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Accra Weizo 2018: Creating seamless Intra-West Africa Travel

The global reports on the goings-on in Africa are most often negative and it seems to me that there are deliberate steps being taken by certain people to create negative and deleterious narratives about Africa as well as aggressively propagate such narratives about the continent to the rest of the world. It may seem innocuous, but I find it funny and mischievous the fact that most people in the developed world see Africa as just one big country rather than a continent.

This vista or perspective, in my opinion, goes a long way to expressly underscore the level of ignorance and how misinformed the developed world is about the true state of affairs in Africa.

The question is, who should and can better tell the true story of Africa better than Africans themselves? Therefore, rather than being unnecessarily over-protective and conscious of territorial boundaries in our dealings within the continent, Africans should rise and take up the responsibility of championing the creation and dissemination of the true African story to the rest of the world.  In the past 10 years that I have had the opportunity of traversing the length and breadth of Africa in line of duty for Inside Watch Africa (IWA), I have seen undeniable similarities in the culture and character of the average of African not minding the different geographical expressions (countries) that we find ourselves.

 

Maybe we should take advantage of the fact that our colonial masters who scrambled for our lands and petitioned the continent in the first place see Africa as a single country to package and sell the continent to them as a destination.

It is instructive to say at this junction that the African story today is not a woeful tale after all; a good example of some of the steps we are taking in the right direction is Accra Weizo which is essentially a tourism and travel fair, convened annually by Mr. Ikechi Uko and his team to sell and promote Intra-Africa travel and tourism in the West Africa sub-region. Mr. Uko who is a veteran travel journalist, team leader of ‘Team Africa’ and founder of Akwaaba in Lagos, Nigeria, as well as Bantaba in Banjul, Gambia both of which are also tourism and travel fairs like Accra Weizo has shown his resolve to unequivocally and relentlessly champion the cause of ensuring that more Africans travel within Africa.

Just as I was opportune to participate in the event in 2017, I was privileged to attend Accra Weizo 2018 that took place between June 22 and June 23, 2018 as one of the hosted  media. In taking you through the gleeful and very educative experience I had at Accra Weizo 2018, let me start by saying Weizo, which simply  means welcome in “Ewe’’ language of Ghana and Togo.

As a travel and tourism writer, I should ordinarily long for and enjoy the experience of travelling to Ghana from Nigeria by road, but going by the unhospitable and unwelcoming dispositions and attitude of most of the security agents on the Nigeria-Ghana corridor coupled with the deplorable condition of the international highway on the corridor, particularly at the Nigerian side, my trip to Ghana by road on Tuesday June 19, 2018 and back to Lagos, Nigeria on Sunday June 24 for Weizo was anything but fun. It seems to me that the governments of Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana do not really understand or see the socio-economic gains and benefits that will naturally accrue to their countries if and when now people travel on this corridor by road.

My suspicion is that there is an erroneous belief that most people who travel through the corridor by road are either smugglers or petty traders. This is very unfortunate as every traveller is treated as somebody who has done something wrong to be travelling on the corridor by road. As long as this abysmal situation continues, there is no way that the level of travellers’ traffic that could substantially and positively affect the economies and social lives of the three countries on the corridor can be generated.

On arrival in Ghana in the evening of Tuesday the 19th of June 2018, we drove straight to Chances Hotel in Ho, the capital of Volta Region, one of the ten regions of Ghana, into the warm embrace of our host, Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA). After we had refreshed and had dinner, GTA treated us to an exhilarating Ghanaian traditional dance that I participated in and relished every moment.

As early as 7.30am on Wednesday June 20, 2018, we checked out of Chances Hotel. Guided by our very informed and eloquent tour guide, Mr. Yao Dzide, who all through the familiarization tour loaded us with lots of information about the people, culture and history of Ghana, we first paid a visit to Tafi Atome Monkey sanctuary, where were able to interact with the monkeys in their natural habitat. It was intriguing when we were told by the curator at the sanctuary that the sanctuary was primarily a community-based project with no government support and the major sources of funding for it was from funds generated from entry fees paid by visitors to the sanctuary and contributions made by donor agencies. However, I was more enthralled when the curator informed us of how residents of the community are encouraged to accommodate tourists and visitors to give them the opportunity to have “authentic village and community experience’’ whenever they decided to spend the night at the sanctuary.

After the eco-tourism experience we had at Tafi Atome, we moved to the Eastern Region where we first visited Akosombo Dam, the hydroelectric dam also known as the Volta Dam. We were told that the construction of the dam which started in 1961 led to the flooding of parts of Volta River Basin and subsequently led to the creation of Lake Volta which is arguably the largest man-made lake in the world. We then moved to the Royal Senchi Resort to join the travel agents and tour operators who were lodged at the magnificent resort. We had a very sumptuous lunch after which we got a dose of the luxurious treatments one gets when one stays in the palatial Royal Senchi.

