Former President John Dramani Mahama has urged tourism authorities in Nigeria to form a strong partnership with their counterparts in Ghana to develop comprehensive tourism packages that will make the two countries the destination for tourists in Africa.
“Should Accra and Lagos have tourist attractions of same quality, there should be greater collaborative packages for tourists. Accra is just 45 minutes away from Lagos, and just as tour packages take people to London, Paris and another European country, an Accra- Lagos joint package should be possible,” Mr Mahama noted in his address at the Lagos State Tourism Summit 2018.
For him, a boost in tourism “calls for greater inter-dependence among our countries”.
He highlighted the need for tourists to be able to travel to safe locations, adding: “When they hear of instability or insecurity in any of our neighbouring countries, they consider it West Africa, and will be enough reason for them not to book flights to Nigeria”.
He said he was glad that Lagos, in preparation for the launch of the Lagos State Tourism Masterplan, has begun upgrading and expanding critical infrastructure, including transportation.
“The plan must, therefore, not focus only on what new tourism facilities to develop, but how to ensure that the State is attractive to tourists- improved and well-developed quality medical services, enhanced transportation services, high speed mobile and data services, and guarantee the security of the people,” he added.
Explaining some of the interventions his government implemented to boost the tourism sector in Ghana, Mr Mahama said in 2011, “we in Ghana passed the Tourism Act, Act 813 to begin a new direction for the sector. That law provided, among others, for a 1% tourism development levy to support the development and promotion of the sector. The introduction of such levies around the world, charged on visits to tourist facilities and/ or hotel rooms contributes to making the sector self-sufficient and provides assurance for its continuous development”.
He continued: “We also enacted, in response to the potentials of the creative industry and its anticipated impact on tourism, the Film Act in 2016. Obviously, the improvement of roads and general services has enhanced access to various parts of the country, and as we continue to enhance them tourism arrivals will increase and revenue will improve. Same can be said for Lagos.
“Our airport in Accra underwent some refurbishment making it a lot more passenger-friendly, even before we started work in 2016 on a new modern terminal, popularly known as Terminal 3. It will have a passenger through-put of five million passengers per annum, which should be ready in the next few weeks and would advance our vision of making Accra a destination of choice and an aviation transit hub for the sub-region.
“One of the other efforts that has helped us is the ability of tourists to now fly to Takoradi, Tamale, and improvements in Kumasi that allow for night take-offs and landings at the Kumasi city airport.
“In the Northern Region where we have a beautiful game reserve, the Mole Game Park, patronage over many years was very low. The reason was simply because of the bad nature of the road. This is a game park that should rival the parks you find in Kenya, Tanzania etc. We took a bold decision to fix the road that runs from Sawla to Fufulso, via the Mole Park, reducing a travel time of almost 5 to 6 hours to just a little over an hour.
“With improved flights from Accra to Tamale, a shorter drive on a good road, patronage of the park and its services quadrupled instantly. A private developer has further developed a beauty camping lodge that rivals what you see in the Masai region of Kenya with tour vehicles and well trained wardens. Today, it is a must-visit tourist site in the Northern Region of Ghana. That’s how impactful tourism can be with the right infrastructure.
“Before leaving office in January 2017, for those of you who know Accra very well, behind the Black Star Square, stretching from our old seat of government, the Osu Castle, we completed arrangements for a massive tourism development project we call the Accra Marine Drive Tourism Investment Project. That whole stretch of land along the coast we call the Marine Drive is to be developed into a world-class, beachfront tourism enclave that will meet the needs of business and leisure tourists. It will also make Ghana an attractive tourism destination in Africa,” he outlined.
Mr Mahama noted that “when Ebola struck recently in three of our sister countries in the sub-region, it affected tourism arrivals in all our countries. That is because when the international media reports the news, they show a map of Africa, and outline West Africa with an arrow ostensibly pointing to these countries.
“We need to collaborate more as neighbouring countries, on all fronts, especially security and the protection of our people. As President and Chair of ECOWAS at a certain point, I worked progressively with both President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari, also with President Ouattara, President Gnassigbe, President Campaore and his successors, and President Boni Yayi to ensure a timely sharing of security and sea pirate information among our agencies. We need to expand this level of cooperation.
“Lagos, just as Nigeria generally, has such great cultural value that can easily be packaged and even exported. The impressive showing during the Lagos at 50 celebrations show that it is possible, and can be done,” he concluded.