2
MenuWallOpinions
Articles

COVID-19, a wreck on Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts sectors

HOTEL CLOSED Several tourist sites and hotels have been closed due to the Coronavirus

Tue, 29 Dec 2020 Source: Isaac Arkoh

Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts (TCCA) sectors are among the most affected by the ravaging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The sectors are important for their socio-cultural and economic footprints. They spur innovation, social inclusion, health, education and urban regeneration.

Under these sectors, the venue-based operators such as museums, performing arts, live music, festivals, cinemas are the hardest hit by social distancing protocols. The abrupt drop in revenues puts their financial sustainability at risk and has resulted in reduced wage earnings and lay-offs.

Consequently, there are serious economic repercussions for the value chain - creative arts and non-creative arts sectors.

Cape Coast Castle

To start with, as per the directive from the government, the Cape Coast Castle, Africa's-renowned UNESCO heritage site was initially shut to tourists until the restrictions were eased.

The Central Regional Head of the Ghana Meseums and Monument Board (GMMB), Mr Ato Ashun, said after the “Year of Return” the management of the castle was expecting loads of visitors.

“Many of those who came to Ghana and visited the Castle had advertised the facility well for us and this we anticipated would have brought in many more visitors. From all indications, this year would have been a really good year until COVID-19 smashed our hopes,” he stated.

Even at the peak of the pandemic and closure, Mr Ashun said many people still called to inquire whether the facility was opened.

No visitor, no revenue

However, the facility was shut for more than two months and management was confused as to when it was going to reopen.

Mr Ashun noted that the facility’s source of income was basically from the visits and the closure meant the revenue sources had also been shut. “This is a difficult time for us but we hope to go through,” he stated.

He said the castle currently had only a skeletal staff working to keep the place in shape. “The artisans are available to do their normal routine maintenance such as painting the cannon balls,” he stated.

Virtual tourism

Mr Ashun said for now the GMMB was working on virtual tourism, where virtual visitors would be given a presentation on the facility and a virtual tour to sustain interest in the castle.

He noted that it was unfortunate the pandemic broke out at a time when the castle had begun to reap the fruits of the “Year of Return”. The “Year of Return” was launched to mark the 400 years of the first enslaved African arriving in Jamestown, Virginia.

“Our visits last year were huge. We saw visits we had not seen in the past 20 years and we were anticipating even greater numbers but the pandemic dealt us a big blow. We had about 20,000 visitors in December alone. We were expecting many more this year,” he stated.

Others affected too

As the castle and its staff are affected, so have the other businesses such as restaurants and artifact shops in the castle.

Mr Kobina Manu, a father of four who owns an artefact shop at the castle premises said things were bad. “I am hungry and so is my family because we have been out of business for more than two months. This is not a joke; the impact on our lives and families is too much,” he lamented.

During the visit to the castle, it was noticed that the artefact shops were closed and the artifacts were gathering mildew. Patrons of the shops were mostly visitors to the castle. Now no one entered the castle and so there were no buyers.

Mr Manu said his dependents were all affected. “Every seller here is worse off. It is a worrying situation and we hope COVID-19 goes away soon and we get support to restart our businesses,” he stated.

The Akwaaba Spot, an eatery at the castle also remained closed; its chairs rested on the dusty tables.

Optimism

Mr Ashun said the castle remained a major tourist site in the country and its closure impacted many people and enterprises in different ways.

He was, however, optimistic that after the pandemic all would be done to recover the time and revenue lost by embarking on effective marketing to get visitors.

“The economic impact of the closure is huge. I believe we would get back. It would take time but certainly the Cape Coast Castle would bounce back,” he stated.

Kakum National Park

Sister facility, that suffered same fate was the Kakum National Park (KNP). The Park is made up of mostly undisturbed virgin rainforest and is one of the famous national parks in Ghana with canopy walkways. It is situated about 33km north of Cape Coast.

The Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust (GHCT), managers of the facility said it lost in excess of GH¢400,000.00 in revenue due to the Coronavirus outbreak which culminated in its closure.

Mr Michael Amonoo, the Marketing Officer for the GHCT said the situation had affected the organization's liquidity and rising cost of maintenance over the period.

