Interview: Catherine Afeku
What can be done to increase tourism in Ghana?
CATHERINE AFEKU: There are three areas of policy focus that we have identified as the most effective in increasing tourist traffic. The first is increasing global publicity. This is aided by the Ghana Tourism Authority, which is responsible for marketing and promoting the country. One example of the global publicity push is the media buy we have taken out with CNN. Tourism is a competitive industry, and international coverage is a good way of raising awareness. The ministry’s second focus is exhibitions. Global travel exhibitions, such as the World Travel Market in London, are an essential part of raising any country’s profile. The third and most important policy initiative is to increase domestic tourism. There is significant demand for domestic tourism in Ghana, but it is still necessary to raise awareness. Going into regional communities and working with local daily newspapers on campaigns are proven methods of increasing the number of domestic tourists. Wordof-mouth and social media are also increasingly essential methods of attracting tourists to Ghana.
What role does data play in tourism policy?
AFEKU: What underlines all of the aforementioned initiatives is a focus on data. The Ghana Tourism Authority has an advanced data unit, which uses sources such as hotel bookings, immigration records, car rentals, tourism tax receipts and on the ground research at events to chart the growth of tourism across the country. Our increased data portfolio means that we can track trends across different demographics and encourage the sustainable growth of the sector. For example, the trends show that the coastal region between central and western Ghana is one of the most significant tourist locations. However, there is still much more to be done to increase the range of data sources available and the speed at which we can access this information.
How can an increased focus on heritage tourism help drive growth in the sector?
AFEKU: Ghana has declared 2019 as the “year of return”, marking 400 years since the beginning of the slave trade. Launched by President Nana Akufo-Addo, the concept is to focus on the fourth generation African diaspora living in the US, the Caribbean and the UK, and solidify the identity and shared history of people across extremely varied geographies. Currently, 22% of tourism in Ghana comes from the US, and this is a number we expect to grow over the course of the year.
There is talent and skill in the diaspora and our aim is to have them return to help change a continent that has been plagued with the wrong narrative. The aim of the year of return is to initiate a tradition of homecoming, not only for permanent residence but also for visiting, in the style of a pilgrimage and reconnection with the continent. There is a full calendar of events planned to mark this year, including concerts aimed at encouraging returnees and highlighting their right to abode.
For the government, this year-long event acts as a catalyst for infrastructure improvement and development. For example, long-standing visa issues will soon be resolved, with the cumbersome bureaucracy being replaced by online visas or visas on arrival. It is important that the process of coming to Ghana is streamlined and tourist friendly. Sanitation is also an infrastructure issue that requires urgent attention, as it is one of the main reasons that tourists are dissuaded from visiting. The answer to this is to focus on the communities; improved facilities and increased engagement are the only ways to tackle this infrastructural and attitudinal problem. Lastly, Ghana had 64 slave trade exit points, with 18 forts and castles still standing in good condition. The effective management of these is central to maintaining our history and helping attract visitors.
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