The greatest desire of any tourist/holiday maker is to have fun and relaxation in a safe place away from home. To that end almost all tourism destinations present themselves as idyllic places where the patron can feel relaxed and safe. Thus the tourism attraction would be the last place a person would expect to be exposed to harm . That is why this week has been a rather bad one for tourism. First it was the deadly terrorist attack in Sousse, Tunisia, then, our own Bunso Canopy Walkway also gave way. The first of them was a security issue while the incident in Ghana centred on safety. Either way, they each have the potential to hurt the tourist trade in their respective countries.
Research has shown there is a very strong positive relationship between safety/security and the fortunes of tourism. Tourism literally thrives on safety and security.
For example, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) indicates that international tourist arrivals in its Middle East Region (including Egypt and Tunisia) declined by 8.4 percent to 54.8 million in 2011 – a year after the Arab Spring. Yet, in 2010 the previous year, arrivals to the region had grown by nearly 15. The effect is even more graphic when the figures for the two countries are isolated from the rest. Experts generally believe that the 2010 revolts caused at least a 30-40% decline in demand for the two countries in subsequent years. In fact, in Tunisia, tourism arrivals dropped by a third in 2011 and the associated financial losses can only be imagined. The same can be said of the effect of the 9/11 attacks on the New York tourism industry which was estimated to lose some 1-2 billion dollars in business in associated economic activities.
An even more ominous threat to global tourism is that posed by terrorism. The stark reality is that a pattern is slowly taking shape in which tourism facilities are increasingly becoming targets for terrorist attacks. Attacks from England, Bali, Indonesia, France, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, Peru, The Philippines, and Mexico and, more recently, Tunisia have shown this trend. This year alone Tunisia has witnessed two such horrific incidents, just three months apart from each other - one at a museum and the more recent one at a popular tourist beach.
It therefore goes without saying that countries that wish to gain from tourism must consciously make efforts to protect the trade. For a country that is so heavily reliant on international visitors, Ghana cannot afford to be having such avoidable safety oversights or security breaches at its attractions. It is against this backdrop that we should take what happened in Bunso as seriously as we can and also institute structures that can avoid a terrorist attack on our tourism facilities.
It is good to read that the Ghana Tourism Authority is in the process of developing a Legislative Instrument that will empower them to enforce safety and security at our attraction sites.
This is because in truth, Bunso is not the only unsafe and insecure attraction in the country. In fact save for a few arrangements for police presence on crowded days, our attraction facilities hardly have any security cover. Neither are there any strong safety measures that can protect patrons from unintended harm.
Moving forward the Ministry of Tourism as a policy formulator must initiate processes towards the crafting of a tourism safety and security policy. Such a policy would definitely have to address pertinent questions such as: How safe should our attractions/facilities ? What are the likely sources of harm/threat (unintended or intentional)
· What warning systems can we put in place to monitor and react to such threats?
· Who manages these systems and how will they be funded?
· What systems can we institute to ensure these facilities comply with prescribed safety measures?
· Who are the key stakeholders and what roles do they play?
· How often must equipment at attraction sites be maintained or changed?
· What is the carrying capacity of our tourist facilities, how are they determined and who enforces adherence to them?
How best can the tourism sector and the security apparatus collaborate to provide safety/security (especially from terrorism)
Bunso must serve as the wake-up call for us as a destination to create security structures and systems for all tourism attractions in Ghana.
Prof. Kwaku Boakye
The writer is the Managing Researcher at the Tourism Research and Advocacy Centre- a tourism think tank based in Cape Coast.