West Africa has huge tourist potential that is waiting to be explored, but unlike the Gulf States who have been able to put themselves on the world tourism map over the last decade thanks to their visionary leaders, West Africa is yet to explore or maximize its tourism potential, as successive leaders across West Africa have failed to propose bright ideas in their approach towards tourism, thus neglecting an industry that has a proven ability to create jobs, reduce poverty and foster tolerance and peace through intercultural exchange.
From Senegal’s Lake Retba, Gambia’s Abuko Nature Reserve, Mali’s Bandiagara Cliff Villages, Nigeria’s Yankari Game Reserve and Ghana’s slave fortresses, West Africa possess a unique range of tourist experiences that can generate the needed wealth that can engage the teeming unemployed youth population and bring in the needed foreign exchange.
However, West Africa has failed to scale its tourism potential because those tasked with the responsibility of driving tourism fail to understand that for tourists to enjoy tourism in West Africa, they have a responsibility to create experiences that tourists find unique and consequently, pay for and enjoy.
The narrative is beginning to change, especially in Ghana. Under the leadership of President Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana has recently embarked on plans to rejuvenate their economy through tourism by setting out with a clear plan on how to boost tourism and tourism experiences in Ghana. The 15 year tourism plan hopes to increase the number of arrivals from 1m to 8m annually by 2027, marketing Ghana as a tourist destination, expanding tourism infrastructure, improving highways and opening up to visitors from new markets.
In pursuit of his tourism drive for Ghana, President Akufo Addo in September 2018 at a launch event in Washington DC, declared 2019 “The Year of Return”. The “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” is to mark 400 years of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia and to celebrate the cumulative resilience of all the victims of the Trans Atlantic slave Trade displaced through the world in North America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. An estimated 75% of slave dungeons on the west coast of Africa were in Ghana- millions of people were taken and transported on ships that departed from Ghanaian ports.
The Year of Return Ghana 2019, started off with one week-long full circle festival in Ghana that hosted celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Boris Kodjoe, Jidenna, Anthony Anderson, Idris Elba and Djimon Hounsou amongst others. The celebrities who attended the Full Circle Festival were taken on guided tours of the slave dungeon.
Steve and Marjorie Harvey are some of the celebrities who have returned to Ghana with their family. During a visit to the Elmina Slave Trade Castle, walking through the castle and out of the “Door of No Return” took a deep emotional toll on the Harvey clan as the weight of history fell heavy on their hearts and spirits. In a video shared on Instagram, Steve Harvey spoke about his experience and encouraged others to honor their ancestry by returning to Ghana.
Ghana under Nana Akufo Addo has shown clearly that West Africa states can leverage its tourism potential, to tell her story and create unique experiences for her visitors. With growing interest in the upcoming Afro Nation and Afrochella Concerts scheduled to take place in Ghana later this year and the ongoing Chale Wote Street Art Festival (West Africa’s annual Street Art festival in Accra), Ghana over the last year has succeeded in creating tourism experiences that tourists around the world can part with their money for, in a bid to experience the richness of Ghana’s past and present.
Photo Credit: Ghana Talks Business