Cancelled visits

Mr Amonoo said the GHCT had to cancel all its scheduled visits largely by foreigners which was the main source of revenue for the facility. At peak and off-peak seasons, the facility could record not less than 11,000 local and 4,000 foreign visitors per month.

The closure affected other interdependent activities including hotels, restaurants, traders and communities that deriving their livelihoods around the facility. "Except the labourers and security guards manning the forest reserve and the facility, all other employees are at home," he said.

Emancipation Celebration

Also, in July 2020, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) launched the 2020 Emancipation Day celebrations to kick-start activities lined up for the year’s programme.

The celebration, was on the theme: “Our Heritage, Our Strength, with a sub-theme: ‘Leveraging Our Resilience; Black Lives Matter”. It was aimed at rekindling the frame of unity among black people everywhere and highlighting the interconnected nature of their struggles here on the mother continent and in Europe and America.

The celebrations offer the opportunity to travel, enjoy the nightlife, have an exchange of culture. It establishes new relationships, create memories and introduce people to business opportunities and entrepreneurs in Ghana and beyond.

The annual celebrations for the first time is going to be launched virtually via Zoom due to the pandemic, says the Chief Executive Officer of GTA, Mr Akwasi Agyeman.

Sadly, the climax of the celebrations at Assin Manso and others across the country was without the usual pomp and display due to COVID-19. A solemn ceremony was held to climax the celebrations.

The Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs Barbara Oteng-Gyasi, in her address acknowledged the impact of COVID-19 on the celebrations.

She added, “We all know that COVID-19 has impacted how we go about our daily lives. Inevitably, our celebrations this year will look different. COVID-19, however, has provided us with the opportunity to be more creative, to have more focus on our local arts and culture, and to make sure our heritage is properly recognised.”

Mr. Stephen Mensah, who had travelled from Accra to witness the event expressed his disappointment about the low patronage. He said persistent police brutalities and the criminalisation of African-American males, including the recent killing of George Floyd in the US we're worrying. They point to an enduring, pervasive and bigoted world view fuelled by feelings of racial superiority among sections of the Caucasian population.

Mr John Baidoo, a dealer in Arts and Crafts, was equally disappointed at his low sales and blamed it on COVID-19 amidst travel restrictions across the World.

“Tourism, arts and culture can surely contribute to this ideal. This sector of our economy has the potential to create economic opportunities in the country and I will like to urge Nananom and the local government authorities to effectively collaborate with to develop the tourism industry in this area."

Aviation Standstill

Making Ghana a regional and international aviation hub was one of President Akufo- Addo’s objectives upon taking office in 2017. There has been much progress. The Kotoka International Airport in Accra was ranked number one in 2019 for airports receiving between 2 million and 5 million passengers by the Airports Council International. The facility won the Airport Service Quality Award.

Beyond the $275 million investment in Kotoka Airport, the Kumasi, Tamale and Sunyani airports are also benefiting from major improvements to infrastructure.

This aviation ambition is linked to the creation of jobs. It is also strongly linked to the National Tourism Development Plan, which aims to achieve 8 million tourists per year by 2027. Most of them will arrive in the country by air and they are expected to contribute over $8 billion to the economy.

"Year of Return", and "Beyond Return"

In line with these plans, 2019 brought large numbers of African-Americans, including many celebrities, as well as others from the diaspora to celebrate the "Year of Return".

"Beyond the Return” is a follow-up to the successful Year of Return campaign which commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first recorded enslaved Africans in Jamestown Virginia in 1619.

The landmark campaign also celebrated the resilience of the African over the past 400 years and welcomed all people of African origin to return to Africa especially Ghana.

Mrs Oteng-Gyasi, stated that the year-long programme provided Ghana with an economic boost of almost $1.9bn (£1.5bn). The government also said the Year of Return had drawn wider attention to Ghana and positively influenced international media reports.

And the government said the equivalent amount of media attention and PR - if paid for - would have cost about $3.5m. And the Ghana Tourism Authority told BBC News this figure was an estimate based on multiplying total visitor arrivals, 763,545 between January and September, by the average spend per tourist, $2,590 in 2019.

Celebrities visits

In furtherance to that, the country attracted a number of celebrities in 2019 including model Naomi Campbell, actor Idris Elba, comedian Steve Harvey, American rapper Cardi B, TV sports presenter Mike Hill, and author Luvvie Ajayi.

