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An Open Letter to Ghana Tourism Authority: Cheap Things Can Be Very Expensive 

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The Salvation Army Headquarters In Ghana No Sunkwa Street Osu
The Salvation Army Headquarters In Ghana No Sunkwa Street Osu

Between December 13 and 18, 2022, I bid my late mum farewell to her final resting place. Ordinary, death is the last thing anyone would relate to success; but I can confidently say that everything regarding my mum’s funeral was very successful, except one thing – my sloppy experience at the guest house I chose to stay in over the period.

I grew up in Osu, where the funeral was held. But I now live very far from Osu and I don’t know any guest houses there, so I consulted a friend who gave me the contact of The Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters and Extension Training Centre at #12 Sunkwa Street, Osu Ringway Estates, where they run a guest house, or at least what I was told was a guest house.

The Salvation Army is one of the biggest Christian organizations engaged in evangelism around the globe. My Bishop, who is himself a globally acclaimed evangelist holding some of the biggest crusades in the world today, tells us very fond stories about The Salvation Army. So, I was kind of glad for the opportunity to stay in their guest house because I thought the money was going to go into a good course.

So, I made a call (a cell phone number – 0242306780) and spoke with a lady who said she could barely hear what I was saying because she was in the market. So, I drove to the place myself and met a man, who I later found out, was the husband of the lady I spoke with earlier. He told me they had rooms for GHS200 and some for GHS120 per night. He then asked a certain gentleman called Kwame to show me around. I checked out the rooms and I did not see any marked differences, except that the GHS200 facility had two beds and the GHS120 had one, so I chose the latter because I didn’t need two beds.

First red flag  

Honestly, initially, I did not really like the way the place looked so I called my wife and she said since we were only attending a funeral, we should not think luxury, but just do basic. So, I decided to pay for five nights.

When I returned to the office to make payment, the man running the office was not in. I asked Kwame where he had gone to, and he said he had gone home. That was the first red flag, and it came very early in the day. I was shocked at the laisse faire attitude towards his work. He asked Kwame to show me around, so I was expecting that at least he was going to stay and take feedback, but he left. And Kwame was also not mandated to handle administrative stuff, so he pointed me to the man’s home, which was on the premises. I had to go there myself, knock on the door for his daughter to call his wife to come attend to me.

Second red flag

Eventually, the wife came out, led me to the office and I made payment for five nights. I told her we were going to arrive very late (almost midnight) on Tuesday, December 12, 2022, so, she did three specific things:

  1. She took my name and my phone number and gave me hers
  2. She asked me to call her before we arrive
  3. She promised to give our room key to the night security man to give to us on arrival

So, on Tuesday night, around 8.30pm, I called her several times, but she did not pick the call. I kept checking my phone while in church, with the expectation that she was going to return my call. I was thinking, even if she had not seen my call, she was going to call me and confirm our arrival and the arrangements she made for the keys. That was basic customer service. But I never heard from her. Red flag.

First disappointment

We finally arrived at the guest house at about 11.30pm and we asked the security man for the key, as the woman had promised. We had the shock of our lives.

  1. The security man said no keys were left with him.
  2. The security man said he had no idea that the administrators of the facility even lived on the premises.

Because we were not too sure whether the woman actually spends the night on the premises or not, we did not want to go knock that door, so we had to leave and go spend the night elsewhere and return the next morning.

In the morning, around 6am, I called the woman several times, but she never picked my calls. Around 8am she called me, and she was completely oblivious of who I was and why I had called her the previous night and that morning. Unbelievable.

Second disappointment

Eventually we arrived at the guest house that morning. Before I could enter the office to get our room key, I met Kwame and he told me the woman and her husband had gone for morning devotion so we should sit and wait for them for about 30 minutes before we can get our key. This was where I got livid and asked Kwame whether everything in the guest house comes to a standstill once the woman and her husband are not available?

Kwame kept saying it is not his fault that we were being given a shoddy treatment. His excuse got me even more infuriated because he was the one who showed me around when I first visited the property, and secondly, he was the one who informed me that they had gone for morning devotion. So, I wondered whether they had a system and were running a legitimate guest house business, or it is just some man a wife side gig, which is not official. This is something that Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) should probably look into.

After a few minutes of engaging with Kwame, during which he kept making excuses, the woman emerged from where they were having the devotion, and with a stern and dismissive attitude she said, “sorry for what happened last night”, and she walked away without any further engagement with us. Then someone else brought our key and we went to our room.

“This is how we do it here” 

We thought that was the end of the drama, but no. The following morning, I moved our car out to go buy a few things we needed. On my return the security man stopped me at the gate and said I had to park the car outside because their “leaders” were going to park inside till evening before I can bring my car into the yard after they had left. I was shocked to my bones.

