High hopes: Natural assets and a good reputation bode well for future growth

In spite of its reputation as a safe, friendly destination – along with strong links to the diaspora and a wide range of cultural, natural and historical sites – Ghana’s tourism sector has yet to reach its potential, prompting the country to embark on an ambitious strategy aimed at increasing visitor numbers five-fold over the next 12 years.

Ghana’s tourism sector has strengthened in recent years, with a thriving domestic segment helping to generate forecasts of steady growth. However, while the country is one of West Africa’s best-known tourist destinations, there is widespread recognition that more could be done to boost the industry’s contribution to economic growth, employment and foreign-currency earnings.

Speaking in June 2015, Ghana’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare, said that tapping the industry’s potential would require not just greater investment but also more local government collaboration. Her comments, made during a visit of tourist sites in the Northern Region, were aimed at generating debate on how these areas could be developed to support broader growth. During her tour, Ofosu-Adjare urged local governments to allocate more resources to tourism development, as well as enhance marketing strategies.

Driving Development

Data from the World Travel & Tourism Council put the direct contribution of tourism and travel to the economy at GHS2.6bn ($721.5m) in 2013, equal to 3% of GDP, with 55% of this generated from domestic travel. The industry’s broader contribution to GDP that year reached 7.2%, or GHS6.2bn ($1.7bn). Tourism accounted for 311,000 jobs, representing around 5.8% of overall employment. Growth is forecast to remain steady, at an annual average rate of 4.5% up until the year 2024.

However, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) has set an ambitious target of welcoming 4.3m visitors annually by 2027, up from current levels of around 1m. Supporting its bid is a multi-faceted strategy designed to strengthen and broaden the country’s tourism appeal. The initiative, which has been adopted by the government, also focuses on developing high-value niche segments.

The long-term strategy has a concerted marketing drive at its core, with the aim of capitalising on the country’s natural beauty in places like Mole National Park in the northwest to historic sites like Cape Coast Castle. The strategy, which maps tourism growth between 2013 and 2027, was outlined in the National Tourism Development Plan, published in November 2012. The plan places considerable emphasis on private sector involvement, and its implementation is being aided by the Tourism Development Fund, financed by a 1% levy on tourism activities.

Looking Longer Term

The plan will roll out in three stages, with the first phase − running to 2017 – aiming to build on Ghana’s existing strengths, such as its reputation as a safe destination, while also focusing on cultural, historical and business segments.

The government aims to broaden Ghana’s tourism offerings in the second phase as growth gains pace, beginning by targeting other segments, such as backpackers and the high-end market. In the final phase, Ghana will be looking to spread tourism development more widely across the country, and beyond the “Golden Triangle” between Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast, where most visitors are based. Ghana’s natural, historical and cultural sites, such as Lake Volta, the hills of the east and the predominantly Muslim north, offer ample scope for expansion.

The GTA expects arrivals to grow strongly in 2015 to more than 1.5m, up from 930,000 in 2014, when the regional Ebola outbreak had a large impact on visitor numbers. Ghana emerged from the crisis largely unaffected, and other factors, such as improved connectivity, bode well for a swift rebound and could prove to be a sound basis for longer-term growth.