The "Working in Ghana" Project

Travel Agency Managing Director

[Due to Mrs. Mensah-Appiah's busy schedule, Philip Awekeya had some difficulty in securing an appointment to interview her. However, once they met at her office, she responded attentively and thoughtfully. Mrs. Mensah-Appiah has worked in the travel business for nearly 25 years. Her experience includes service as a tour guide and as an employee of two European airline companies. For about ten years she has owned and operated her own travel agency in Accra. She is in her early fifties, and has four grown children. She has completed a course of study for chartered secretaries.]

As a managing director of a travel and tour company I have a lot of work to do in a given day. When I report for work at 7:30 a.m., I check with my staff to learn if there are fax messages for me to take action on. If the messages indicate that I am to receive a group of tourists on a particular date, I either instruct one of my office clerks to ring one of the good hotels in town to book the accommodation or I do it myself. Then later in the day I dispatch one of my clerks to make a personal follow-up with a confirmation booking card for signature so that we are not let down when the tour group arrives.

I have my secretary write letters to such places as Aburi Botanical Garden, Cape Coast Castle, and Mole Game Reserve to arrange for a visit when the group is in the country. Prior to their arrival, I reconfirm with the Tourist Board the rental of one or two of their buses. On the day of the group's arrival I go for the bus or buses two hours in advance, ride to the airport, and wait for the tourists. When they arrive, I personally assist them through the normal clearing procedures and then take them to the hotel where I had booked accommodation. From the day I receive the group until their final departure, I spend most of my time taking them to places of interest.

This is a taxing business. It requires me to be always on the move, getting in touch with many offices and officials to get things straight so my clients will be satisfied. Yet I never have the least regret at going into it. I am proud of what I do because it is one of the few jobs that opens one up to people of all walks of life. Through this job I meet people from this country and elsewhere whom I would not otherwise have had the chance to know.

However, not everything about my job is smooth-sailing. I encounter a number of problems, ranging from lack of well qualified staff, such as trained guides and computer clerks. In addition, I also face the problem of getting access to good promotional materials in the form of slides from the Tourist Board or other organizations. I borrow the materials to advertise my business outside Ghana in order to attract more tourists. Another serious problem is transport to convey my clients from place to place. I rely solely on the Tourist Board busses, which are in heavy demand. The Board requires longer advance booking and serious constant reminders. Otherwise, you get a shock on the day you need the buses to take your clients from Accra to, say, Cape Coast or beyond. Public transportation is often not reliable, since their vehicles easily break down and cause a lot of embarrassment. A possible solution would be for me to have my own company bus or busses. However, I don't yet have enough funds to acquire even one bus. If I had one, I could supplement it with others from the Tourist Board.

I could use an additional computer, a set of new office furniture, and a trained guide to serve as a facilitator in my office. I do not feel too comfortable working without these things. However, under the circumstances, I make do with the modest equipment at hand and my limited and untrained staff. Surprisingly, most clients who use our service are impressed with the services we render. On several occasions they have recommended us to other groups in the U.S. and elsewhere who were interested in visiting this country.

I find the travel and tour business challenging. I would recommend it to any interested person who has such qualities as high motivation, love of meeting people, abundant stamina for moving to places that are not air-conditioned, and willingness to confront the problems that are part of the service industry.

Judging from the countless excellent recommendations about our services to tour groups outside Ghana, I must say that although my staff and I work under very tight conditions, competing shoulder to shoulder with other, better-equipped tour agencies, our services are second to none. We have achieved a high standard of service. We now have to maintain that standard so we will not be over-shadowed by the latter-day entrants into the business.

I am an easy-going person. I establish cordial relationships with people in a brief time. As a result of my openness, quite a number of people approach me for information based on the work I do. I treat all people who call in this office with respect. I never frown at anyone even if what the person wants to discuss is a sheer waste of time. I have trained my office staff to handle clients with care. We seldom hear of people complaining outside about our dealings with them.

My relationships with my staff are excellent. Each of them feels free to approach me with his or her problems, be it social or financial. I never turn my back on their problems. I try to make them feel happy so that they can put their best into this business and to facilitate its growth. Though money does not come in so fast as I expected, I still try to pay them well and also give them a few allowances for overtime to cushion them financially.

I think there are good opportunities for me in this industry. I often attend seminars and lectures organized by the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourist Board. I strongly feel that it will be possible for me to make good money in the next couple of years, especially now that Ghana is enjoying constitutional rule and as a result, many tourists are attracted to come in from the diaspora.

I find it hard to talk about my job without mentioning the great impact it has had on my social outlook. Money aside, one of the greatest benefits is the increased chance to make many friends, mostly from the U.S., who help promote my business abroad. Some of these newly found friends invite me to visit them when I travel outside Ghana on business promotions. Others send me gifts although I never encourage this practice.

I am an active member of several associations, including the Ghana Chamber of Commerce and the Ghana Association of Travel Associates. I attend all their meetings in spite of my tight schedule. But I am most proud of my participation in Women's World Banking of Ghana, which serves women in low income brackets. I hope that poor women engaged in petty trading, fish smoking, and market gardening will use this novel financial institution to better their lot--by saving through it and by obtaining small loans at low interest rates to expand their businesses, instead of folding their arms and looking on helplessly to what their husbands give them as grocery money. I am a founding member and chairperson of this organization.

To me, life is not worth living if one can't do something to contribute to the advancement of others. I am guided by this desire to help my fellow women improve their lot. I constantly venture into new areas and programs that I believe will benefit women. I don't give up easily and as a result of this rare quality bestowed on me by nature, I make maximum use of it for the good of women generally.