Bench Blog

Ghana June 2015 Matthew Weihs

Dec 10, 2015

Ghana June 2015   Matthew Weihs

This was my first visit to the West of Africa and after all the usual red tape needed to obtain a VISA I was on my way.  Connectivity across Africa is a big issue and pricing to Ghana typified this with British Airways charging an outrageous £2500 for a direct economy class ticket to Accra.

Stepping off the plane the passengers were greeted by a swarm of large flying insects. They looked like slimmed down versions of dragon flies and they provided a bizarre, unworldly welcoming party.  In June Ghana was still in a cautious state of monitoring Ebola and, as we went through the customary immigration checks, we were kept in further chaotic queues whilst they monitored temperature.  I think the flying insects, long journey and long waits started to take their toll as two rows in front of me erupted an almighty row.

The row started because an Indian gentleman was being shepherded through to the front of the queue.  The local Ghanaian crowd took umbrage claiming prejudice of the system against their own people.  The conflict ended up with a number of members of the queue exchanging “f-yous” with one of the administrators on the desk.

Although this made for a slightly entertaining 10 minute distraction in what was a long and laborious 2 hour immigration process it also provided a unique insight into the deeper frustrations of the local people at their treatment and subsequent relationship with officials.

Welcome to Ghana!

 A lady carrying a teddy bear in her Hijab through immigration – obviously…

I do like to use my time through immigration to get a sense for who is visiting a country and why.  People tend to open up and it turned out there was interesting mix of a development manager from Samsung, a girl who was starting an internship with one of the banks and a young American chap coming to teach math (that’s maths to us) at a local school.   However, interesting these people were, 2 hours is still 2 hours so I thought (as the “local channel” was clear) I’d also try my hand at a touch of bribing officials.  This was my first attempt at fluttering a $20 bill and winking and nudging to a uniformed guard.  It only occurred to me after I’d be doing this for a minute or two as to what it could be misconstrued as so I stopped and decided I would better just to wait in future.

When I booked my hotel I had picked the Labadi Beach hotel as a bit of a treat.  It is rare I get chance to spend time in hotels outside of the city and in non-international brands such as Legacy Resorts and Hotels.  The Kempinski was still in development and, apart from the Moevenpick (which dominated the business market in Accra or the the Holiday Inn) there wasn’t a great deal of choice.  My first impressions of Labadi Beach was that it was a fun hotel which, I found out,  was originally an InterContinental before being rebranded.  Its ambiance remained colonial with lots of dark wood beams and panels around the hotel, leather seating and the whirring of ceiling fans to cool the main lobby areas.  It had lovely gardens that led down to the beach area.  I was warned, however, not to be tempted to have a little dip as I’d be most likely getting a mouthful of something nasty as the sea was a full of sewage and filthy.  I stuck with the pool….!

      

Inside and out of the Labadi Beach Hotel

Suitably refreshed after my swim my guide and local partner, Edmund Asamoah, arrived at the hotel to take me out to a few meetings. A local developer, who attended our conference in 2012, he was keen to get me to the city to entice me to spread the word locally of the good work we do.    Ever since he had a successful time at the conference he has been promoting what we do locally and this visit was to help evangelise what we were doing and how we could help the local industry. Our first stop was to the Moevenpick to view the conference space and then host the meeting.

The conference space was a decent size and the hotel was immaculately maintained.  The main purpose for my visit however, other than checking out the facility, was to host a meeting for around 30 industry locals who wanted to learn more about what our business does. We had set a meeting for 2.30pm in expectation for 3pm start but, barring a few people arriving on time, we only got going at 3.30pm. This was actually good thing because it took almost 2 hours to link my computer to the projector and still to this day my computer has a completely new set up!

Technical issues aside it turned out to be a passionate meeting.  This group clearly felt that the industry was not getting support from the Government to enable investment.  Energy was hugely expensive and, with the Government only allowing 12 hours of energy  for every 48 hours, there was a massive deficiency.  Lack of incentives and promotion led me to believe Ghana, as good as it looked, was not competing hard enough.

My visits were hampered by a huge storm which showed no sign of abating.  This made it difficult to visit the new Kempinski development as it was deemed too dangerous. I had little time so we took the risk at the end of the day and made use of the morning viewing the conference space at the Labadi where I tried to keep up with Adrian Landrey, the GM, as he gave me a tour of the hotel.  A six foot something South African striding purposefully across the corridors of the hotel was quite hard for a little legged chap like me to keep up with.

On the way to the Kempinski site we popped into see Bruce Potter the GM of the Holiday Inn. A fast talking and pithy Scotsman who had been a resident in Accra for 8 years.  He was well connected and fairly long in the tooth as well. He set Edmund and I up with a meeting with GHATOF (Ghana Tourism Federation) and treated us to a lovely buffet lunch. In the afternoon we visited the UKTI offices and popped into one of the new malls in Accra. Edmund’s family had built the first mall in Accra and now, in only a short time, there was already 4.  The quality of the mall was excellent – mainly filled with mainly South African brands which I wasn’t familiar with but you could easily see the rise in retail.  Packed full of white goods, electronics, clothes stores and obligatory low cost supermarket.

Finally, in the early evening, we got chance to see the Kempinski facility. I believe this will be a fantastic property and perfect for the city – alongside the hotel was going to be a high end retail outlet before the whole area will be developed. The conference facilities were very good and will easily compete with what is in the city already.

After driving around the city on what felt like a wild goose chase in the dark we eventually stumbled on the GHATOF (Ghana Tourism Federation) offices. I was told that roads aren’t always named so it made it difficult to find the offices which were tucked away in some back streets.  The building was unusual in that, from the outside, it looked more like a residential block.  At the time the situation felt quite surreal especially as we’d be driving around the city for around an hour trying to find these offices but we had a productive meeting.

I left Ghana hoping that AHIF would fit the ambitions of the market going forward. After an exhausting day we moved on late in the evening to a fantastic local restaurant in the city where, it seemed, my host knew everyone in it.