sense for a tropical country situated under the equator belt of the world. Most of it all is her people, their way of life, food, clothing and music which although is related to other African and West African people, are very unique to the people of Ghana.
Mr. Kwadwo Antwi, told BusinessWeek that because President Nana Akufo-Addo has identified tourism as a very important tool for economic transformation, he has for the first time in the history of the country, elevated the tourism ministry to a cabinet status.
The elevation, according to him, is to facilitate the smooth implementation of some four key projects and policies that would turn around the fortunes of the tourism industry for the better. And to ensure that the projects succeed, government is looking forward to partner with the private sector to bring the ideas into fruition.
The idea of using the private sector to achieve the stated goals in the tourism sector is in line with government’s view of using government machinery as a catalyst for growth for the private sector, who are expected to create more jobs to employ graduates and other qualified people.
In line with this policy, government resources would be used to work as enabling tools to acquire lands, secure franchises, prepare business cases among other things to woo prospective investors.
According to the GTDC boss, “For whatever investment we are looking for in the tourism sector, we need to demonstrate to an investor that when you put in X over Y period, you can get Z. What it then means is that you should do a proper business case that would demonstrate this to them.
“So our posture as a government is that, working under the Ministry of Tourism, we in the GTDC, being the commercial and investment wing of the ministry are supposed to facilitate these processes for investors. So we are taking whatever little resources we have based on a master plan we have developed for tourism, to acquire the land necessary in all these areas. This is what we are focusing on first of all.”
The Marine Drive Project
The literature view in other parts of the world is that: number one, you develop facing the sea; and number two is that, the closer you are to the shoreline the better off you are supposed to be economically. However, in Ghana it is rather the reverse that is the case. The people have developed with their backs to the sea and the shorelines are occupied by people who are supposed to be the poorest but are living close to a very useful and rich resource.
Government says it wants to change that literature by developing a Marine Drive in the proposed Marine Drive Investment Project, specifically as part of the things it is doing to attract more tourists into the country. The Marine Drive Investment Project is looking at the development of about 241 acres of land on the beach front from the Old Castle area to the Baden Powel Hall on the High Street, Accra.
The project is therefore a modern beach front development that would give you all the things you would need to see at a typical Miami Beach, Dubai beach or a Cape Town beach front which often justifies why one would want to pay an X amount of dollars to fly out to go and experience. According to Mr. Antwi, “We want to try and reverse that by creating that here. You would have your hotels, you would have your casinos, you would have your amphitheaters, you would have your jetties, you would have your malls and conference facilities and all the things you would want to see on your typical beach front, we want to try and do it here.
“That land has been acquired compulsorily by government, compensation paid to the allodia owners and chiefs already and all those who are there to be resettled would be resettled so that government can develop it by giving the land to the investor, hold it in equity and build a stake ultimately when the development is done. So the Marine Drive is one and a very ambitious project attracting Tourists.”
Ghana, Center of the World project
Government is also working on the very ambitious Center of the World Project which is looking at positioning Ghana as the Center of the world. Though the project focuses on Tema as the focal point of activity, it is looking at Ghana as a whole. Geographically on the world map, Ghana has the longitude line running through it at 0.0 Degrees. The Equator line also passes its way. Now, where the Greenwich Meridian interfaces with the Equator line at 0.0 Degrees, though it is in sea the closest habitable land is Tema. From Point Zero in the sea to Pillar One in Tema is about 611 Km, which would cover a distance from Accra to Kumasi. But in terms of habitable land, Tema is the closest in the whole world.
Government has noted that no other country can claim that and that all the other countries that have the Greenwich Meridian running through them cannot boast of this crossing. Indicating that other countries may have the Equator itself running through their country but do not have the longitude line. Senegal also has the Greenwich running through it but does not have the equator line. Same applies to London, which is touted as being the center because it has the Greenwich line passing through but it also doesn’t have the Equator line.
So the habitable land with 0.0% crossing is Ghana. So the issue is what will be done with this which hasn’t been done in such a long time. The CEO of the Ghana Tourist Development Authority, Mr. Kwadwo Antwi, informed Business Week that, he together with his team, have identified four iconic projects which they want to work on. The first one is the enhancement of a Golf course somewhere in Tema where the Meridian line runs through the hole seven. According to him, they already have the concept paper which is currently being worked on so that they will get some conceptual development of what it would look like.
The second one is a hemisphere crossing indicator which would indicate to people which side of the hemisphere they have crossed into in some particular places in Tema where there exists this unique transition from the Western hemisphere to the Eastern hemisphere. The CEO pointed out that there is a traffic light near the Golf course that marks a point of departure from one hemisphere to the other since it has the meridian line passing through it.
He observed that, if for instance one was having a digital compass and crosses over to one side of the traffic light, it will indicate that one is in the Western Hemisphere and if one crosses to the other side, it will also tell one is in the Eastern Hemisphere. “So we want the architects to give us something that would indicate a hemisphere crossing. Something huge that would let us know and would for instance say welcome to the Western or Eastern Hemisphere.”
