Participants at the West Africa Integrated Travel (WAIT) Forum have identified the need for seamless travel as a means to boost tourism amongst countries within the sub-region.
Held at the Accra International Conference Centre under the theme, “Promoting Integrated Travel within West Africa- Bridging the Gap,” WAIT seeks to increase awareness of West Africa’s tourism products and other related information as well as provide a platform to draw the attention of related authorities and policy makers to ease up travel blocks within the sub-region.
Attracting participants from Togo, Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, the two-day event also served as a platform to discuss ways by which joint marketing efforts amongst key tourism stakeholders could be promoted.
Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Tourism Authority which is one of the organisers of the event, Akwasi Agyemang in an interview with www.voyagesafriq.com said WAIT presents the opportunity for West Africa to become a competitive tourism bloc. “If you look at the global trends, if you come to Africa, SADC, RETOSA, with the East Africa bloc, coming together, it is imperative that we as West Africans find a way to deepen our collaboration and network if we want to be seen as a competitive regional bloc, so that’s our objective of bringing all the stakeholders within the sub-region together under the umbrella of the West Africa Integrated Travel to start that process of how we market ourselves together.
When we go to these fairs and exhibitions, we don’t see that collaboration,“ he added, and also reiterated the fact that traveling amongst member countries should be devoid of the hustle and the frustrations that one has to endure when moving from one country to the other within ECOWAS. He opined that strong policy reforms are needed to ease movement between countries as seen in other parts of Africa.
For example, if you go to East Africa, there is one visa and if you enter Kenya with a visa, that visa can take you to Uganda, to Rwanda but in West Africa it is not like that. So if someone comes into Accra and wants to visit let say, Cotonou, he has to either go back to his own country or try and get visa in Ghana before he can go. Those are the things that do not promote intra-travel within West Africa.
To bridge this gap Mr. Agyemang believes West Africans can consider promoting themselves first.
‘’We are looking at West Africans promoting ourselves; how many Ghanaians have visited Togo, how many Togolese would take Ghana as a destination or Beninois would decide that they would want to spend their vacation in Accra, we need to market ourselves. And to be able to do that, we have to look at clearing the borders, deal with transportation and marketing,” he stated.
Ghana’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Hon. Mrs. Catherine Afeku described the Forum as “the beginning of an exciting journey, an opportunity to build closer cooperation and collaboration among the tourism, arts and culture communities in West Africa.’’
Panel discussions focused on topics such as, ‘Cross Border travel among ECOWAS States – Breaking the Barriers, Waterways – The Future of Tourism in West Africa, West Africa Integrated Travel – Bridging the Gap and Transportation as a Catalyst for Tourism development.’
The maiden WAIT Forum was organised by the West Africa Tourism Organisation (WATO) in conjunction with the Ghana Tourism Authority.
Chief Executive Officer of WATO, Ola Wright hopes the Forum would help in advancing deliberations to forge a joint marketing process among the national tourism boards and operators in West Africa. She avers that the ECOWAS region’s tourism offerings can match that of anywhere world, hence the need for closer ties among member countries to boost their economies through the sector.