From Kester Kenn Klomegah, (Moscow Bureau Chief)
Moscow, Feb. 2, GNA - West Africa tourism destinations remain largely untapped for the huge number of potential Russian tourists whose incomes have steadily grown over the past years and shown interest in touring different parts of the world.
In terms of tourist flow from new regions including Russia, the West Africa Region remains unknown, primarily due to inadequate information and lack of publicity.
Felly Mbabazi, Executive Director of Safari Tropical Tours, told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that Russians are great travellers who spend freely on vacations abroad and if West African destinations are strategically promoted, there could be substantial revenue to those countries.
The Russian nearly 148 million Russians are a travelling population, according to Mbabazi, who for 15 years, has directed and organised several tours to safaris in East Africa including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Her company also operates tours to South Africa and other Southern African countries.
"There are a lot to be considered in the tourism business such as quality infrastructure, reasonable prices, attractions like wildlife, white sandy beaches, gastronomic experience, and most important, tourists safety," according to Mbabazi.
Nearly 50 Russian tourism directors and experts shared the same concerns about the West African Region in a survey by the GNA after the South African Tourism Lunch (SATL) in Moscow. The SATL was to present South Africa to top Russian agencies in Moscow.
South Africa’s Cape Town, Sun City and National Parks always added attraction to the Victoria Falls from Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as safaris in Botswana.
According to Evgeniya Danishevskaya, of the Leo-Style Tourism Agency, Russian tourists often visit Senegal and it is not hard to say why Russians prefer Senegal, primarily for good security, the happy smiles, the wide beaches and a clean ocean.
In fact, Ghana has never been on the list of most visited countries in the world and for Russians this is no exception. Until recently, Ghana has been known among Russians as the second in the world exports of cocoa, according to Irina Rodina, Director of The "Kaleidoscope" Travel Agency.
Rodina thinks it will however be interesting to visit Ghana, for the ancient castles and to feel warmth of the local people.
Of course, Ghana could be known for medical tourism because many doctors in Ghana have been trained abroad, tourists will be able to afford treatment clinics in Ghana with low price and high quality care.
Also cosmetic surgery is one of the first request of tourists-customers. It can also bring massage and treatment of alcoholism and drug dependence but unfortunately, the West African region is not advertised, most of the tourism agencies wrote in the survey.
Ekaterina Afanasyeva, Chief Executive Officer of Camelot & SC Tourism Agency, said West Africa, for the majority of Russian tourists, is not yet exotic as there are many factors that impede tourism businesses.
These include the absence of direct flights, medical challenges including Ebola, little or no information about the Region and long procedures for visas.
The famous West African countries are: Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d'Voire, Ghana and Burkina Faso ... it is difficult to say how popular they are as tourism destinations especially for Russians.
"To be honest, West Africa is not popular in our company and I think among Russians in general. People think that this part of Africa is not good as far as there is no adequate information about them including where to go, what to see and where to live.
People would like to know why they should visit new places," according to Zlata Borisenko, Sales Manager from SODIS Travel Company.
Tatyana Denisova, Head of the Section for Tropical African Studies of the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, said "West Africa has not got a well-developed tourism strategy and publicity is significantly absent.
"Tour operators from the region can attend tourism fairs in Moscow, bring catalogues and brochures and establish personal contacts. I have personally been on several forums but not a single West African has participated," she said.
Of course, security issues play an important role. From historical and architectural point of view, the greatest interest might be in Nigeria, Ghana, and Mali. In Ghana, the situation is quite stable, and in principle, tourism in Ghana could start to develop faster than in other countries, but this should be addressed vigorously, Denisova explained.
An official from the Russian Federal Tourism Agency suggested that African governments or the Tourism Ministries and Tourism Boards should seek corporate partnership with the Russian media to promote the region's tourism potentials.
That could be huge revenue from tourism business to the national income and serves as a major contribution to the region's economy development.
West Africa, popularly called the ECOWAS Region is made up of fifteen member countries that have both cultural and geopolitical ties and common economic interest.