What Do Dictators Care About Tourism?

Fri, 11 Feb 2011 Source: Blondal, Ingo

Written by: Ingo Blondal

As you read these lines tourists have left Egypt by the thousands to escape from the street violence and chaos. Many more are fleeing by whatever means they can. Tourists around the world have canceled their trips to Egypt and made plans to travel elsewhere. Tourism is a multibillion dollar industry in Egypt and the ensuing situation causes the country to lose millions of dollars each day. Unemployment, one of the main causes for the uprising, promises to get worse as thousands lose their jobs - from maids and cooks to bus drivers, tour guides and hotel managers. It is damage to the tourism industry in Egypt that will take years to repair.

The unrest in Egypt, one of the world's major tourist destinations, pushed parallel situations in Tunisia and the Ivory Coast into the background. The Tunisian situation stands a chance of a relatively quick repair, as the resident dictator left the country, while the Ivory Coast continues to suffer - enter West Africa into this story.

The average man on the street, - whether in Cairo, Tunis or Abidjan, has little appreciation of tourism as an industry. The big, flashy hotels and restaurants are out of reach for the common man, who may not have had a decent job for years and who ekes out a living just to get by from one dreary day to the next. Tourists are rich people, way beyond his comprehension, who live and enjoy life as if on a different planet. Little does he know that tourism - or a job in this industry, that is dependent on peace, could be a life-changer for him and thousands of his fellow citizens. Tourism is a job creator in all categories, from low wage earning maids to well paid management to the tune of millions upon millions of workers around the world.

Rulers Laurent Gbagpo, Idi Amin, Hosni Mubarak, Charles Taylor, Gnassingbe Eyadema or Robert Mugabe may not all fit exactly the same mold, but they are/were Africans and due to their lust for power they have caused misery and destruction to their countries and robbed future generations of a promising future. The countries they ruled all had a thriving tourism industry at one time, and one by one has seen this activity being destroyed or compromised.

Tourism only thrives in an environment of stability, safety and peace. Tourists come in all colors and shapes from all corners of the world. They seek enjoyment, education, camaraderie, adventure and new friendships. Tourists have choices, and they will avoid places of unrest, where their safety is threatened and where local conditions sap any enjoyment from even the least demanding visitor.

Ghana - take a lesson from your neighbors on each side of your country:

• To the east is Togo, once a booming, thriving, fun tourist destination. Diplomats felt fortunate to be posted to Lome; multinational companies opened branches in Togo and European investors arrived in droves. Germans took particular interest in Togo, due to an old colonial history and charter flights that were operated for groups of fun-loving visitors who enjoyed the beach resorts. Lome proudly featured the Hotel de la Paix, one of the finest in Africa and a skyscraper 2eme Fevrier Convention Hotel, with the finest facilities where hundreds of meals could be served and multiple languages be translated simultaneously. Restaurants such as the Minibrasserie provided congenial atmosphere and good cheer.

All this is gone - the beach resort slipped into the ocean; the De La Paix now a brothel and the 2eme Fevrier Convention Hotel empty. Lome is now a city that has seen better days. Why? Because of the dictatorial rule of one of Africa's Big Men - President Eyadema.

• The situation to the west in the Ivory Coast is even more appalling. This is a country four times the size of Togo with six times the population. The proud city of Abidjan was called "the Paris of Africa," where French visitors congregated by the thousands. Abidjan was known for its wide avenues; its beautiful shops and restaurants; lagoons surrounded by well manicured lawns and gardens. Hotels included a five-star Inter-Continental and several other hotels of world repute. In the Ivory Coast tourism was not confined to Abidjan, the commercial capital, - it was country-wide. One could enjoy traveling from one end of the country to another and still enjoy a sophisticated tourism infrastructure. Beach resorts even included a beautiful Club Med facility.

Due to civil strife and the most recent unrest, courtesy of another Big Man - Laurent Gbagbo, the bloom is off the rose. Abidjan has lost its charm and attractions. Tourists no longer arrive, due to a hostile and unsafe environment. In French speaking West Africa, Abidjan has been by-passed by Dakar and Cotonou. The Ivory Coast is sinking further into the abyss of chaos - its economy in shambles.

Eyadema in Togo, Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast are hardly losing sleep over the vanishing future of tourism in their countries. No more than Charles Taylor who proclaims his innocence of murder, rape and mayhem at the International Court in the Hague. Due to his reign of terror, there is no more Ducor Palace Hotel in Monrovia, Liberia and visitors to Freetown, Sierra Leone are confronted by beggars without arms or legs. Hotels were shot to pieces or taken over by soldiers. This all is the legacy of dictators, who promise their citizens all, but deliver nothing but misery.

Ghana take heed! What happens in Togo, the Ivory Coast and elsewhere in West Africa has major impact on Ghana. American tourists travel more and spend more tourist dollars than any other nation. The average American tourist traveling to West Africa is likely to visit the region, - not just one country. He is interested to savor the various cultures and different attractions in 3 to 5 countries. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also - Americans are not knowledgeable about the geography of West Africa. They may not know the difference between what country speaks English, French or Portuguese. However, when they learn that the US State Department has an advisory out not to travel to Abidjan for one reason or to Lome for another, he will decide to travel to Scandinavia instead.

All of Africa suffers for the endless political problems that have been caused by instability in all corners of the continent. Economies do suffer, employment suffers and tourism - a green industry, - beneficial for all - will continue to suffer.

Columnist: Blondal, Ingo