Interested in tourism issues in Africa? Interested in issues relating to African migration and the African diaspora? Don't see the connection between the two. Read on.
Just over a year ago on May 1, Workers' Day 2013, I had a Oprah moment, an A-HA moment! I would start a campaign to SCRAP SHORT TERM TOURIST VISAS TO GHANA to boost international leisure tourism arrivals to Ghana, a country I am convinced has so much untapped tourism potential. It came to me out of the blue. If anybody had to told me that morning that I would initiate such a campaign that would consume much of my life over the next year, I would have replied, "Are you nuts? This sixty-seven year old expatriate!"
But I did! And for the past year I have been co-administrator of the SCRAP SHORT TERM TOURIST VISAS TO GHANA Facebook group page and Change.org petition along with Mr. Festus Fumi, a diasporan Ghanaian living in London, who established Destination-Ghana, an on-line booking site, again to promote Ghana on the international tourism market.
The mission of the FB page is simply to promote dialogue on the issue of visa facilitation and simplification, to engage the Ghanaian public service responsible for the tourism sector and involve the private sector in pushing for policy reform for stays of thirty days or less. Often the visa application process can be high hassle and lengthy given stringent requirements like the controversial letter of invitation. Imagine tourists are required to submit a letter of invitation despite the fact that more often or not they know not a single person in this country!
Recently, the United Nations World Tourism Organization revealed two relevant statistics to prompt countries to facilitate and simplify visa procedures. First, the maximum length of any tourist at any destination is twenty-four days or less and second, 40% of tourists travel within seven days of making their decision to take a vacation. The times they are achangin and countries have to change to stay competitive in today's travel market.
And lots of Africa countries have! The titans of African tourism all have scrapped tourist visa requirements: South Africa Morocco, Cape Verde, Mauritius and up-and-comers like Rwanda, Malawi and Namibia have as well. While others have entered into unique arrangements to boost international tourist arrivals like Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda that require a single tourist visa.
But in Ghana, alas heavily dependent on its resource economy, there is little political will to reform policy despite glaring policy glitches. Ghana does not have a simple VOA scheme. An applicant has to get permission to apply for a visa on arrival which is only granted under special circumstances. If granted, the applicant has to pay double the price of a normal tourist visa which is prohibitive for families. Furthermore, travellers arriving at Ghana's land borders who do not have visas to Ghana stamped in their passports from their countries of origin are refused entry unless they use creative skills...
Makes sense to scrap, you might conclude...at least to join the dialogue. No, tourism is a taboo subject in this country. In May, I approached Mr Herbert Acquaye, the National President of the Ghana Hotels Association, who said, "I am on-board on this one." Together, we attended a meeting at the Ministry of Tourism when I presented the case. The meeting concluded with the issue must be studied and that was that! Nothing since from these civil servants despite the barrage of points, arguments.
Why? Because policy is the domain of the politicians...not however the Minister of Tourism, a patronage appointment occupied by a minister who has no internet presence whatsoever. I believe the major player in all this is Hon. Hanna Tetteh, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, who flatly refuses to dialogue...except with her Facebook friends!
Hanna Tetteh: "The question for me really is how many Ghanaian's think that it would be a good policy decision to allow all tourists (and essentially that means anyone who wishes to enter into Ghana and claims to be a tourist) on a visa free basis. I don't know where Mr. Scott comes from or where he works, or why he has made campaigning for visa free entry for foreign visitors/expatriates a social media campaign issue, but I know that all European countries, the US, Canada & Australia require Ghanaian citizens to apply and obtain valid entry visa's before we enter their countries and I do not get the impression that Mr. Scott is expecting visa-free access to be extended to Ghanaian citizens to any of these countries on abasis. If we were to do this it would have to be a policy decision that Ghanaian's endorse. Mr. Scott seems to think that this will enhance job creation and any social or security concerns we may have are outweighed by the job-creation benefits of such an initiative & has undertaken to addressing his views to me on twitter. I wonder what my Ghanaian Facebook friends think of his campaign."
Herein lies the connection between tourist visas and migration. In short, it's those vicious 'R's' that have sabotaged Ghana's tourism sector/industry, the silent export, the fourth largest earner of foreign exchange in Ghana after gold, cocoa, and remittances from the diaspora...get the connection? Here comes the ex-teacher in me...R is for resentment...that it is so hard for Ghanaians to procure a visa to a foreign country...R is retaliation...you make it hard for me, I'll make it hard for you and R is for reciprocation... the UNWTO can talk itself blue in the face about visa facilitation and simplification, if no bilateral visa agreements, there will be no scrapping short term tourist visas to Ghana and Ghana's tourism industry will continue to wallow in the tropical doldrums.
So join the 414 + FB group page members on SCRAP SHORT TERM TOURIST VISAS TO GHANA; and if you are swayed by the arguments, sign the Change.org petition of the same name. And spread the campaign, thanks.