Should Ghana re-imagine leadership for the hospitality and tourism industry during this pandemic?

“To promote tourism is a major objective of many politicians and bureaucrats at national and local levels. To understand what levers to use to attract new visitors is their greatest challenge” according to Claudia Bettiol who writes for “Tourism Places and Travel.

Ghana’s hospitality and tourism industry has all the potentials to develop and grow but is the industry leaders positioned in qualification and experience that fits the scope of the job? Is there an organizational fit with the leadership that is required? We should not forget the popular saying that leadership is a cause and all others are effect of leadership.

Is the leadership to cause the effect lacking which is resulting in the stagnating the growth and development of the industry?

In the last fifty (50) years, a lot has been written and said about leadership. We have on countless times heard about leaders who were great and others who were not. The phenomenon of leadership is like a cloud that keeps moving every now and then until, clear images are formed.

In a recent article published in INUA magazine, one author described the concept of leadership as “an artful craft that demonstrates the benevolence and vulnerability alike of the leader through a commitment to the advancement of those who have entrusted their development, progress, and care to the leader. The famous Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted to have said, “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart”.

Leadership in the hospitality and the tourism industry is a crafted art that must be exercised with the benevolence of the leader and definitely, one can be likened to handle others with the heart just as Eleanor Roosevelt said.

If I look at the hospitality and tourism industry in Ghana, I can understand the misguided conceptions about it. This is not unique to only Ghana but a general problem facing the tourism and hospitality industry globally and it needs bold leadership to change the misguided conceptions. For many, the hospitality industry is nothing apart from cooks and servers. Many people do not know the tourism industry beyond this but the truth is, there is more to the tourism industry than what meets the eye.

My passion for the industry began in high school back in Jamaica. At that time, I was the only guy who did food and nutrition with pride but unfortunately, I was looked down on by my peers. In spite of that, I still went on to university in Jamaica to study “institutional and catering management” and even at that level, I realized that there were misguided conceptions about the tourism and the hospitality industry. People knew nothing about the industry apart from cooking and serving guests in restaurants.

I studied up to doctorate levels and conducted research into the tourism industry and to my disbelief, the same notion persisted. It is all about “work your way up” in the industry before you are likely to be rewarded with a leadership role. Many of these “leaders” who are thrust into leadership roles without having an idea about what it takes to lead often do not give a good impression about the industry.

Leadership in this fragile industry should not be entrusted to appease a person or to individual who we would say have been around a long time so the reward for longevity is a “position” of leadership when these individuals have little to no clue about what it takes to lead.

Is it time to reimagine the tourism and hospitality industry? The “down-time” of COVID-19 offers the opportunity for tourism development planners, marketers and other industry practitioners to start re-strategizing, coaching, training, and preparing, for example, a succession plan for leaders who are nearing retirement from the industry or those who have become complacent in their craft and are no longer engaged. New crop of leaders must be at the forefront to change the age-old misconceptions about the industry and that can start in Ghana with capable leaders.

The tourism industry needs leaders who understand the nuances of the industry and are willing and prepare to sacrifice their comfort to create the difference. It requires leaders who have in-depth knowledge about the industry and appreciates its challenges and opportunities of this industry.

This is an industry that is the global leader in employment, touches every facet of the educational structure from engineering, science, technology to accounting, and all the professionals you can think about. The industry is a vehicle for social and economic growth, entrepreneurship, it attracts international investments and diaspora engagement.

With my experiences, years of research, and observation, I have come to realize that leadership is dynamic and I sometimes wonder if those at the helm of affairs in the hospitality industry are emotionally intelligent enough to realize this. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and the author of “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” argues that that emotional intelligence can be more important than cognitive intelligence. It is important to keep this in mind as a leader, especially if you should find yourself in the hospitality industry.

There are four unique qualities that people with high emotional intelligence display, compassion, authenticity, respect, and confidence. Similarly, effective leaders competently engage with those they lead and not be aloof and set themselves up as thin gods who have arrived. They should learn to effectively engage those they are leading than imposing themselves on them and that can change the face of the industry.

Leadership defines destination image. You might be asking what I mean by destination image. Byron (2014) defines tourism destination image as the sum of beliefs, ideas, and impressions that a person has of a destination. Kotler et al. (2012) also define destination image as the sum of beliefs and impressions people hold about a place. Ghana is a tourism and hospitality destination. Ghana has that tourism and hospitality image which needs to be maintained and built upon and that requires ingenuity and reimagining in the leadership structures in the tourism and hospitality industry.

As Ghana continues to move in the right direction to realizing the true potential of tourism as a foreign exchange generator, capitalizing on the cultural sites, the rich history and overall culture, coupled with all-year-round sunshine, the main ingredient is leadership, passionate leadership at all levels, leaders who are leading by example without which Ghana’s tourism potential will continue to lag in its development.

Keen observers will notice that tourism development is touted by most President, Prime Ministers of, especially emerging economies. Ghana is no exception, but one must be cleared-eye with its vision and positions itself on the Continent to maximize the potential of tourism development and a lot needs to be done as far as leadership is concerned.

We are reminded by leadership scholars that “to lead, one must recognize clearly that the leader is flawed, and, in that vulnerability, there resides empathy, objectivity, and clarity all yielding from a myriad of experiences and experimentation”, therefore, while there are many operational competencies researched and explicated about leadership to ensure the ‘prescribed’ success sought, it’s believed that the emotional maturity, skillful communication, and humanity of a leader are the differentiators that birth a dynamic leader.

Leadership also includes the ability to innovate and drive an organization or people towards new ideas and directions. To summarily put it, the hospitality and tourism industry in Ghana need leaders who have the ability to:

– persuade and influence

– demonstrate integrity

– communicate and motivate

– innovate and implement strategic vision

– demonstrate drive and tenacity

The poignant question for Ghana is, is this the time to reimagine leadership within the tourism industry to be competitive? Destinations who will seize the moment as economies get back to a sense of normalcy after this global pandemic will reap rewards.

These destinations that will go beyond surviving to thriving, those economies that take the time to re-position, re-imagine and re-strategize. A reemergence of the industry is inevitable, a tourism swell will occur but the question is, will Ghana re-imagine its leadership structure to capitalize on what to come?

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