Open for business

Once hailed as a regional growth model and example of a successful African democracy, Ghana was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund in 2015 for a bailout, as global commodity prices tanked. But it remains a West African country of great interest to international investors and business travellers, with its capital Accra front and centre of what it has to offer.

1870

Ghana is considered one of the more stable countries in West Africa since its transition to multi-party democracy in 1992. Formerly known as the Gold Coast, Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1957, becoming the first sub-Saharan nation to break free from colonial rule.

Gold, cocoa and more recently oil form the cornerstone of Ghana’s economy and helped fuel an economic boom.

Until recently, Ghana was hailed as a model for African growth, but since 2013 its economy has endured a growing public deficit, high inflation, and a weakening currency, resulting in its seeking an IMF bailout.

Nana Akufo-Addo won the presidential election in December 2016, tapping into an electorate fed up with a sputtering economy and ready for change. The 72-year-old human rights lawyer won 53.8% of the vote, according to the country’s election agency, and incumbent John Mahama conceded defeat after a hotly-contested race that was seen as a test of the country’s democracy in a region plagued by dictators and coups.

Akufo-Addo has taken power with ambitious plans to revive once spectacular economic growth, only to discover a $1.6-billion hole in the budget and a deficit twice as high as expected.

With Ghana more than half way through a three-year IMF programme, the new government must reveal in its first budget in March how it intends to restore financial discipline while staying true to Akufo-Addo’s election promises to boost growth and fight poverty.

Akufo-Addo entered office in January on pledges to spend the equivalent of $1 million a year on development in each of Ghana’s 275 parliamentary constituencies, build a dam in every village to ensure reliable water supplies, and bring a factory to every district.

In winning a big victory in December over Mahama, he also promised to cut taxes. His plan is to stimulate private sector investment to raise economic growth – which peaked at 14% in 2011 – back into double digits from around 4% last year.

The government also said it would follow through on its promise to make secondary school education free.

It has adopted a triple track approach: preparing the budget, reassuring investors who are major holders of Ghana’s local currency and dollar debt that it will not overspend, and holding fresh talks with the IMF.

Ghana’s boom years were fuelled by exports of oil, gold and cocoa. The 2014-15 dive in commodity prices hit it hard, along with a technical fault that halted production last year at its Jubilee oil field, operated by British company Tullow.

The $918 million IMF programme of 2015 was designed to stabilise state finances and the wider economy. Last year the IMF and the previous government repeatedly said that budgetary targets would be respected. Under the IMF deal, the 2016 deficit was supposed to be the equivalent of 5.25% of annual gross domestic product, but it came in at around 9%.

Some foreign investors are willing to give the new government the benefit of the doubt.

“We do see growth continuing to improve over the next 12-24 months. We do believe that the new administration is fiscally conservative, that they are investing in positive net present value projects like infrastructure,” said Arif Joshi, Emerging Markets Debt Portfolio Manager at Lazard Asset Management in New York.

Ravi Bhatia, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s credit ratings agency, said the deficit appeared “sizeable but not humongous”.

The government has discussed the possibility of trying to seek an extension of the IMF deal beyond April 2018, but no decision has been taken, according to a senior government official. The IMF said after a visit in February to Accra that it estimated 2016 growth would be slightly higher than its initial forecasts, but inflation was falling more slowly than expected and the deficit was higher.

So, Ghana as a country has its economic challenges, although there remains optimism from those with a vested interest.

“As an emerging market, investment is an important factor for the economy to grow and we would expect Ghana’s reputation as a safe, stable option within West Africa, where ease of doing business is also recognised, to see continued growth,” says Axel Hauser, General Manager of the Moevenpick Ambassador hotel in Accra. “It would also be encouraging to see support for some of the core industries including oil, mining and agriculture, which also contribute to economic success in Ghana. Growth in these areas would not only stimulate travel to and from Ghana, but encourage conference organisers to seriously look at Ghana as a vibrant destination for their events.”

ACCRA

Accra stretches along the Ghanaian Atlantic coast and extends north.

