Business News of 2013-12-04

Budget too silent on tourism – Industry player

The General Manager of the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel, Mr Ralph Ayitey, has bemoaned what he describes as the apparent absence of clear policy directions on tourism in the 2014 Budget and Economic Policy Statement.

The budget's silence on the sector, he said, was discouraging players in the industry, especially given that tourism had risen to become the fourth foreign exchange earner for the economy. The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Seth Terkper, who presented the 2014 budget on November 20, confirmed that some US$1.7 billion was earned from the tourism business last year.

He also noted that tourists’ arrivals in the country rose from about 903,300 visitors in 2012 to 993,600 in the first nine months of 2013, a trend the Minister of Finance said was encouraging.

"In 2014, the Ministry (of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts) will facilitate the completion of the Accra Visitor Information Centre and tourist receptive facilities in Axim, Kpetoe, Salaga and Gwollu to improve information dissemination and basic services. It will also increase revenue as well as create employment for the beneficiary communities," Mr Terkper said.

The Coconut Grove GM, however, sees this as too shallow for a sector that is now the fourth biggest foreign exchange generator for the country. "What I realised is that there was a lot of emphasis on oil and gas when in fact oil only brought us about US$770 million in 2012. Now, compare that to tourism where we got US$1.7 billion in foreign exchange earnings and you will see that tourism should have rather received a lot of attention as far as policies are concerned," Mr Ayitey said.

On what his outfit expected the budget to propose for the tourism sector, Mr Ayitey said "I was expecting to hear what the government is going to do to help increase the earnings; like how we are going to ease access to tourism sites, establish a good hospitality training school or at least revamp the Hotel and Catering Training Institute (HOTCATI) to be able to train qualified personnel for the industry, and ease the traffic on the Accra-Cape Coast Road, among others’’.

"Unfortunately, these were not mentioned and that is discouraging to us in the industry," he added. The Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), which regulates the sector, however, said that should not be the case, especially given that the revision of the tourism act in 2011 had already provided it with the tool to develop the sector.

The Deputy Chief Executive Officer in Charge of Finance at GTA, Mr Sampson Donkor, later told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS on November 22 that the revised act had already addressed some of the challenges that the industry players were concerned about.

"The new act gave us the opportunity to market Ghana to the outside world, engage in product development and also created the tourism levy from which we can use to develop infrastructure and promotion. So, I will say that if the budget doesn't mention anything in particular, they (the players) shouldn't be disappointed because we have been given the tool through the new Tourism Act to develop the industry," Mr Donkor said.

He also mentioned plans by the Tourism Ministry to reorganise the HOTCATI for it to deliver qualified personnel for the industry. The Coconut Grove general manager was of the view that part of the earnings from the nascent petroleum sector must be applied to tourism to help develop it.

"I don't think the industry needs something closer to US$50 million. What we are talking about is improvement of the sites and access roads, proper promotion, training of personnel and the like. Even revamping of HOTCATI shouldn't cost much, but because there seems to be no policy for the sector, all these things are left unattended," he added.

Mr Ayitey lamented successive governments’ fixation for the status quo of focusing on minerals, cocoa and petroleum. "But tourism is now showing that given a little push, it can do more than even the oil," he said and called for a change in policy directions in favour of the sector. He also faulted players in the tourism and hospitality sector for failing to draw government's attention to the huge revenue potentials that tourism had for the country.