Striking, dark-skinned Nancy Quartey-Sam, President, Tour Operators Union of Ghana (TOUGHA) is brave and determined, especially when success is unlikely; she single-handedly had presidents of over five African countries release their ambassadors on a trip with TOUGHA to South Africa. Steering an organisation which has been in existence for almost 13 years with over 70 members is not tea party. Quartey-Sam in her second tenure talks to Omolola Itayemi about the challenges faced in running TOUHGA, hosting Accra-Weizo and why she loves Kumasi
Ghana’s aviation industry is on a mission to become the best in Africa. To what extent do you think the input of TOUGA would help achieve it?
I see TOUGA members as key players in the aviation industry because they facilitate the progress of the industry. In West Africa, Ghana has the highest airline operating. At present, we have over 45 airlines operating in Ghana, this is because Ghana has become the gateway to West Africa, per se. This is largely because of the stable government and placing Ghana as a destination. What we have in Ghana is very unique compared to almost everywhere in Africa. Also we have very rich heritage.
What are the changes you experienced and the challenges as the president in your second term?
Before now, the tour operators were not working well. I realized that before you start making impact in tourism or boast of it, you must know it well. I decided to chart a course of reaching out to countries doing well in this regard, so the week I was inaugurated as president, I invited almost 10 ambassadors from various countries to be a part of our inauguration; South African, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Columbia, Europe, etc. These are ambassadors of countries doing well in tourism and if we want to do well in the industry, we must partner with them. If they are doing well, it means they are getting tourists into their country. So, how can we tap into this and hopefully divert some of their tourists to our country. That was our strategy and they inadvertently became our friends. Every now and then, when they have programmes, they invite us which morphed into their tour operators having a partnership with Ghana Tourism.
With South Africa, we signed an MOU about two years ago to see how we can bring South Africa to West Africa and take West Africa to South Africa and that was the beginning of the relationship. They already had an airline and that made it easy. They were more into Eco-tourism while we were into tourism and culture. This also made easier to partner with them.
By the time we got the airlines, agencies in South Africa were ready to partner with Ghana because they realised it was a big market. Initially, our members didn’t understand, they wanted us to promote Ghana and that posed a lot of problems for me, even with my ministry.
They forgot that this the 21st century, with a lot of new technology, diversity and all that in tourism. I was however happy that I had some executives that understood and they stood by me. South Africa came to Ghana to do a road show, their tour operators, hoteliers and a host of others came for the road show.
It was a win-win situation and the awareness of how cheap and convenient it is to go to South Africa instead of Dubai and Europe increased. The number of people traveling to South Africa from West Africa increased invariably.
The partnership also gave room for networking among tour operators from different regions of Africa. This new tourism didn’t just create room for the selling of a single country’s tourism but a conglomerate of African countries’ tourism as a package.
Another feat that broke the Camel’s back was bringing five African Ambassadors in June last year. Getting them to partner with us was seen as an impossible task. I had to write to the presidents of their countries; South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and others. That was after the letters I had written to them were ignored. Within two weeks, we got responses from all five countries releasing their ambassadors to come with me to South Africa. I needed to show them the practical aspects of tourism as was included in the paper work.
I chose South Africa because we have the South African airline that flied directly from Ghana to Johannesburg. These ambassadors already had ambassadors in the host countries and the visit was to be an eye opener for the host ambassador. They were around for 10 days after which they gave their testimonies. They attested that it was the best time of their lives.
The tour was like a vacation and we gave the tourist experience .We took them to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Suncity, with the tour on the three cities, they felt at home. We had a conference on how the plan was meant to go.
The government, the minister of tourism, met us and they all agreed that it was a good start in the history of Africa.
They propose a similar tour around their various home countries. Zimbabwe and Zambia have agreed that we bring them together in August, to do another 10 days tour, and that they are going to bring other ambassadors.
You are a little silent about Nigeria, why?
Nigerians are our big brothers. We have just started and we are working gradually. We are working with Nigeria on the Weizo thing and Akwaabá. Years back tourists were always scared to go to Nigeria, because of the things they have heard but in Ghana we are beginning to tell them that it is safe. You need to have the right tour operator, you need to get the right people to handle you and to get the right hotels and you will be okay.
During Accra Weizo last year, we invited a lot of tour operators from Nigeria.
Nigeria is one of our biggest markets, every weekend, I can assure you that we have up to 5000-6000 Nigerians coming to Ghana from Friday to Sunday. It’s amazing. Through this interaction, we have also been able to have groups from Ghana who are going to Nigeria, most of the time for conferences, and some of our tour operators were encouraging them.
In Ghana, we have these big churches with branches in Nigeria and vice versa, so we are encouraging these churches to do religious tourism. Much as we want them to go for Crusades and conventions, we are encouraging them for sight-seeing, shopping, and city tours. We are advising them to take that concept and it is working very well.
Accra Weizo is one of Ghana’s top tourism product of which you are the chief host. How has it been hosting this pan-African product especially with the last big-bang edition in the past month?
I think Weizo is one of the wonderful things that happened to Ghana. Ghana has a lot of fairs but not tourism fairs, so Weizo has come to stay. To do this continually for three to four years is determination. It gets bigger every year. The minister talked about Indaba which we have just ended which started in a small hotel room, with about 5 countries or tour operators who were trying to sell South Africa and today Indaba has taken its feet and it’s one of Africa’s biggest tourism in the world. We believe that Weizo is running so fast, it’s catching up with the trend of tourism.
Last year, we had countries from southern and western parts of Africa but it will amaze you that this year, we had countries from the northern part joining us, and it’s been very encouraging. Coming to Ghana has been of an advantage, it has been lucrative. These tourists do not just come and go. We ensure continuity. The Ghana tourism authority has been so supportive.
Now, we have over 70 tour operators coming from Nigeria, we have some from South Africa, Dubai, Kenya, Benin, Togo, Cote D’ivoire, Mali, all over. This will be a very good platform for Ghana to expose itself. With this new government having interest in the private sector, we believe the sky is our limit.
Do you have numbers for your tourist arrivals?
Yes, we do have numbers. Before you get in the country, you have your immigration paper, which tells us where you are going, purpose of visit and accommodation all other details. Nigerians travel big, sometimes they come with as much as ten members of their family or staff and the records provide information to the effect.