Originally built around three different settlements including a port (Jamestown), it served as the capital of the British Gold Coast between 1877 and 1957. Once merely a 19th-century suburb of Victoriaborg, Accra has since transitioned into a modern metropolis. The city’s architecture reflects this history, ranging from 19th-century architecture buildings to modern skyscrapers and apartment blocks.

Accra serves as the Greater Accra Region’s economic and administrative hub. It is furthermore a centre of a wide range of nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels. Since the early 1990s, a number of new buildings have been built, including the National Theatre, which was built with Chinese assistance. In 2010 the Globalization and World Cities Research Network designated Accra a Gamma-minus-level world city, indicating a growing level of international influence and connectedness.

The capital of Ghana is relatively small and manageable, meaning it’s fairly easy to get around, even if you’re a first-timer scheduling back-to-back meetings on opposite sides of town.

For starters, there are three main areas – airport, beach, and ‘downtown’ – each dotted with a selection of hotels. Unlike other African cities, the airport area is not an undesirable place, with a series of high-rise office buildings and decent hotels. The airport area will also eventually be home to The Exchange (see below), once completed.

The central business district of Accra – or ‘downtown’ as the locals like to refer to it – contains the city’s main banks and department stores, and an area known as the Ministries, where Ghana’s government administration is concentrated. Economic activities in Accra include the financial and commercial sectors, fishing, and the manufacture of processed food, lumber, plywood, textiles, clothing, and chemicals.

The beach area is arguably dominated by Labadi Beach Hotel, a Legacy Hotels & Resorts property that is a bit of an Accra institution, having hosted many visiting heads of state and offering extensive conferencing and food and beverage options.

Traffic in Accra, as in most African cities, can be a nightmare. But consult the locals and get a sense of where you need to be at certain times and when you shouldn’t be travelling certain routes. The airport to the beach area in morning rush hour, for example, is not recommended.

AIRILINES & AIRPORTS

Accra’s Kotoka International Airport is a small airport, but a functional one, with passport control and baggage collection well managed, despite not being exceptionally big spaces. Kotoka International has an open-air front concourse with seating and a coffee shop or two, whilst taxi pick-up takes place to the right, through a short passage, as you exit the terminal.

There’s also a user-friendly drop-off zone, making the start of one’s departure fairly seamless. On departure, once checked in, security, curio shops, duty free and lounges are upstairs.

“The continuing transformation of Kotoka International Airport is not yet complete. However, the existing facilities have seen improvements which have speeded up the passenger journey through customs and baggage collection,” says Hauser. “Major improvements have also been experienced in customer service, but most importantly, the new terminal will allow for increased capacity, which again is good for business.”

Construction on a new Terminal 3 for Kotoka International got underway in March 2016. Designed for international traffic, the new terminal will comprise five levels spread across an area of 45,000m². It will have capacity to process 1,250 passengers a peak hour, a large retail and commercial area, three business lounges, six fixed links and seven air bridges expandable to eight, and parking space with capacity to handle more than 700 cars.

The departure level of the terminal will feature 56 check-in desks, 30 passport control counters, of which four will be e-gate positions, and eight security lanes. The arrival level will house 24 immigration counters, four e-gate positions expandable to eight, and four reclaim devices.

A fully automated baggage handling system designed in accordance with the latest European Civil Aviation Conference Hold Baggage Screening requirements will also be provided to handle 3,500 bags an hour.

The terminal will be accessed from a new main road to be constructed as part of the project. The main entrance will be located in front of the central check-in hall, making it easy to enter the terminal. Surface car parking will also be located within walkable distance of the terminal, which is expected to be completed this year.

As far as current lounges go, you’ll find the Adinkra, Akwaaba and Sanbra lounges airside in the international departures terminal, with the Akwaaba closer to gate one. This lounge is charming, with a great view of the departing planes on the tarmac, comfortable seating, coffee tables and plenty of plug points. It also has a bar counter in the corner, plenty of newspapers, a fridge with cold alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, filter coffee, snacks on offer, clean and convenient toilets, and most importantly, a speedy wi-fi connection.

