The Gaps and Opportunities in Ghana, Kenya Trade

For many obvious reasons, Kenya and Ghana are regional economic hubs and the gateway economies for the East and West Africa sub-regions, respectively. Beyond signing bi-lateral agreements and trade treaties, I submit that the time has come for both countries to begin to earn the respect of Africa and the rest of the world through their trading activities.

Both countries have fast growing economies, vibrant democratic cultures, stable polities and a combined population of about 78.5 Million people. Both countries also account for a significant quantum of the business and leisure traffic coming to Africa north of the Limpopo River. It is now time for the two nations to come together for the sake of Africa’s current and future economic prosperity. The alliance of these two trading partners will usher in a new phase of trade relations between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC).

Both countries have formidably attractive investment ready assets and credentials. According to the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), tourist arrivals to Ghana continue to increase, hitting 1.2 million in 2016. Visits of friends and relatives (VFR) tops at 24.7% whilst business visits stand at 23%. 19% of all visitors to Ghana in 2016 came for holidays. On the tourism expenditure side, 29% of all expenditure by tourists go into accommodation whereas food and beverages take 14%.

Ghana’s tourism potential is undeniable – from the wide Volta River where the famous Akosombo Dam is situated, to the Atlantic Ocean whose shores are lined with the Historic Slave Forts that make-up a large part of Africa’s History. Ghana is also home to the most elaborate and colorful cultural and art festivals.

Nearly 6,000 kilometers east of the Akosombo Dam is the Republic of Kenya. The land of the Savannah, lake lands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. Kenya is also synonymous with wildlife and home to lions, elephants and rhinos. The wildlife industry is another sub-economy on its own, bristling with investment opportunities and lessons in animal husbandry for the nations of west Africa who seem to have not to be keen on developing their wildlife and ecological assets.

Due to its geographical positioning and great climate, Kenya has been one of the top tourist destinations for all and sundry across the globe.  As a result, Kenya boasts some of the most highly skilled and experienced professionals in the Travel, Tourism and Hospitality industry.

Some of these professionals have found themselves working in tourism hubs around the world and in Accra and other parts of West Africa. Kenyan journalist Alex Chamwada has recently revealed that Five Star Hotels like the Ghana’s Labadi Beach Hotel in Accra, are leading the pack in engaging Kenyan expatriates in the Hospitality industry. Many of these Kenyan professionals have been in West Africa for nearly two decades. In Nigeria, for instance, the story is similar, with top management positions being offered to Kenyans.

The world may know about Africa’s rich wildlife, however not much is known or heard about this merit based scenario in this key economic sector which is hardly reported about by local and international media.

Ghana’s fiscal budget for 2017 as presented to the Parliament of Ghana, stated that the Mole National Park, the Accra Eco-Park, the Shai-Hills Resource Reserve and the Kakum National Park will be the focus of government’s eco-tourism development plans by fully exploring the tourism potential of these sites and developing them. There is also the drive to attract international brands in the hospitality industry, by making such companies access the full gamut of available incentives and exemptions that they can benefit from.

These fiscal pronouncement is certainly good news for the Ghanaian economy and should be a clarion call for the East African professionals in the leisure and entertainment sectors.  They can help fill the management, skills or human resource gaps in Ghana’s tourism sectors, at least in the short term.

A strong and exquisite service culture is key to any modern economy. Ghana and West Africa thus need to begin to groom its corps of world class professionals in the tourism industry. The big picture here should be to also train as many Ghanaians as possible to work in Ghana and eventually the country will begin to export its talents in tourism to all corners of the world. This is a long-term goal and certainly an interesting opportunity for a world class hospitality institute to enter the Ghanaian and by extension the West African market.

According to the World Travel and Tourism World Council’s report – Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2016, the Hospitality industry in Ghana generated 292,000 and 299,000 jobs directly in 2015 and 2016, respectively. These numbers are projected to rise by 1.3% every year to about 342,000 jobs by 2026, representing 2.4% of total employment.

In the same report, the Hospitality industry in Ghana is projected to rise by 5.3% per annum to GHC17,997.4mn (7.0% of GDP) in 2026.

Where will the professional expertise to fill these jobs come from? There needs to be a pipeline of professionals being developed right here in West Africa, to serve the market and the globe at large. Ghana doesn’t need to search too far for solutions to some of the challenges posed by its fast-growing economy. The country can turn to Kenya relatively well-developed tourism industry for technical assistance and partnership.

While the Kenya Utalii College has gained renown status for producing some of the most highly skilled hospitality professionals in Africa, we do not have a similar institution in West Africa. Smaller private institutions that offer hospitality training exist in Ghana. The quantity and quality of trained professionals from these schools however do not seem to be adequate for the demands of the market. Clearly, we need to upgrade the know-how in the sector if we are to attain our goals of international quality and standards. Presently, Ghanaian and West African students interested in studying Internationally acclaimed hospitality courses travel across the continent to Kenya, or to South Africa or to other hospitality havens outside the continent, to fulfil their professional and personal development goals. But not everyone student can afford to travel abroad to fulfill their dreams.

So hopefully, our treaties and partnerships and strategic alliances and other pragmatic interventions which seek to co-locate opportunities for citizens on both sides of the ECOWAS – EAC landscape are steps in the right direction.

As the Kenya Trade Expo Ghana 2017 approaches, it behooves on East African and West African investors to take a serious look at this vibrant sea of opportunities in travel, tourism, hospital and entertainment. This is the time for businesses in both regional economic blocs to breathe life into the “One People, One Destiny” mantra of their visionary forefathers, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and Mzee Jomo Kenyata.

By Leah Nduati-Lee