The tourism industry is an area of cultural, philosophical, economic, and social influence that has developed into a critical sect in the world’s economy. The period of 1957–1966 is recognized as when Ghana first observed an active involvement and investment in the tourism sector; and since then, I would say, to a manageable extent, the industry has been a blessing to our economy.
The Ministry of Tourism under the Government of Ghana is in charge and accountable for the development and promotion of tourism-related activities in Ghana. Tourist arrivals to Ghana have come from countries like; USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, the Caribbean, among others. Ghana is noted as one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, and this fact, in addition to the numerous beautiful tourist sites, has made it an ideal destination for tourism on the African continent. Whether it is going to have a Safari experience at the Mole Park in the North, seeing nature in its pure state at the Kakum National Park or Kumasi Zoological Garden, going down memory lane in the dozens of castles and forts, or having a plain adventure at the Kwahu areas, Ghana is naturally endowed with locations and sites that will provide tourists with a wholesome experience.
While Ghana still has a lot to achieve in becoming a destination of choice on the African continent, the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture stated that, in 2017, the sector contributed GHS12.58bn ($2.7bn), which translates to 6.2% of the national GDP, to the economy. A total of 1.3m international tourists visited the country that same year, representing a 6% increase from the 2016 figure. In terms of employment, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported that the sector supported 682,000 jobs (5.3% of total national employment) in 2017. There has also been an increase in total number of jobs (direct & indirect jobs) created by the tourism sector from 550,000 in 2017 to 602,425 in 2018. The figure for direct jobs provided by the tourism sector shot up from 135,000 in 2017 to 158,231 in 2018.
Over the years, the tourism industry in Ghana has played an indispensable role in the socio-economic developments of the country through employment creation, tax revenues, and income in the area. The country, however, cannot rest on these laurels yet; there are still a lot of areas that need improvement in the sector. Ghana has only just seen the tip of the iceberg in its tourism potential. In order for us to gain the full complement of tourism in the country, the following measures should be considered.
The Government of Ghana must acknowledge that, the tourism industry is a key component in the drive to boost our country's economy, and therefore, should increase the investment made in the industry with focus on its infrastructure and human resource particularly. The services rendered by tourist sites are mostly dependent on human resource management, and it is important to make sure that, there is maximum investment in training and incentivizing human resource to ensure service delivery is top-notch.
Many of the country’s infrastructures at tourist sites: roads, bus systems, reliable electricity, water supply, recreational and rest facilities suffer underdevelopment because of limited or no investment in these areas. It will interest you to know that, most of our tourist sites do not have health facilities at all. The Bank of Ghana lists the tourism sector as the fourth-highest foreign currency earner behind cocoa, gold, and oil and gas. This means that, the tourism industry is one of the few sectors that contribute greatly to the economy of Ghana. Therefore, there is a need to invest in this sector to get the expected results. I remember during my first visit to the Kakum National Park in 2008 and how we got frustrated with bad roads en route from Cape Coast to the site. A recent visit to the same site revealed an even worse state of roads compared to the first experience. I can conclude that in-country tourists are discouraged from revisiting this site solely because of the experience on the road. This in turn will translate to negative word-of-mouth, and will ultimately affect the revenues made by this site. It is imperative as a country to invest in our infrastructure.
International tourists from many advanced countries have been a huge contributor to our foreign exchange earnings, and what this also means is that, the more international tourists we receive as a country, the more our foreign exchange earnings. I was particularly beyond myself when the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, designed a programme dubbed “The Year of Return” which saw a massive jolt in the number of international tourists into Ghana. Ghana became a global destination for that period of time. Many of these international tourists who found their roots to Ghana discovered and strengthened the spiritual bond they have with the motherland. While the others who only joined the fray to discover Ghana realized how exciting the country is, totally different from what they had heard and perceived of her.
Hoteliers and other players in the hospitality and tourism industries are still speaking nostalgically of the period in 2019. It is undeniable that the gains that were made by the country and businesses are not quantifiable, with some people still reaping ripple effects as of today. I therefore call on the Ministry of Tourism to help initiate, sustain, moderate more programmes like the “The Year of Return” targeted at international tourists that will help put the tourism sector on a bigger platform and help us get enough foreign exchange earnings.
Rwanda seems to take Africa’s tourism by surprise, and they are a good fit to also learn from. Rwanda’s campaign to showcase the best of their country is proving results to change their country’s negative narrative of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Their campaign, widely known as “Visit Rwanda”, has been featured with big European football clubs such as Arsenal and PSG, which have seen these teams with an inscription “Visit Rwanda” on their jerseys. I believe, when we learn from this, and rightly position ourselves – we can also promote Ghana’s tourism on bigger international platforms with a wider coverage.
The government of Ghana should, put in place policies to attract investment into the tourism industry. In addition, the government should consider holistic approach to initiate policies and programmes to enhance the growth of the sector in the country. In my opinion, as learned from other advanced countries, I believe we should embrace the implementation of ecotourism in the sector. Ecotourism, according to the Ecotourism Society (TIES) can be defined as a responsible travel to natural places that conserves the environment, sustain the wellbeing of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. Even in our present times, there many people in the country who still live on hunting for animals and practicing constant deforestation for survival, and this is depleting part our natural rainforest, and contributing to the worsening global warming issues. The benefits we would derive from implementing ecotourism in the country are immense.
If a destination like Dubai, with no natural resource, has learnt to rely on tourism as a key component of their GDP, why can’t we do the same?
Also, the Government should put in effort to market Ghana as a prime tourist destination in Africa. There should be tourism marketing strategies to promote the tourism industry. The purpose of these strategies is to make our tourism industry stand out among our fellow African countries, attract more international tourists and generate brand awareness. Internet marketing, email marketing, social networks and viral marketing are some of the non-traditional marketing strategies we can adapt in the promotion of tourism in the country. The use of website, promoting tourism on social media will be useful to reach wide range of people. Also, in creating tourism marketing, we must promote touristic products and services such as destinations, hotels and transport services. Additionally, we should increase our advertisement in trade publications. I trust that, when this is done effectively, it will be helpful to our tourism sector.
To add to previous point, the most important thing to employ in running these strategies is consistency. Severally, Ghana has employed certain strategies in promoting the country in the past; however, these promotions are usually cut short and do not see the aim for which they were proffered. Making these campaigns sustainable and consistent will reap the country the fruits in years and decades to come.
Finally, we must see tourism education as a necessary tool in promoting tourism-related activities in the country. Tourism education will help the masses obtain knowledge on what tourism is all about, and will ignite the interest of many locals to visit the many tourist sites in the country. As well as turn the eyes of indigenes to focus on tourism instead of contributing to the depletion of resources that have tourism potentials. I am of the opinion that, tourism education, if possible, should be embedded in our educational curriculum.
This is because I feel tourism education has been neglected, and many people in our country have limited knowledge on the tourist sites we have in the country, as well as the potential it has for our livelihoods as citizens. Let’s ask ourselves this; how many schools or families visit our tourist sites? Every citizen must see themselves as ambassadors of tourism in the country, and this can be achieved through tourism education. Likewise, in tourism education, students find the opportunity to apply what they have learned into practice and develop personal skills and abilities.
To conclude, tourism has become an important sector that has an impact on the development of our country’s economy, and it is equally important that the Ministry of Tourism and all its agencies under the Government of Ghana invest in the sector to see all the potentials in it actualized. I believe that a change in perspective from Tourism as an industry, to Tourism as a resource will help us really appreciate the potentials imbedded in it.