MORE THAN A DESTINATION

Ghana 2018 | TOURISM | FOCUS: WORLD TOURISM FORUM

Ghana has so far struggled to reach the top of visitors' bucket lists as a holiday destination, but hosting the World Tourism Forum in 2017 has kick-started the required momentum.

Traveling to Africa has never been so popular. The continent's spots were some among the most in-vogue in the world last year, as the continent witnessed 6% YoY growth in the tourism industry, well above the overall more-visited Europe, Asia, and the Americas. According to a recent UNDP report, while around half of the 20 million international visitors per annum stopped in North Africa, the other half is spread under the Sahara desert. The gain in relevance by some particular countries, beside the usual suspects, justifies these numbers. As a matter of fact, there is one country that has jumped, in little less than six years, from 35th to eighth position as the overall preferred destination in Africa: Ghana.

It thus comes as less of a surprise that the Committee of the World Tourism Forum picked Accra as the official host for the 2017 event. In addition to the prestige that comes along with it, this selection represented an unmatched opportunity for the country to showcase the improvements made to cater to trends in both local and global tourism, as well as roll out strategies for more sustainable industry growth. The forum encourages the allocation of resources to a shared tourism vision, functioning as a trendsetter in the industry. By hosting the event, Ghana finally started seeing the first results of a long struggle to attract visitors from all over the world.
The Black Star, as Ghana is often referred to, has historically struggled to be seen as an attractive leisure destination. Business has often gained the upper hand as the reason to pay visit to the country. After all, its central location and political stability are two crucial factors for entrepreneurs. These favorable conditions made Ghana the perfect market to start-off and then expand business in neighboring countries. However, people now seem to visit for additional reasons. Long hidden, Ghana's secret gems are being discovered: its long, white beaches; its castles once used as dungeons and slave-trade hubs; its pristine natural parks. So how has this long overlooked country become so popular recently? This drastic improvement is a result of a well-thought tourism strategy advanced by the Ministry of Tourism. The first aspect touched by this plan concerns the development of air traffic. As a matter of fact, the Ghana aviation sector has been going through a real revolution, which has brought international airlines such as Air France and Kenya Airways to increase significantly their traffic routes in the country. Moreover, the national airline, AWA, seems to have achieved some stability after rocky times due to financial distress.
On top of this, the expansion of airport terminals in Tamale and Accra implies not only a reduction in air traffic congestion, but also a prolonged stay within the country. The capital city is thus turning into the first of more stops, rather than the only destination. With more companies interested in favoring this local transport, competition will drive down prices, good news for tourists and the Ghanaian tourism industry.
The second cause behind this increase in Ghana's popularity lies in an experience-focused approach to what the country can offer. Rather than focusing on specific landmarks, the Ministry of Tourism has promoted the country as an experience. If any notable sight is singled out, it could hardly stand out as a must-see. Ghana has, indeed, beautiful beaches, but so does Kenya, with a more colorful water scene; it presents charming national parks, but cannot compete with the Serengeti in Tanzania or Chobe in Botswana; it offers entertaining festivals, but still looks up at its big Nigerian brother on the musical scene. Yet, if put all together, these ingredients make up an impressively unique, irresistible mixture. Rather than a place, Ghana is selling itself as an experience. Is it actually? Only one way to find out.