Travel restrictions

In March 17, 2020, the Ministry of Information released a travel advisory information. According to the release, the only people permitted to enter Ghana were Ghanaians, people with Ghanaian residency or people from countries with fewer than 200 COVID-19 cases.

Consequently, airlines suspended or reduced their flights to Ghana. Emirates Airlines, for example, announced it would cease flights to the country until at least 20 May. Delta Airlines and KLM also temporarily suspended flights to the country.

At the time of the travel advisory, the Director-General of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Simon Allotey, estimated that COVID-19 would reduce revenue by 20 percent for the Ghanaian aviation industry.

Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, government policies are changing rapidly. On 21 March the government announced that from 23 March 2020, all borders – land, sea and air – would be closed to people for at least two weeks.

The new travel restrictions mean that there will be no demand for commercial flights. The previously predicted 20 percent reduction is now likely to be significantly more.

A 2018 ministry of finance report showed that the Ghana Airport Company Limited collected revenue of GH?475.56 million through airport taxes alone. This was a more than 35 percent increase from the previous year.

Therefore, the reduction in flights and visitors caused by the pandemic reduced revenue from aeroplane landing fees, fees for using Ghana’s airspace, and other charges such as the passenger safety charge.

Stranded Travellers

Also, in situations where foreigners were stranded in Ghana, the aviation industry suffered economic loss. Airlines were required to provide food and accommodation, refunds or compensation as per the Consumer Protective Ghana Aviation (Economic) Directive 2019.

Ghana’s aviation industry has more than 20 aviation operators. That includes those employed in the servicing of aircraft, management of airports, air traffic control operators, ground handlers, airport security and immigration and customs.

Therefore, the temporary cessation of flights and post-COVID-19 downward economic projections put their jobs at significant risk. The knock-on effects to the wider economy were also of serious concern.

Arts and Entertainment

Musicians in Ghana are feeling the brunt of the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, forcing them to either cancel or postpone their schedules like those in the sporting world.

Musicians like rapper Patapaa, Sarkodie, Kofi Kinata, Kwame Eugene among others were booked to perform in Germany, United Kingdom, USA and other African countries but their trips have been cut short following announcement by the government in Accra that all foreign trips have been banned until further notice.

The “One Corner” hit-maker, Patapaa, who was initially due for a European tour expressed disappointment, saying the coronavirus has caused a great disservice to musicians not only in Ghana but to others around the world.

The Ghanaian parliament has since banned handshake while churches have been asked to avoid the same during worship to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Policies to support firms and workers during the pandemic were ill-adapted to the non-traditional business models and forms of employment in the sector.

In addition to short-term support for artists and firms, which comes from both the public and private sector, policies can also leverage the economic and social impacts of culture in their broader recovery packages and efforts to transform local the economy.

Conclusion

Tourism and allied sectors continue to be the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the outlook remains highly uncertain.

OECD expects international tourism to fall by around 80 percent in 2020. Destinations that rely heavily on international, business and events tourism are particularly struggling, with many coastal, regional and rural areas faring better than cities.

Encouraging news on vaccines has boosted hopes for recovery but challenges remain, with the sector expected to remain in survival mode until well into 2021.

Domestic tourism has restarted and is helping to mitigate the impact on jobs and businesses in some destinations. However, real recovery will only be possible when international tourism returns. This requires global co-operation and evidence-based solutions so travel restrictions can be safely lifted.

The survival of businesses throughout the tourism ecosystem is at risk without continued government support and although governments have taken impressive action to cushion the blow to tourism, to minimise job losses and to build recovery in 2021 and beyond, more needs to be done, and in a more co-ordinated way.

While flexible policy solutions are needed to enable the tourism economy to live alongside the virus in the short to medium term, it is important to look beyond this and take steps to learn from the crisis, which has revealed gaps in government and industry preparedness and response capacity. Co-ordinated action across governments at all levels and the private sector is essential.

The crisis is an opportunity to rethink tourism for the future. Tourism is at a crossroads and the measures put in place today will shape the tourism of tomorrow. Governments need to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, while capitalising on digitalisation, supporting the low carbon transition, and promoting the structural transformation needed to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.

Columnist: Isaac Arkoh
Related Articles: