Interview: Akwasi Agyeman
How will the Year of Return initiative have an impact on tourism and entertainment in Ghana?
AKWASI AGYEMAN: The Year of Return is part of a re-awakening in terms of our engagement with the African diaspora. We have seen an increase in not only the number of arrivals, but also in interest from the media, celebrities and investors. While the project was initially limited to a period of time and focused primarily on visitors from the US, we are now looking to continue the engagement with a broader geographic scope.
This programme, Beyond the Return, is a strategic plan to be launched in 2020. It will encourage improvements in the visa regime and work to boost partnerships with countries such as Brazil and those in the Caribbean with a large African diaspora. Another pillar of the plan is to make Ghana an attractive investment destination for the diaspora. We will do this through a number of investment products such as real estate, as a lot of people who visit are interested in vacation homes or other properties. As there are many difficulties in accessing land, we are working with various traditional authorities to ease the process.
We are also looking to work with the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre to change foreign investment laws for the Africans, which are quite prohibitive as foreigners need to invest a minimum of $500,000. We are looking to lower this to anywhere between $15,000 and $100,000. This would also lead to increased investment in small and medium-sized enterprises such as those in crafts, financial technology, fashion and wellness.
What are the major untapped opportunities for further growth of regional tourism?
AGYEMAN: Heritage tourism has been a segment of significant and sustained growth from the US and other diaspora markets. In Nigeria we have been successful in attracting both leisure and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibition tourism, but as a continent we are constrained by regional travel options, which remain largely dependent on air transport. We launched the West Africa Integrated Travel Forum in March 2017 to increase regional connectivity and act as a catalyst for engagement between the tourism authorities in Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Ghana. In the years since, we have seen increased movement towards open borders. Unfortunately, a focus on limiting the movement of goods and the recent closure of the Nigerian border has halted some of the progress, as people perceive borders to be hardened. We are currently working to reverse this sentiment to enhance the level of regional tourism.
Where is progress being made towards boosting the domestic tourism segment?
AGYEMAN: We launched the See, Eat, Wear, Feel Ghana campaign with the Tourism Society of Ghana to promote domestic tourism. Under this programme we set up tourism clubs in schools and organised excursions to increase the number of domestic tourists. Between 2017 and 2018 the number of domestic tourists increased from 535,000 to 620,000. While growth in the segment was marginal in the first half of 2019, we found that many travellers who would usually opt for long holidays in destinations such as the US and UK in July and August chose instead to travel within Ghana. For more accelerated growth we need to have more and better developed sites. Visitors are only spending an hour or two around the sites, and we would like them to spend three to four hours to truly benefit the local community. We have earmarked $14m under the World Bank $40m Ghana Tourism Development Project to redevelop tourist sites around the country, such as Kakum National Park, the slave castles along the coast, Paga in the north and a number of locations in the Ashanti region. Furthermore, in 2020 we will also focus on building basic supporting infrastructure such as washrooms, access roads and hospitality facilities, while looking for the next iconic, game-changing site.
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