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It pays to invest in tourism

BY: Rosa Whitaker Duncan-Williams
President Akufo-Addo launching the Year of Return at the National Press Club in Washington DC, USA
President Akufo-Addo launching the Year of Return at the National Press Club in Washington DC, USA

Visionaries pay a price for foreseeing what most people cannot imagine or understand, that is, until their success becomes clearly apparent to the world.

Such is the case with the Ghanaian Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Catherine Afeku. Her genius idea to bring a delegation of African-American top celebrities to Ghana for the ‘Full Circle Festival’ in December of 2018 to promote tourism and to celebrate Ghana’s ancestry, and the holidays, propelled Ghana to an enviable position on CNN’s recommended ‘List of 19 Places to Visit in 2019’.

Only country

Other than Egypt, Ghana was the only African country to make this prestigious list of the world’s most diverse and amazing sites.

It ranked higher than the three destinations in the U.S., than Scotland, Japan, Israel, Peru, Germany, France, the U.K., India and Liechtenstein.

There was only one country that made the famous Washington Post newspaper’s recent 2019 “What’s In” list – Ghana! If you wonder why that is a big deal, it is that Ghana spends a fraction of what other countries do to promote tourism which can be up to 51 per cent of a country’s GDP, according to the World Trade Organisation.

A good case in point is the United States. A 2018 World Atlas report indicated that the U.S.

spent $110.8 billion on promoting tourism and China spent $164 billion in 2014 and those expenditures have steadily increased.

The tourism sector in the U.S. is the world’s largest, generating $1.5 trillion dollars in 2017 and that of China may be even larger at this juncture.

The point is, it pays to invest in tourism as its benefits significantly boost the economy.

The Government of Ghana, and Minister Afeku, do not have that kind of capital to expend on promoting tourism.

Instead Catherine Afeku continually uses her ingenuity and influence. She manages to convince top African-American rock stars in different fields—models, rappers, musicians, playwrights, actors, actresses, publicists, financiers--to descend on Ghana for what turned out to be an internationally publicised series of events due to the presence of globally recognised celebrities.

Positive publicity

What resulted was more positive publicity than Ghana has received in decades, and more than millions of dollars in public relations that could not have been better delivered -- even by an expensive global Public Relations (PR) firm.

Yet, Minister Afeku was criticised for an expenditure of what amounts to $200,000 USD.

That criticism is generated by those who either do not understand the feat she accomplished, or do not know how recognised these celebrities are or do not understand how vitally important tourism is to the economy, and its corresponding costs.

Many millions of people saw videos and or received tweets from big personalities such as Naomi Campbell, Idris Elba, Michael Jai White, Diggy Simmons, Boris Kodjoe (whose father is Ghanaian) Rosaria Isabel Dawson, Liam Payne, among many other famous guests.

Not only did these celebrated individuals enjoy the sites of Ghana, they showed them to the world through their millions of followers on social media.

Some stars, such as Naomi Campbell and Idris Elba, attended the dinner in support of the National Cathedral, signalling their support of this important future Ghanaian landmark attesting to the country’s commitment to its Christian faith, principles and legacy.

The timing was also brilliant, for 2019 is Ghana’s “Year of Return” commemorating 400 years since Africans soon-to-be-slaves left Cape Coast Castle for North America.

This is not the first time Minister Afeku has demonstrated her genius.

Upon assuming her role in 2017, she launched the “See, Eat, Feel and Wear Ghana” Campaign to promote Ghanaian products and domestic tourism.

She is creating and upgrading tourist destination sites and attracting international leaders, such as the Queen of Denmark, Margareth II, who visited Christianborg Castle, to see them.

Minister of the year

All of the minister’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed by professionals in the tourism industry as she was named Tourism Minister of the Year in West Africa 2018 by www.ATQNews.com, the highest rated news website in Africa, and given the Balafon Award of Excellence, for her outstanding performance in her field.

Tough as she is on the job, though, she is soft on compliments. Give her a pat on the shoulder and she turns to a picture of the President of Ghana from whom, she says, comes the original vision and the drive. In more ways than one, I cannot agree more.

The inspiring declarations made by President Akufo- Addo during the launch of the Year of Return at the National Press Club in Washington DC last year say it all.

His brief but moving speech was all the spark the African American community and, indeed all Diaspora Africans, needed to reassure us that Ghana is back – all the way back!
Having had the opportunity to listen to a video of the great launch, I have no doubt, now, where Naomi Campbell received the inspiration to send a tweet to all Africa to “Let us change the narrative of the great continent”.

It was her first tweet on the first morning of the new year.

She had just finished breakfast with the Ghanaian President and her mother.

Where else? Of course, as she said in her tweet, from “Ghana the Motherland, True Paradise”.

Minister Afeku is setting her sights on tantalising other foreign visitors through all means possible to get them to come to Ghana to include innovative strategies for attracting top tier tourism, utilising multiple media platforms and continuing to ensure that tourist attractions and accommodations are first-rate so as to complement the country’s historical sites and beautiful beaches and scenery.

When tourism grows in 2019, as it surely will as a result of the minister’s efforts, and employment with it, perhaps the naysayers will begin to understand just how visionary her ideas are and how her genius paid off for the people of Ghana for a very small price.

The writer is President & CEO, The Whitaker Group, and former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa.