In my moment of excitement, I had a deep reflection to understand what the presence of these Hollywood stars mean for the Ghanaian economy and the image of the country.

Ghana is rapidly developing, with modern infrastructure springing up and must-see tourist sites dotted across the length and breadth of the country.

The country has over the years demonstrated its ability to attract both local and international tourists but the corresponding investment in the sector has been quite low as compared to the resources the country is blessed with in the tourism sector.

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The statistics

The contribution of tourism to the Ghanaian economy cannot be over emphasized. The World Travel and Tourism Council in a report in 2017, highlighted the impact of the sector on Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and on job creation.

Minister of Tourism

The sector accounts for 10.4 percent of global GDP and 313 million jobs, or 9.9 percent of total employment, in 2017, the report said.

In Ghana, the reported noted, the total contribution of tourism to GDP was GHC12, 573.3 million (USD1, 335.5mn), 6.2 percent of GDP in 2017 and is forecast to rise by 4.2 percent to GHC19, 852.8mn (USD4, 522.3mn), 5.7 percent of GDP in 2028.

On job creation, it said the sector’s contribution to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry was 5.3 percent of total employment (882,000 jobs). This is expected to rise by 16 percent to 807,000 jobs in 2028 (4.8 percent of total).

Ghana has a buoyant economy and a stable political environment. In 2017, the economy grew by 8.5 percent while inflation declined from 15.4 percent in 2016 to 9.8 percent in September, 2017.

And according to the International Monetary Fund, extreme poverty levels have declined by more than two-thirds, life expectancy has increased by 10 percent; and real per capita income has grown by more than 80 percent.

The country also improved on the ease of doing business in 2018, according to the World Bank Group 2019 Doing Business Report- Training for Reform. Ghana improved on its ranking from 114 out of 190 economies, up six places from 120 in the 2018 Doing Business Report.

Ghana among top destinations for tourists

The tremendous economic progress Ghana has made, couple with its stable political climate in the last two decades, has become the centre of focus for many international news organisations, policy think tanks and world leaders.

Tourism in Ghana

In a recent documentary on best places to travel to in 2019, Ghana was ranked fourth.

The list, collated by cabal news channel, CNN Travel, describes Ghana as the West African nation of economic success and political stability.

The report lists the Cape Coast Castle as one of the many historic coastal forts which is evident of the slave trade in Ghana.

“For all the sobriety of this anniversary, what also awaits visitors to Ghana is the warm, intoxicating embrace of a country completely at ease with its identity rushing headlong towards a bright future.

“The capital, Accra, crackles with the dynamism of a city on the upswing, with a nightlife scene to match.

“For those wanting to escape its relentless excitement, Ghana’s 335-mile coastline boasts empty surfing spots like Cape Three Points, while its many protected wildlife zones, including Mole National Park, are home to wild elephants, Nolan warthogs and spotted hyenas,” the report added.

Ghana is hoping to trade up its tourism status for 2019 as it marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America with a campaign dubbed “Year of Return” targeting the African diaspora whose ancestors were victims of the brutal slave trade of centuries gone by.

This will see a great number of diasporians from the United States of America, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom return to Ghana on a pilgrimage to promote heritage tourism.

The ratings by CNN, which has millions of viewers across the globe, has in no doubted boosted the image of Ghana globally and to potential investors in the sector.

The challenges

Ghana’s year-round tropical warm climate along with its wildlife; exotic waterfalls such as Kintampo waterfalls as well as the largest waterfall in West Africa, the Tagbo Falls; Ghana’s coastal palm-lined sandy beaches; caves; mountains; meteorite impact crater and lakes such as Lake Bosumtwi make Ghana the place to be.

Ghana is also home to the largest lake in the world by surface area – the Lake Volta, dozens of castles and forts, nature reserves and national parks.

However, there are major hurdles to cross if we want to maintain our status among favourite destinations for tourists.

The age-long conundrum of poor roads to tourist sites must be tackled. Many of the roads leading to tourist sites are in deplorable states thereby affecting patronage.

Another challenge in the sector is the lack of professionalism. We are in an era were professionalism is the benchmark of successful businesses. However, there is a complete lack of professionalism in the management of our tourist sites. Tour guides are poorly trained and not well kit.

Local interest in tourism has also declined over the years. There is a need for a deliberate effort to revive local patronage of tourist sites.

Ghana being a high cost destination is another challenge confronting the sector. Tourists are faced with the challenge of having to pay more by way of airfare and accommodation is another hurdle in the sector to cross.

Furthermore, issues of safety must not be swept under the carpet. Although government has begun auditing some tourist site to improve on safety, many of them still lack the basic safety measures for patrons.

In addition, poor sanitation along the country’s beaches is also driving away tourists. Government has launched a crackdown on open defecation on our beaches but the menace still persists.

Commitment of government

The challenges I have stated above is largely due to finances. That is why it is so important to explore public private financing model in the sector and also pass a law that will bring all recognised tourist sites under the ambit of the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism. Currently, some of the tourist sites are under the management of local assemblies, traditional authorities and the Parks and Gardens Department.

In spite of all the stated challenges, the Nana Akufo-Addo administration has shown commitment to the industry.

The government has developed a four-year tourism development programme to improve the performance of tourism in targeted destinations in the country.

The program seeks to strengthen the tourism enabling environment, develop tourism sites and destinations and provide support to tourism enterprise.

Full implementation of the programme will commence this year and is expected to increase employment by about 150,000 and lead to an increase in international tourist arrivals by 300,000 at the end of the program, according to the 2019 budget statement.

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The Marine Drive Tourism Investment Project has also started after a sod-cutting ceremony by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Marine Drive Project

The project, estimated to cost some 1.5 billion US dollars, is situated on a total of 241 acres of prime beach front land, stretching from the Osu Christianborg Castle right to the Arts Centre and it is a Public-Private Partnership geared towards boosting tourism, creating jobs for the youth, especially those within the catchment area, and increase economic growth.

To conclude, the economic potential of tourism is not in doubt. Understandably, the sector is competing with other equally important sectors of the economy for funds. Unlike other sectors were results take years to manifest, the tourism sector shows instant results and create thousands of direct and indirect results.