What is Ghana’s Tourism Policy?

Is it “Akwaaba, it’s an expression you will hear several times daily…it means ‘Welcome!’ and you will be” or is it “Visa requirements are subject to change…” ? Both quotes are from Ghana’s official tourism page, touringghana.com. The whole discussion started with a German acquaintance writing me an email to say she was coming to Ghana as a tourist. She was looking forward to the weather, the beaches and the cultural sites. Could we catch up for a drink? A while later she emailed again, now for “an invitation letter”.
I was shocked, why would a tourist to a country that calls itself “the gateway to Africa” need an invitation letter? Then, what is a tourist? and what does Ghana want with tourism? Why are we spending good money on advertising Ghana on CNN for instance, if we later make it so cumbersome to just get a Visa to enter?

I took my questions to Twitter and the rest is history. The highlights included the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Hanna Tetteh, getting heavily involved in the debate!

BTW @HannaTetteh I just wrote an “invite” for a German acquaintance who wants to come to Ghana as a tourist. Why does she need an invite?
@kajsaha @HannaTetteh the system is inefficient and makes Ghana look bad. I wanted to spend cedis there! Ghana made it hard.
@MissEDCofie @BlueBirdTail @kajsaha @RoisKiDGh@I_am_Kophy @Gondu because of some few dollars, you gonna turn people away? No big picture?
The first part of the debate was the “reciprocity/retailation” argument, that frankly surprises me and makes me think of Binyavanga Wainaina’s recent discussion about Africa’s middle class wanting to become Europe. Why are we comparing Visa schemes with Europe and not with other African countries such as Kenya or the Gambia.
@sondy @kajsaha when Ghanaians have to apply for visa’s to enter your countries to spend their own money does it make your country look bad?

 

@kajsaha @visafreeghana don’t tourists from #Ghana have to have invitation letters going the other way? #justasking
@kajsaha do you have any idea what Ghanaian citizens have to go through to get visa’s to travel to any country outside of Africa?
@kajsaha @kobbrown @Gondu @visafreeghana the day European,American n Canadian visa are free then we will do same.till then 2 only W africans
@sondy @kajsaha giving Ghanaians an opportunity to enter your countries without paying visa fees, showing bank statements etc would be great
@kajsaha as you retweet my responses kindly retweet the one on bilateral agreements. Reciprocity is an indication of mutual respect.
@kajsaha I’m sure you know that issues of visa’s are not just a matter of tourism policy. For now your friend requires an invitation letter
@sondy we can have visa free travel when there are bilateral agreements between our countries giving Ghanaians the same treatment you want
@osarpong @OsabuANNY @kinnareads @HannaTetteh @kajsaha I’m all up for reciprocity! I don’t have elected representatives but I’ll write!
Secondly,  there was the issue of tourism management in general, how it was lacking… (but can we not start with cleaning up Visas?)
@kajsaha @RoisKiDGh valid points there is a lot to do but abolishing visa wont solve much
@kajsaha Kenya requires visas of Westerners. It does have a better tourism infrastructure which is essential. @HannaTetteh
@HannaTetteh @kajsaha I question the “losing to Kenya” statement. We don’t have 30% of the tourism infrastructure Kenya has.
@kajsaha exactly my point. Even with free entry, mismanagement will drive all tourists away. @MissEDCofie
Ghana is not worth coming to, so we should make it hard to enter? Sorry @RoisKiDGh but that does not make sense. @kobbrown@angelgooner
 
Then there were some personal issues…
@kajsaha have you read anything on Ghana & Tourism Development/ Tourism Policy or is your comment only based on the issue of visa’s?
It is based on public info from Min of Tourisms website, the budget and the email I got to invite a tourist. Still learning! @HannaTetteh
@kajsaha @kobbrown @visafreeghana You know some of the Chinese who were in illegal mining were on tourist visas?
In the end, we kind of all agreed. 
@kajsaha @visafreeghana However, I agree that the system is outdated and needs to be reviewed.
@kajsaha What a country can do is make visa processes more friendly, less cumbersome. @HannaTetteh
@kinnareads @kajsaha @HannaTetteh visas may not be a right, but why make the processes harder than it needs to be, and lose passports?
I guess the debate continues.  

I found out that that rules are different depending on what countries the tourist comes from. For instance Ghana’s embassy in Germany demands one letter of invitation, in Canada it is two. Form my recent experience, Scandinavian tourists do not need an invite, only an address and contact in Ghana (which might also stop some tourists).

Lisa from Canada shared her story on the Scrap Tourism Visas for Ghana FB page:

“My parents had big problems. Again needed 2 letters of invitation. The consulate in Toronto (CAN) wanted addresses with complete street address and house #, not simply PO box. As we were simultaneously trying to get visas for my parents + my boyfriend from 2 consulates, it was bad. Toronto rejected the letters & demanded new ones while the consulate in Ottawa accepted them. Why the difference? & how many people in Accra have a full street address? Its not the same as in Canada.

Throughout my extensive travels a common theme. Foreigners mainly come to visit family members/friends working in Gh, infrequently as visitors. Partly because the visas. The expense plus needing the letter of invitation. I understand the government can’t “lose” people within their borders but there must be a better system. The visas r too expensive. We spend a lot of $ in the country anyways.”

Here is also an article by a campaigner to “scrap” tourism visas for Ghana, although I personally think “scrapping Visas” is going too far, I found the examples highlighting other African experiences interesting.