An array of new tactics – including continued infrastructure investment, a marketing drive and a focus on growing niches – could prove key in unlocking Ghana’s considerable tourism potential.
The West African country currently has a moderately sized but lively tourism sector that sees around a modest 1m visitors per year, mostly from North America and Europe. It is one of the better-established leisure tourism destinations in West Africa, has a growing business trade (much of it linked to the rising hydrocarbons industry) and has a significant diaspora community that it is able to bring back for holidays and family visits.
The World Travel & Tourism Council, a global industry promotion association, estimates that tourism directly accounts for 2.8% of Ghana’s GDP. However, it notes the sector’s overall contribution – including the indirect impact and induced impact of tourism in other sectors – is considerably bigger, at 6.7% of GDP.
By comparison, tourism directly accounts for 5.81% of Gambia’s GDP and 5.58% of Senegal’s, with overall economic impact of 15.26% and 12.4% of GDP, respectively.
This is certainly not due to a lack of potential, however. In fact, in October US guidebook company Frommer’s chose Ghana as one of its top 10 destinations for 2012, labelling the country “a perfect introduction to African travel”. This reputation is justly deserved and one on which the country could capitalise, given its safe environment, relative ease and affordability of travel, and accessibility of major sites. Ghana benefits from an appealing diversity of outdoor activities, a wide range of ecosystems and flora and fauna, as well as a rich cultural heritage, which it can draw on.
All of these factors do mean that while it lags behind the region’s top destinations, Ghana’s tourism sector is among the more prominent in West Africa in terms of relative size. In far larger Nigeria, for example, the industry provides 1.1% of direct and 2.3% of overall GDP, though the country is an important business destination with a large diaspora. Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, where tourism is expected to contribute 2.3% and 2.1%, respectively, of total GDP in 2011, have similarly constrained tourism activity.
However, the need to increase activity and attract more capital is obvious, and a good deal of the burden will fall upon the newly established Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) to ensure the sector takes off. The GTA, which was created last year out of the former Ghana Tourism Board and granted a host of new revenue-raising and enforcement powers, has been laying the groundwork for a number of new initiatives to improve the performance of the country's tourism and hospitality industry, including opening new local liaison offices, strengthening service standards, and working on new attractions, such as choral festivals and paragliding competitions.
The newly created Tourism Development Fund, which will be supported by government seed money and through a levy on room charges, will also provide additional financing for tourism investments, as well as funding promotional campaigns and affiliated GTA operations. The fund, which will be overseen by the GTA's governing board, is awaiting final enabling legislation before it can begin collecting money, but according to the GTA, the aim is to have it up and running by summer.
Regional branches of the GTA are being encouraged to innovate and work with local operators to improve standards and hone unique tourism products in their areas. Ghana already has a small community-based tourism sector, and successful projects could be replicated elsewhere with GTA support.
Investments in tourism-related infrastructure will also be vital and are well under way. For some time, the country has had a shortage of top-end hotels, though this is changing as the supply of hotel rooms meeting international standards increases. For example, the 260-room Mövenpick opened in Accra in November, a Kempinski hotel is in the pipeline, and local entrepreneurs are opening upper-mid-range and boutique hotels both in Accra and along the coast. An expansion of tourism-related training programmes can help staff new institutions and tackle the shortage of skilled labour.
Another important aspect of infrastructure is transportation. Ghana’s ongoing investments in its road network, as well as in regional airports, should make travelling in the country simpler and more pleasant for visitors. It will also help open up less-visited areas to overseas tourists, who tend to mostly stay in the southern regions, in turn spurring greater activity, particularly in high-end ecotourism segments, in lesser-developed areas of the north.
Ghana’s tourism sector has a great deal of potential. Already one of the biggest in the sub-region, it has a diversified market of business, leisure and diaspora visitors. Over the coming years, the GTA and the private sector have the opportunity to drive the industry forward and put Ghana firmly on the global tourism map.