Homeward bound: Focus on domestic tourism and promoting Ghana as a destination

Tourism in Ghana – as was the case in the rest of the world – was negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to widespread health restrictions and limited the ability of people to move across borders for business or leisure travel. Globally, the number of international tourist arrivals decreased by 74% in 2020 compared to 2019 levels. The decline was as high as 80-90% in developing countries. In this sense, Ghana fared comparatively better, with the number of foreign tourists falling by 73%, from 1.3m to 355,000.

Tourism figures are gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels, supported by the rollout of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns around the world. As of January 2022 around 59% of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, though this figure stood at 15% and 20%, respectively, in Africa and Ghana. While some public health restrictions have stayed in place across the country, Ghana’s air borders reopened in 2020, allowing tourists with a negative PCR test result to enter the country. Its land and sea borders remained closed as of early 2022.

Looking Inwards

The impact of the pandemic on Ghana’s tourism sector could mark a turning point in the government’s national strategy to develop the country’s offering and create jobs. In previous years tourism marketing campaigns were largely aimed at international arrivals. However, during the pandemic domestic tourists helped to sustain the sector, highlighting their potential role in the recovery.

To that end, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) has been working with the Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF) and the private sector to strengthen the domestic segment. At a hospitality sector event in August 2021 Ekow Sampson, the deputy CEO of the GTA, told local press that his organisation was looking to promote domestic tourism through public outreach campaigns in partnership with tourism associations and the Ghana Hotels Association. “In the face of stiff competition with other destinations in Africa and the world at large, it is imperative that we do things right to attract the needed tourists to Ghana, in order to rake in substantial foreign exchange and derive the full benefits of such initiatives,” Sampson said.

Promotion & Investment

The authorities are also working to market Ghana as a destination. In 2020 the Visit Ghana website and app were completed, creating a harmonised platform for all of the GTA’s main services. The following year the GTA launched the Experience Ghana, Share Ghana campaign, encouraging Ghanaians to engage on social media to promote the industry domestically. Private investment and support from international organisations are also contributing to the recovery of Ghana’s tourism industry. Programmes such SKILL-UP, from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), are supporting the rebuilding of the tourism sector following the impact of the pandemic. In October 2020 the ILO announced it would work with GHATOF to provide training and skills development for tourism players, focusing on business recovery plans, digital marketing post-pandemic, health and safety at work, risk preparedness and supply chain management.

Some private companies have already positioned themselves in the domestic tourism market, achieving higher levels of visitors during the pandemic than those that promoted services and products for international tourists. For example, the luxury safari hotel Zaina Lodge, located in Mole National Park, experienced its highest occupancy rates in December 2020.

“We established ourselves as a local brand from day one,” Andy Murphy, the hotel’s co-founder, told international media in May 2021. “The long-term growth in the continent is going to have to come from domestic tourism. If you are a business in tourism in Africa, you need to seriously think about how you build a domestic client base to match or even exceed your international base.” Indeed, as the pandemic made evident, encouraging both domestic and international tourism will be key to sustaining revenue and creating jobs.