“Kotoka International Airport has facilities for all tiers of passengers and now has three lounges which the airlines utilise for qualifying passengers and for which any traveller can pay a fee to enter,” says Hauser. “All of these lounges have comfortable seating, TV screens, complimentary wi-fi, drinks and light snacks, providing travellers with a comfortable environment in which to work, meet or relax before their flight.”

HOTELS

The 5-star Moevenpick Ambassador opened in mid-2011 and until the opening of the Kempinski at the end of 2015 was the gold standard for international business travellers. Located in Accra’s downtown business district, the Moevenpick has all of the amenities business travellers need, including a 24-hour business centre and complimentary wireless internet. The hotel has multiple dining locations, as well as 24-hour room service.

Also located downtown and in close proximity to the State House, Accra International Conference Centre, and the National Theatre, Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City has 269 rooms, including 22 luxury suites. It also has an extensive food and beverage offering, including its Papillon Restaurant, Lobby Lounge, Gallery Bar, and Cedar Garden. Additional facilities include a Resense Spa, health club, swimming pool, tennis court and 1,750m2 conference centre.

Downtown also has a Novotel adjacent to the Moevenpick and the Alisa Hotel in North Ridge, whilst Accra’s only other 5-star hotel, Legacy Hotels & Resorts’ Labadi Beach Hotel, offers something quite different from the Kempinski and Moevenpick. While it is located on the beach, it is within a short, but not always quick, drive of the city and airport. The hotel has a business centre, conference facilities, and wi-fi in the common areas. A few hundred metres up from Labadi Beach Hotel you’ll find La-Palm Royal Beach, which is also managed by Legacy.

The Golden Tulip Accra is located five minutes from Kotoka International and is one of a host of hotels in the area that include Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ Fiesta Royale, the Holiday Inn Accra Airport, the Ibis Styles Accra Airport, the Best Western Premier Accra Airport, the African Regent Hotel, and a delightful boutique property called Villa Monticello.

If you’re looking for a long-stay option, Preferred Hotels & Resorts offers the Fiesta Residences Boutique Hotel & Serviced Apartments, which is fairly new, having opened in mid-2015.

That covers the three main areas of Accra – the beach, downtown, and the airport area – and because traffic can be a problem, it’s recommended that you select a hotel that’s conveniently located for your meeting(s).

HOTEL DEVELOPMENT

Accra remains an attractive development location to some of the world’s big international hotel groups, and the next few years are expected to see Hilton, Carlson Rezidor and Marriott properties opening in the city.

Rezidor plans to open a four-star Radisson Blu as part of The Exchange project in the airport area. Besides 207 guest rooms, the property will offer a rooftop swimming pool, fitness centre, and a number of food and beverage concepts. Extensive meeting, conference and banqueting facilities to cater to the needs of the domestic and regional market will complement the offering. The hotel is expected to open in the first quarter of 2018.

Hilton plans to open the 280-room Hilton Garden Inn – Africa’s first modular build hotel – in the next few years, possibly 2018. Modular construction is an innovative solution that can be used to drive hotel development, offering numerous benefits including faster development, streamlined design and cost efficiencies. The process involves assembling portions of the hotel – including guest rooms and hallways – in China, before transporting them to the final site for completion, thereby significantly reducing the time taken for construction. The model helps ensure consistent quality and accelerates the build schedule on site, a particular benefit for developers and investors in emerging markets.

Located on Liberation Road, the main connection between Ghana’s capital and its major international airport, the hotel will feature three restaurants and amenities offered at each Hilton Garden Inn location, including complimentary high-speed wi-fi throughout the hotel, a 24-hour business and fitness centre, four adjustable meeting rooms and a 450m2 ballroom.

At the time of going to print, Marriott had yet to open the Accra Marriott Hotel, which had been slated to open by the end of 2016.

GETTING AROUND

Taxis are available in Accra and prices are reasonable. Just be aware of the different types of taxis, as each have different fares. Remember to bargain the fare. Whatever the driver quotes you, offer a third of that and work your way to an agreement. Alternatively, check with a local what the normal fare for that particular route would be. Just remember to have change and low denomination notes.

