Tourism is a global and highly competitive socio-economic and environmental activity in both developed and developing countries. Ghana is blessed with many resources both natural and cultural. If the country is known for its gold, oil, diamonds, it also hosts national parks and reserves, historical castles and forts, unique arts and cultural traditions.
In Ghana, tourism is the fastest-growing industry that stimulates other sectors in the national economy, such as agriculture, transport, manufacturing, real estates, industries and others. Tourism has been known to diversify economies, create jobs, generate revenue for governments and stimulate businesses.
Ghana offers a lot of unique and exciting natural cultural and historical attractions. These include national parks and reserve, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, beaches, scenic mountains, landscapes. Ghana has a lot of events with global appeal such as PANAFEST and Emancipation Day celebrations, Paragliding festivals, Hogbetsotso, Homowo, Chiral festivals, Carnivals.
Ghana is at the centre of the world geographically, and it is necessary to take advantage of that and other activities to attract more visitors to the country.
The former Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister, Barbara Oteng Gyasi once said: “Tourism has immense potential to drive Ghana’s economy and we will leverage the ‘Year of Return’ and all other platforms to promote our history, tradition, and culture in addition to making use of the vast resources of minerals for our economic advantage.” This statement still rings true. It is important to focus on our tourism sector to rake in enough foreign exchange for the country.
At the beginning of 2019, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) predicted the Year of Return would attract 500,000 extra visitors. Official data from January to September 2019 indicates an additional 237,000 visitors – a rise of 45% compared with the same period the previous year – with significant increases in visitors from the US and UK.
The government also said the Year of Return had drawn wider attention to Ghana and positively influenced international media reports. How can the country benefit from tourism? With an effective communication strategy and plan, it should be achievable. Ghana has projected an annual rake in of US$8.3 billion from the tourism sector per year by 2027. This is on the back of an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals. Tourism generated income can be used to develop infrastructure, education fund conservation efforts and more importantly promote responsible tourism.
Researchers have proved that the economic effect of tourism includes improved tax revenue and personal income, increased standards of living, and more employment opportunities.
Sociocultural impacts are associated with interactions between people with different cultural background, attitudes, and behaviours and relationships to material goods.
A communication strategy with a work plan detailing the direct benefits of tourism ie support for hotels, retail shops, transportation services, entertainment venues and attractions should trigger a concerted effort in enhancing the country tourists sites. One must not lose sight of the fact that all travels transform societies and cultures. France has been a model for using tourism to rake in income.
However, if left unchecked and without proper regulations, tourism can destroy the places we love most. There should be continuous but vigorous media campaign in the tourism sector to advocate on the tourist’s sites and the benefits they generate to individuals, communities and the country at large.
Stakeholders should share data on how much the nation can make from tourism if the right attention is provided. The Ghana Tourism Authority should be clothed with an authority to drive change at every level combining efforts of hotels, museums, heritage sites.
We should ensure that the sector has a reasonable budget for international promotion, but attention should be given to promoting the sector using social media. With well-trained tour guides, providing professional services, the sector should be able to achieve its purpose.
Setting up national quality assurance and mobilisation for hotels, museums, tour guides, with official inspection and grading systems has been identified as one of the key components of development communication strategy.
Some have also argued that prominence should be placed making visa acquisition easy.
Consideration should be given to placing a welcome card into the passports on entry by the Ghana Immigration Service personnel with useful tourist information and phone numbers. This should help in attracting more tourists into the country.
There should be the facilitation of national, regional, and local tourist sector conferences bringing together all stakeholders to discuss opportunities and challenges and finding solutions to the challenges.
Finally, there should be an increase in government profile tourism, arts and culture with high-level speeches by the authorities showing public commitment to excellence in travel, hospitality industry and tourism.
The projected US$8.7 billion per year by 2027 may be a mirage if we relax in our oars. We can achieve it with the right plan and strategy. I will recommend a development communication any day to the authorities.
>>>The writer is a development communication consultant. [email protected]