We went on a boat cruise on Lake Volta which runs behind the resort and after the cruise, we were treated to some indigenous very tasty cocktails after which we had dinner and danced late into the night before bed time.

The ladies among us were the first to depart for Accra as early 7.00am on Thursday the 21st of June, 2018 because they had to attend the Women in Tourism Conference that was took place in the country’s capital that day. Although, we got into Accra a little late, we were still able to experience night life in Ghana, courtesy the CEO of Kaya Tours, Mr. Gilbert Abeiku Aggrey Santana, popularly known as Abeiku Santana.

There were a lot of VIPs who attended Accra Weizo 2018, some of who were the Dean of the Diplomatic Corp in Ghana as well as Zimbabwe Ambassador to Ghana,  Her Excellency, Mrs. Pavelyn Musaka, South Africa’s Ambassador to Ghana, Her Excellency, Mrs. Lulu Xingwana and Nana Mbroba Dabo,  the Queen Mother of Anomabo Traditional Area.

Some tourism Industry leaders in West Africa such as the CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority, Mr. Akwesi Agyman, Mr. Steve Isokarairi, chairman of the board of trustee of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mr. Nkereuwen Onug, chairman of the board of trustee of the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), President of Tour Operators Union of Ghana (TOUGHA), Mr. Kwesi Eyison and President of NATOP, Hajia Bilkisu Abdul.

The fair was declared opened by Ghana’s Minister of Aviation, Hon. Cecilia Abena Dapaah, ably represented by Mrs. Evelyn Ama Lartey on Friday 22nd of June 2018, at Ada Ekesi Hall at La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Accra, with the presentation of a paper entitled, “Harnessing the Opportunities in Aviation Value Chain in West Africa.’’ The first discussion of the day focused on aviation in West Africa and this included “Interlining in West Africa, a Possibility or a Mirage?”, “Integrating West African Airport System”, “Standardizing Aviation Laws in West Africa for Regional Growth” and “Why West African Airlines Fail”.

The panelists comprising the Managing Director of Nigeria’s oldest Airline Aero owners of the major MRO in the region, Capt. Ado Sanusi, the Vice-Chairman of SAHCOL, a leading Nigerian-owned Aviation Handling and Logistics Company, Chike Ogeah, the CEO of Ghana-based Smile Aviation and former CEO of Nigeria-based Associated Airlines, Alex Nwuba and Richard Kyereh from Africa World Airlines, the leading Airline in Ghana, were simply brilliant with their contributions.

At the end of the sessions, it was obvious that the aviation industry in West Africa was going to receive a boost. In addition to the seminars and deliberations, Nana and the Ghana queens, a traditional dancing group from Ghana and the Calabar Carnival dancers were also on hand to entertain the guests. Some awards were also given to tourism organizations and individuals in recognition of their contributions to the development of the travel and tourism industry in Africa. The deliberations of the day was not just on aviation before we went for lunch, there was another round of discussion that was moderated by Marigold Vivian Mingle, who is currently the Managing Consultant of Ridge Royal Resort located in the Central Region of Ghana.

The panelists was made up of top hotel managers including Didier Bayeye, market manager, Africa & Indian Ocean, Pastor Emmanuel Geadda-Asando, Vice-President, Ghana Progressive Hotels Association, Sajid Khan, General Manager of Golden Tulip Hotel, Ghana, discussed a topic, “The Adapting of International Hotel Standards to the African Environment”, which stirred up some level of emotional comments in trying to establish what true international standard really is.

June 23rd 2018, the second and closing day of Accra Weizo 2018 was as exciting and enlightening as the first day. It was essentially the ‘Ekaabo Day’, hosted by the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), and they ensured that everyone present had more than enough Ghanaian delicacies and drinks as they showcase their new tourism campaign which is: “see Ghana’, ‘wear Ghana’ and ‘eat Ghana’. The discussion of day which centered on “How effective travel bloggers, writers and influencers in promoting travel destinations in West Africa’’, had the following as its panelists — Gabe Onah, Chairman Carnival Calabar Commission, Mr. Lehlohonolo Pitso, Regional Manager, West Africa for South African Tourism, ably represented by Mr. Mohammed Kwajaffa, the Trade Relations Manager, West Africa for South African Tourism, Ms. Stella Fubara, Director Africa, Dubai Tourism, Ghana’s Tourism promoter media Mogul and CEO of Kaya Tours, Mr. Abeiku Santana, the Nigerian CNN Journalist of the Award winner and leading travel writer, Obinna Emelike of Business Day. The discussion was moderated by Mrs. Ebele Enemchukwu   former Mrs. Tourism United Nations.

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