Making the most of Ghana’s cultural wealth

ImageThe annual World Travel Market in London – perhaps the world’s biggest tourism fair after Berlin’s Internationale Tourismus-Börse – ended earlier this month with Ghana showcasing its tourist attractions to visitors.

Tourism has, over the past six decades, experienced continued expansion and diversification, becoming one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world, turning it into a key driver of socio-economic progress through export revenues, the creation of jobs and enterprises, and infrastructure development.

The increasing importance of this sector cannot be overstated. According to the World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals worldwide will reach 1.8 billion by 2030, indicating an increase of 3.3 per cent a year from 2010. Between 2010 and 2030 arrivals in emerging destinations such as Ghana are expected to increase at double the pace of that in advanced economies by 4.4 per cent a year.

However, these forecasts do not necessarily mean that tourists will descend on Ghana like the biblical manna from heaven. The competition to attract tourist traffic is fierce.  Countries like South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, already popular holiday destinations, have, over the years, embarked on relentless marketing strategies to woo even more tourists. Some like Kenya and Zimbabwe have dedicated tourist offices in parts of Europe and North America and Asia. These strategies have focused on their natural resource of game parks and safaris in which they have a comparative advantage.  South Africa is ranked at 17th place in the world, and at 58th place in the category of cultural resources, while Zimbabwe is the second top destination for safari travellers in 2012, followed by Botswana.

I have had the good fortune to travel to many of Africa’s tourism hotspots and experienced their breathtaking beauty and exciting attractions. Ghana cannot compete with them but offers something unique  – its cultural heritage. Its major slave forts are Unesco World Heritage Sites but beyond these lie the comparative advantage of an extraordinarily rich cultural heritage. The tourism sector is currently the country’s fourth highest foreign exchange earner, fetching $2.5 billion in 2012 from nearly 1.3 million arrivals. But more can be done by the tourism authorities in Ghana to increase these figures by emulating the countries named above by increasing investments and aggressively pitching our attractions to, not just the traditional markets of Europe and North America, but to the emerging markets in Asia, particularly India and China.

Ghana is a country whose immense cultural diversity is thrilling and fascinating, particularly the central role played by festivals. Barely a week or month goes by without a festival being celebrated by one of the 100 or so ethnic groups up and down the country.

In addition to this, rites and rituals are performed throughout the year covering key events like harvests, child-birth, puberty, marriage and death. To the majority of people, these celebrations provide the satisfying bond that binds their communities and families together.

Such festivals are also full of colour, pageantry and rhythm, the latter provided by traditional drummers.

By exposing western visitors to Ghana’s vibrant culture, we can also educate them about the country’s history and how democratic structures existed from clan to chiefdom levels long before the advent of colonialism.

Although statistics on cultural tourism are not readily available, various surveys indicate that culture is one of the reasons why people choose to travel. Ghana’s authorities are well aware of their country’s immense cultural wealth. That is why they must effectively market it for the benefit of the nation.

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