I left the car at the gate and went up to go talk to the woman. Her response was shocking. Again, with a very stern look on her face, she told me “Yes, that is how we do it here”. I asked her why they don’t mention all those conditionalities to guests so we could make a more informed decision about coming or not; she asked me the most crude and rude rhetorical question – “did I see that you had a car”? I was awed at her attitude, so I asked her whether the place was a guest house or something else because if it was, how come they gave their leaders priority over guests? She said, “our leaders cannot not park their cars outside, so you wait when they go in the evening then you come and park your car. I walked away from her in awe, and while I was going, she screamed another rude rhetorical question in Twi, “ei asem bein koraa nie”, to wit “eh, what kind of trouble is this”, to suggest that I (the guest/customer) was the troublemaker.

At this point, I had had it to the hilt, so I told my wife we should just pack our stuff, I was going to call and check on another guest house so we can leave. This cheap guest house was proving too expensive, really! But my wife still urged me to be patient and get through the funeral. After all, we were not going to stay in that place during the day. We leave early morning and got back very late. I listened to my wife and decided to put up with every sloppiness going forward, in the hope that I will get to tell my story.

More shocks

From that point on, we were ready for anything, and we had at least four more before we finally left.

  1. When we returned to the guest house that night, the security man told us we had to move our car out at 6am and park outside. We just put up with it.
  2. In the morning before we left, we left our small barrel at the door for them to fill it with water because the tap in the room was not flowing. We left a message with the gentleman who brought us the key that our barrel was outside, and the key was with the security man (which is their house rule – you have to leave your key with the security man when you go out). We returned in the night to find out the barrel had not been filled. I called the woman and she said we should ask her “boys” to fetch water for us. We found Kwame, and he said the tap was flowing, but they did not fill the barrel because we left it outside. He said if we had left it inside our room, they would have filled it. His logic did not make sense but, like the woman said – that is how they do it here.
  3. The following day, while we were going out, we left the key with the security man as required. But my wife returned to pick something from our room. The security man gave her the wrong key. She got to the door before she realized she had the wrong key. So, one of the “boys” around took the key and went to the security checkpoint to go change it. He found our key and brought it. But the security man followed him to our door and charged at my wife insisting that the key he gave to my wife was the same one we gave to him earlier on. That was one of the most senseless arguments anyone could make but, like the woman said – that is how they do their things there. Even if there is no sense in their argument, they will insist on it. My wife asked the security man to use that key to open our door, and that was where he saw the folly in his argument.
  4. Finally, on the night before our last night, when we got to the security checkpoint, the security man gave us a parcel and said someone left it for us. There was a phone number and a name on the parcel, so I called the person only to find out that someone else actually left the parcel for the one whose name and number was on the parcel. It tells you that there are zero standards at that supposed “guest house”.

While there, I saw quite a few Caucasians there, who looked like either students or peace corps members on a visit to Ghana. Clearly, the facility is playing some role in our tourism value chain. Such a place cannot be allowed to run on the principle of “This is how we do it here”. The regulator(s) need to be up and doing about how such facilities are being run. We cannot insist on standards when it comes to five-star hotels and allow such guest houses to do any and everything they want to customers.

I would be the first to admit, from this experience, that cheap things can indeed be very expensive, and I will never subject myself to such an experience ever again. But it is not just about me. No one deserves to be treated in this manner even if they are sleeping in a commercial property for free. A number of things I think such a facility should work on if indeed it is a licensed guest house:

  1. They must have clear terms and conditions regarding handling of keys, vehicle parking etc, and all that information must be made available to customers before they make payment.
  2. They must reorient their staff (from administrators to security men) to know how to treat guests. They must know that guests are not like one of the people living in the property on charitable basis.
  3. They must inject a sense of professionalism in the people who run the facility. I am not against providing jobs as a way of helping people in need, but even one of the people the woman described as her “boys”, told us that it was obvious the day-time security man was too old for the job, but they still keep him at post. He was the one who made the senseless argument about the key. And the night security guy does seem interested in his job.
  4. They must have a clear distinction between residents who are there on charitable basis and those who are staff. Kwame works with them, but he gives excuses as if he is not a staff.
  5. They must have a system for guests to provide feedback.
  6. They need a big fix in their attitude towards customers, particularly when their failings have pushed the customer to a tipping point. They seem to think the customer has no right to express his or her frustration.

Bigger picture

In terms of the bigger pictures, I think Ghana Tourism Authority needs to examine some of these properties and decide whether they even qualify to provide the services they provide in the light of the quality of the facility itself, the level of staff professionalism and the way they handle customers. Some mystery shopping might do. I have shared my experience. I am sure GTA will find more if they did their own checks as well.

As I said from the start, I respect the work of The Salvation Army, but I will be the last person to recommend their guest house at Osu to anyone. I would be a very big liar if I told anyone that that guest house is a good place to stay in. In terms of the price, yes, it is affordable to stay there. But in terms of the experience, it is the sloppiest you can find.

I think the global leadership of The Salvation Army should also be interested in how the guest house at their headquarters in Ghana is being run. If it is being run with their mandate, then they need to ensure things are done well. If not, then this write up should be an information to them that the place is being used for commercial purposes and it is being done is the shoddiest manner ever.

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