A constant refrain of every government of Ghana since independence is that it is its desire to make tourism a huge income earner for the country. Despite the belief in our country’s potential as a tourism superpower, earnings from the sector remain only fair, at best.
In the latest ranking, Ghana placed 120th globally and 21st in Africa in tourism competitiveness, which measures things such as safety and security, health and hygiene and ICT readiness.
Last year, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Creative Arts announced that Ghana would create one million jobs in tourism. That is easy to say but hard to measure and, therefore, difficult to monitor.
However, when these data are measured elsewhere, they will not include the likes of groundnut sellers, although tourists may buy groundnuts every now and then.
The jobs should be specific to the industry and we should be able to count them. On that score, with or without believable figures, it is easy to assert that we still have some road to travel before we get to one million jobs in tourism.
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This year, the government is putting its tourism eggs in a basket labelled: “The Year of Return”. The hope is that Africans in the Diaspora will flock to Ghana in their hundreds of thousands to commemorate the 400 years of slavery.
Maybe it will happen, but I will not be surprised if the numbers tend to be under-whelming rather than the opposite.
It is not as if we have nothing to show; we do. Our entire southern border is a long coastline of sandy beaches, we have waterfalls, both a meteorite crater lake (Bosomtwe) and the world’s largest man-made lake (Volta), some wonderful vegetation and the biggest tree in West Africa. Then, there is wall-to-wall sunshine available on top all-year round.
Our biggest selling point is our history and culture which we represent as a people, but are also present in our forts and castles, sacred groves, churches, mosques, palaces and markets.
Above all, we have our stories which have been told, retold, refined and refreshed ready to serve and share with the world.
But there is a snag. It appears we come short in our tourism efforts because we ignore the most important resource of all – our own people.
The people are important in two significant ways when it comes to tourism communication. First of all, we the people must be enlisted as tourists in our own country.
This is domestic tourism and that must be the starting point of our tourism.
Our own people must be encouraged to visit the places to which we wish to attract visitors. The best way to attract people to those sites is for us to be attracted to those sites too.
Secondly, our people and communities must become owners of the tourist sites in their midst. Part of the reason tourist sites are badly maintained and sometimes grossly abused is that there is a disconnection between the community and something that must be their own resource.
Interestingly, every community has something to show once they put their minds to it.
That brings me to my pet tourism concept, FUNERAL TOURISM. One of the main reasons Ghanaians travel outside their homes is to attend funerals. Sometimes going to support bereaved friends, family and colleagues can take people to places they would normally never visit.
This should be a great opportunity for us to know our country a bit more, but people go to funerals and return, having seen only the inside of a chapel and the funeral grounds.
Neither the tourism authorities nor the local and traditional councils see this as an opportunity to provide information about their communities and their resources to the many visitors who come for funerals.
The problem with our tourism is that we think of it as something that foreigners do and that is because that is the template adopted by the tourism authorities.
We have to change that narrative to include our own people in our planning. Tourism, like charity, must begin at home.
Next week – Whose Year of Return?