There is a Presbyterian Church named the Greenwich Presbyterian church in Tema. There is a place in that church which has been demarcated for offering of special prayers where the Greenwich Meridian passes through the church. It is believed that God is there and therefore when people pray there they get their prayers answered. Government wants to capitalize on this as the third concept related to the Center of the World Project to create a home grown spiritual sanctuary that will offer unique spiritual experiences for the religious tourist right here in the country.
The fourth concept is biggest, toughest and the most ambitious of all the concepts. According to Mr. Antwi, they have secured a 1.5 Acres land with the Meridian line running through it where they want to build a very huge iconic tower to be known as Center of the World. “This is going to be the main point where we would develop our iconic project, where if you see the Eiffel tower anywhere in the world, you know you are in Paris, France. If you see the Burj Khalifa today, you know it is Dubai. If you see the London Bridge, nobody tells you where it is. If you see the Empire State building, you know you are in New York.
The vision is to raise our own iconic tower in the country. Huge edifice, the biggest thing in this country as high as possible, once it will not be in flight path with a beaming light that can be seen everywhere and we will call it Center of the World.”
One of the unique features of this tower is that government is hoping to deploy a technology that would give visitors a 3D virtual tour on the water that would take them to the Point Zero on the sea itself. “While on the virtual tour on the sea, we are told that one can take a photograph there and it would be given to you on your return where you can see yourself there physically. So it is as if you walk on the water or sat in a speed boat that took you there to the Point Zero in the sea. Once you wear the thing and you take a tour, it will take you there. We will call it Center of the World or Point Zero Tour.”
The proposed amusement park in Shai Hills
Government has conceived the idea of turning a large portion of land situated in the Shai Hills area into a huge playing area for kids and teens, comparable to Disneyland in the USA. This ambitious idea undoubtedly would require a very huge amount of investment to accomplish and therefore a considerable amount of time would have to be spent to detail the project to determine the cost, the benefits and the potential leasing period to a prospective investor.
Mr. Antwi observed that to build an amusement park in the Shai area that occupies a huge acreage of land, his outfit has to build a business case that demonstrates to an investor that government is looking for X amount. If an investor comes in to give this amount of money, GTDC needs to demonstrate the viability of the project given some factors that can be scientifically measured and economically proven such as: the traffic that would be generated; given access; given the economic situation among others. And then convince them that when they take out their CAPEX and play it all out in the arrow Y left, it could be projected that in a matter of say five years the investment would pay for itself. So they would have from year six to recoup and make profit.
“And therefore if you want to do a leasing contract with them, you should sign for let’s say 20 years. That kind of thing, if you wait for an investor to do, they usually won’t take you serious. So whatever resource we have, we would use it to build some of these business cases so that when you find an investor who is ready you can demonstrate it to them. This is how much it will cost, if you put your money in here in X period you will get your Y.”
Development of 20 shortlisted commercially viable tourist sites
Looking at the entire country and the sheer number of potential tourism sites that exists government has to devise a plan to deal with it systematically. It has earmarked for development, some 20 commercially viable tourism sites across the country.
Government is building a business case for these selected sites for some basic infrastructure to be put up to encourage more visits. The number that needs to be improved in terms of existing sites, the new ones that would need to be brought on stream among others. Some of the sites are natural and do not need much value addition.
According to the GTDC Chief Executive, government is acquiring lands around these facilities. “Even when we have decided on the 20, we have to scale it based on the availability of resource, funding and investment, for that matter, we may say let’s do five and do it well, then we do another 10 and do another 5, it depends.
“We have variety based tourism depending on the locality: the coast, or in the forest area or up north there in the tropics, you would have variety, offering different things at different times. For example, water parks, teen parks, business parks and all of that. So they are not things that would take forever in terms of its delivery, but they are things that we are working on within the shortest possible time to achieve.
“There is a score card in developing this metrics for the 20 sites: Access is one of them, do we have a road network that takes us all the way to that place easily. If it is not there, is it something that we can make a case for and it will be dealt with immediately. It means that it would not just be tourism but there could be other things that we may need to look at. Is there a factory that can be sited there as well to make a case? Is there a hospital or is there a school? All the things that we would use this score card to determine to make it viable.
The GH Akwaaba Hotels
There is a formula in tourism economics which equates time spent at a tourist site that determines how competitive or economically viable a particular site is. In order to ultimately get people to stay longer at the sites government is acquiring properties around these sites to build reception facilities. So that the site is there but there is a place where people can sit, can eat and have a toilet facility and children can play around. Because there is the need to have a system where when people visit a site, they spend a lot more time there.
In pursuit of this plan, government has decided to build low budget hotels which they want to call GH Akwaaba Hotels and attach them to all the tourist sites across the country to provide reception and accommodation for tourists. “So if we go to Kakum, we cannot build another Kakum but there is a concept the minister came up with for low budget hotels which we want to call the GH Awaaba Hotels.
“We want to tie the GH Akwaaba Hotels to tourist sites. For example, one of the challenges in Kakum is accommodation. Immediately you would know that we need to put some accommodation infrastructure there. People want to be able to go and sleep, they want to stay at night and do trail hiking at night. That is another part of tourism we have not explored. People go at hiking at night and see animals because during the day most of the animals are scared so they run away. If you put the structure there, people can sleep and be able to do that.”