Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra, Ghana, is a popular tourist destination
(COURTESY OF GHANA TOURISM AUTHORITY)
Chinese tourists wanting to sample the rich historical sites and natural scenery of Ghana can now do so at an appreciable discount.
I Go Ghana, a loyalty program, is jointly run by South Africa-based Standard Bank Group, Stanbic Bank Ghana's parent group, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) with support from the Ghana Tourism Authority. The program, which seeks to attract Chinese tourists to visit Ghana by giving them discounts and special offers whenever they use ICBC cards at selected travel, hospitality and lifestyle merchants in the country, was officially launched late last year.
Lincoln Mali, Standard Bank's Group Head of Cards and Emerging Payments, has urged Ghanaians to seize the opportunity and package their rich historical sites to attract Chinese tourists.
"China has emerged as a key economic partner for Africa in recent years and through the I Go Ghana program, Standard Bank wants to strengthen relations between Ghana and China through trade and tourism," he said. "Such an arrangement, we believe, is good for the tourism industry and the economies of the two countries."
Chinese friendly facilities
To further support this initiative and strengthen the Africa-China corridor, Mali recounted the hard work Stanbic Bank Ghana has done to enable the acceptance of UnionPay International cards on local point-of-sale devices. UnionPay International is the subsidiary of China UnionPay, an interbank financial service provider.
He said that statistics from China Outbound Tourism Research Institute predicts that overseas trips by Chinese travelers will increase from 145 million documented in 2017 to 400 million in 2030.
Mali said that Ghana could benefit immensely from the projected figures because Ghana has the kind of attractions that Chinese tourists are looking for.
However, he intimated that for Ghana to attract a large number of Chinese tourists, they must package their tourism sector to be appeal to this market. He called on tour companies to increase the number of Mandarin speaking guides and also adopt Chinese popular payment options, like UnionPay, Alipay and Wechat Wallet.
In addition, Mali said that food menus at restaurants and hotels should be translated into Mandarin since Chinese tourists are open to try out new cuisines.
China's Ambassador to Ghana Wang Shiting reiterated the need to develop the infrastructure of the tourism sector.
"As I see it, Ghana has great potential in tourism, because you have both natural scenes such as ocean, beach, forestry and lakes, as well as a lot of cultural attractions. However, they are not fully developed, and the infrastructure is not quite satisfactory," he said.
Wang further pointed out that according to available statistics in 2017, the number of Chinese tourists to Africa was more than 13 million and they spent more than $20 billion on the continent. On the issue of trade, Wang said it has always played an important role in the bilateral economic cooperation between China and Ghana.
"In 2017, the volume of bilateral trade reached $6.7 billion, an increase of 12 percent compared to 2016. Exports from Ghana to China, which is especially noteworthy, reached $1.9 billion, up 41 percent from 2016," he added.
Wang echoed that the bilateral trade between China and Ghana is a win-win arrangement, where goods from China bring convenience to Ghanaians and goods from Ghana, such as cocoa products and shea butter, are becoming increasingly popular in the Chinese market.
Kakum Canopy Walkway in Ghana is 350 meters long connecting seven treetops
(COURTESY OF GHANA TOURISM AUTHORITY)
Challenges and opportunities
One major challenge to the bilateral trade, according to Wang, is the payment system between the two countries, which is still heavily dependent on cash and bank transfers. He said that this indicates the huge potential that still exists in bilateral trade between the two countries.
Wang said that after the I Go Ghana and similar I Go China initiatives, the ICBC and Standard Bank credit cards would become more popular, which would be beneficial for trade. The Deputy Chief Executive Officer of ICBC Africa Sun Gang stated that with the further development of ICBC internationalization, the bank would continue to provide its superior products and services in overseas market.
He detailed that since the launch of the first season of China-Africa transnational promotion, I Go South Africa in November 2017, as well as the I Go Kenya in May 2018, ICBC has provided more convenient transnational services to the credit card holders in Africa.
"In the future, ICBC and Standard Bank will continue to promote the I Go programs in other African countries to provide new opportunities for business and tourism exchanges between China and Africa," said Sun.
The role tourism plays in an economy can never be underestimated and Ghana's bilateral trade relationship with China has come of age, allowing for the exploration of other mutually beneficial ventures.
"For us, to realign and focus on tourism is welcome news for tourism sector players. I Go Ghana, as a tourism initiative, is for us a very grand initiative," said Catherine Afeku, Ghana's Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts.
According to Afeku, Ghana has a lot to offer in terms of tourism products, but needs to develop the tourism infrastructure so as to serve as a catalyst for growth and job creation. She reassured the partners of the I Go Ghana program that her ministry and all stakeholders will support the program to achieve its cogent aim of deepening Ghana-China relations through tourism and trade.
She acknowledged the Chinese Government's efforts to equip Ghana to take full advantage of its tourism sector.
"Officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts were invited by the Chinese Embassy where they were trained on how to better develop and manage tourism resources," said Afeku.
In order for Ghana to attract the maximum number of Chinese tourists, it must market its main draw cards. These are "security, safety and the hospitality and warmth we as a people embody," said Afeku.
According to Akwasi Agyeman, CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority, his department is excited about this new initiative.
"China remains an important in-bound destination for us at the Ghana Tourism Authority and we have taken appropriate steps and measures to ensure that the local industry is well equipped to host Chinese travelers. This collaboration further opens up the opportunity for us to enter the Chinese market, and ensures that Ghana remains an interesting and enticing destination," he said.
(Reporting from Ghana)
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