WEST SIDE STORY

Ghana 2016 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

A dynamic engagement in promotional activities abroad has increased awareness of Ghana as a destination, both for African and international tourists.

Tropical West Africa has all the attractions visitors to the continent could desire. Situated close to the equator, Ghana enjoys an average monthly temperature of around 25 degrees celsius, and a diverse climate influenced by two main air masses, that of the hot dry Saharan harmattan, and the southwestern monsoon system. To the north of the country, bordering the Sahel, the region is dry for much of the year and is covered in forested savannah, with summer rains marking the change in seasons. Much of the rest of the country's ecosystem is affected by the Volta and its tributaries, which drain the majority of the territory and ultimately combine to form the massive Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake on earth and an attraction in itself. The southern coast comprises of hundreds of kilometers of pristine beaches, while rainforests define the region nearer the western boundary with Ivory Coast. The coast also features many castles and forts used during the colonial period to both provide defense from naval attacks and to sort slaves for transportation to the New World. As such, these sites are of considerable importance for human history, and represent a darker period from which Ghana has emerged to become a modern and inviting nation.

Ghana is often considered the perfect introductory country for first-time visitors to Africa by travel journalists and commentators, given its relatively comprehensive transport infrastructure, stable political system since the early 1990s, and absence of a restrictive and prohibitive visa regime for tourists. The importance of tourism for the Ghanaian economy at large has long been accepted by authorities, and though efforts to implement legislation and establish defined support systems for the sector have been only slowly introduced, the industry is finally coming into its own. The various Ghanaian governments that have ruled since the 1970s have considered the development of the country's tourism sector a priority for national development, and a major economic growth engine. However, more energy and cap

ital were expended on the leading sectors of cocoa, gold mining, and oil and gas exploration and exploitation, resulting in insufficient funding for the nascent tourism industry.

The first effective program aimed at fostering growth in the sector was the 1996-2010 Plan, which outlined ways to encourage the expansion of tourism and its expected contribution to the economy. One salient conclusion was that the sector was labor intensive, and should be promoted to counter unemployment, a long-term challenge in West African economies. As an important contributor to employment in the nation, tourism provides around 5.5% of total jobs, or around 300,000 positions, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. The sector accounted for approximately 120,000 direct jobs in 2014, a figure which is expected to grow by 2.2% each year until 2025. The National Tourism Development Plan (2013-2027), currently being implemented, is continuing this official focus on how the sector can create more jobs. Surplus labor is expected to be provided for as the sector grows, with just under 500,000 jobs, indirect and direct, anticipated to be generated by 2017, according to state figures. This trend is hoped to contribute to poverty reduction in the longer term, though the sustainability of the sector will require the gradual development of the domestic segment, too. The government's report on the Development Plan notes that despite somewhat limited data availability for income generation, preliminary numbers suggest that total projected income will climb to around $440 million by 2017, ultimately reaching a full $1 billion by the end of the plan period.

The lack of solid data covering all aspects of the sector is, however, a major challenge to more efficient development in the field. Without a strong statistical base, decisions have been made in the past based on insufficient or non-existent research, leading to poor planning and policymaking that hampered tourism in the past. The Plan notes that this is one of the areas ofhighest priority for sectoral growth, and has identified the attainment of adequate funding for the main state organizations involved in the sector as the principal course of action. The Ministry of Tourism and the Ghana Tourism Authority are to receive increased public financial support going forward in order to counteract the effects of so-called “Dutch Disease," or the typical overreliance on energy assets, and work toward diversification of the national economy.


A critical area lacking consistent data and reporting is that of tourist arrivals. Though passenger arrivals at the country's preeminent airport, Kotoka International in Accra, are registered and recorded, data concerning tourists themselves has not been consistently collected there for a number of years. A total of 24,871 aircraft movements in 2014 carried over 1.6 million passengers, but the nature of their business while traveling was not accurately logged. The reasons for this have been identified as poor communication and insufficient training for border control and immigration officials. This is currently under review, however, and the required instruction will be offered in the near future, according to the Development Plan. With a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category 1 status, Accra's airport is considered to be a completely safe and reliable facility. Only five other nations in Africa can boast such accreditation for their airports. An African Development Bank loan will help to fund future investment, while the construction of a third terminal promises capacity of up to 5 million passengers a year. The aim is to further solidify Ghana's reputation as a dependable travel hub for the region at large. Steady growth in tourist numbers according to official sources prove that the expansion of the airport is more than justified, with arrivals jumping from under 750,000 in 2010 to around a million by 2014.

Closer liaisons with the Ghana Airports Company Ltd (GACL) is also planned to allow for the collection of data regarding visitor expenditure, a key indicator for elaborating sectoral policy. Based on available data, authorities have stated that the gross contribution of foreign exchange to GDP from tourism stood at just over 4.5% in 2013, and is predicted to rise to 5% in 2017 and as high as 5.7% in 2027, the last year of the government's plan period for the tourism sector. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the sector directly contributed 2.9% of total GDP as of 2014, and was forecasted to rise by over 5% in 2015, with an average growth of 4.5% per year for the following decade. Including indirect contributions to the economy through auxiliary segments, tourism contributed 6.7% to GDP in 2014, with an average rise of 4.5% annually until 2025. Income generated by tourism is expected to rise to $1.5 billion by 2017, and to a total of $4.3 billion one decade later.

This growth is being encouraged by a robust marketing campaign that has been introduced over recent years by the Ministry of Tourism. Important source markets are being focused on with a view to increasing awareness among target groups. An important segment of Ghana's tourism industry is based on business travel, with a full 32.7% of spending coming from business visitors, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. A key element of marketing campaigns and a central strategy for promotion of the country's touristic offering abroad is its political stability and relative security when compared with other destinations in West Africa. In addition, a more concentrated effort is being made to develop branding and awareness in other African countries, in the hope that Kotoka Airport's growing role as a regional hub will also galvanize potential visitors from continental markets. Accra hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organization Conference on Branding Africa in August 2015, at which ministers and delegations from African countries came together to discuss ways to improve the promotion of their various tourism sectors internationally. With over 30 airlines serving Accra on a daily basis, the connections are already in place to expand the sector locally. Additional initiatives have been established to make the sector more efficient and advance policy to attract more visitors. The Tourism Development Fund (TDF), set up in 2012, works to source funding for the improvement and modernization of the industry at all levels. Aside from direct state funding, there is a 1% charge for tourists when paying for hotels or other touristic facilities. The money collected in this manner is then utilized to pay for representation at major international tourism conferences and to purchase equipment and renovate buildings and sites frequented by visitors.

Pragmatic steps are being taken by the government to boost visitor numbers and maximize profit from the tourism industry. The formalization of data collection and the Ministry of Tourism's approach to developing the sector will complement already substanti

al activity in the sector, allowing Ghana to sustain its position as the tourism capital of West Africa. Abundant natural attractions and a rich history, combined with upgraded leisure amenities and services, will draw more visitors than ever over coming years, and will establish the sector as a viable alternative to the energy and mining operations that have dominated in the past.