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 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 on what needed to be done to this end, 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 such areas of interest 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. As a relatively labour-intensive sector, tourism has the capacity to be an important generator of jobs, particularly in rural areas, she said.
Data from the World Travel & Tourism Council puts the direct contribution from tourism and travel to the economy at GHS2.6bn ($663.4m) in 2013, equal to 3% of GDP, with 55% of this generated from domestic travel spending. The industry’s broader contribution to GDP in the year reached 7.2%, or GHS6.2bn ($1.6bn), the council said in a 2014 report. Tourism accounted for 311,000 jobs, representing around 5.8% of overall employment. Growth is forecast to remain steady, at an annual average of 4.5% to 2024.
However, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) has set an ambitious target of welcoming 5m 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 the former slave fort at 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 also places considerable emphasis on private sector involvement for developing facilities, infrastructure, products and marketing.
Looking longer term
The plan will be rolled 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 and focus on niche markets, including the 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 also aims to tackle weaknesses in the industry, such as inconsistent service standards. Efforts to identify an international partner, with a view to setting up a dedicated hospitality college or university in the country, are already under way. The strategy’s implementation is being aided by the Tourism Development Fund, financed by a 1% levy on tourism activities, which is being used to develop facilities and infrastructure, and support local initiatives in the sector.
The GTA expects arrivals to grow strongly this year to more than 1.5m, up from 930,000 last year, when the regional Ebola outbreak weighed 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.
Ghana’s drive to develop its tourism brand could play a part in enhancing Africa’s overall image as a destination. In August, for example, Ghana will host the UN World Tourism Organisation regional conference, entitled “Enhancing Brand Africa”, which focuses on re-crafting Africa’s image as a tourism destination and harnessing the potential of tourism to support sustainable development.