June 2016 saw Ghana join Uber’s growing network in Africa, with Accra the first city in Ghana to receive the service and the 467th across the globe.

“We see Accra as a natural fit, because its people are willing to embrace innovation and technology and love products that are cool, exclusive and offer a new experience,” said Alon Lits, General Manager for Uber sub-Saharan Africa at last year’s launch.

“Most International hotels offer a free airport shuttle service and a few have in-house car services where you can rent a car and driver,” says Hauser. “Uber has been in Ghana for a few months now and the service seems to work quite well, but you may have to give the driver directions! Street taxies and ‘tro tros’ are everywhere and are very much part of the African culture, providing the bulk of transportation for locals.”

Those ‘tro tros’ are privately-owned minibuses. Many are poorly maintained, but the locals make use of them because they are amazingly cheap and readily available. Once understood, they are very useable, cheap and fun!

VISAS

Ghana rolled out its new visa-on-arrival policy on the first of July 2016, allowing citizens of the 54 African Union member states to get visas for up to 30 days upon arriving in the country. This policy does not affect citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who can enter the country without a visa. Also exempt are travellers from Mauritius, Swaziland, Kenya, and Rwanda.

CONTACTS
www.ghana.travel

FACT FILE
Time zone:
GMT
Plugs: Three-prong flat
Dialling code: +233
Currency: Ghanaian Cedi – $1=4.5GHS
Language: English

The Exchange
First conceptualised in 2011 and with the first phase due for completion this year, The Exchange is located off Independence Avenue and the airport bypass, near Kotoka International Airport. A first of its kind in Accra, it will be the largest mixed-use development in West Africa. One of its features will be a four-star Radisson Blu business hotel, consisting of 206 rooms, restaurants, and an outdoor pool/bar, with the hotel projected to open in the first quarter of 2018. The Exchange is being developed in two phases and will incorporate office, residential and retail space. It will boast the first pedestrian retail high street of its kind and its green design will use at least 30% less energy than its peers in Accra. Overall, there will be over 12,000m2 of retail space, including a mix of fashion, cosmetics, food and beverage, and electronics, among others, along with a 700m2 gym, a supermarket, and a 500m2 playground for children. For those looking to The Exchange as an upmarket living space, it will offer one, two and three bedroom apartments, along with penthouses consisting of two and three bedrooms. “It is an example of the confidence in Ghana as a developing country and adds another dynamic to the growing infrastructure of this vibrant city,” says Axel Hauser, General Manager of the Moevenpick Ambassador hotel in downtown Accra. “Already there are different business hubs within the city and currently in the downtown area there are numerous innovative projects nearing completion. Ghana is truly open for business”. The Exchange has already been awarded preliminary EDGE certification. Designed in collaboration with executive architect Dar Al-Handasah, it is HOK’s first project to achieve this credential since the firm entered into a partnership agreement with World Bank Group member IFC in April 2016 to use IFC’s EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) green building software and certification system to promote sustainability in projects in emerging markets around the world. “The Exchange complex represents everything we are striving to achieve with EDGE,” said Prashant Kapoor, IFC’s principal green building specialist and inventor of EDGE. “It is a symbol of how leading architectural practices such as HOK can work together with financiers and major hotel brands to bring resource-efficient design to life in emerging markets. We are grateful that HOK has championed the belief that inspiring design and sustainability are inseparable.” The new shopping destination features several distinct outdoor zones, including a lushly planted streetscape, a high-quality open-air shopping environment, restaurant terraces, a rooftop pool and garden spaces. A large green buffer mitigates the urban island heat effect, particulate pollution and surface runoff, while providing a green park space. The landscape design draws inspiration from the strong angular geometry found within Ghanaian kente cloth, an African silk fabric made of interwoven cloth strips. It also recalls the architectural cooling devices used within the Tropical Modernism movement of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as colourful plantings native to tropical West Africa.