Leisure  :: Travel


From roots to domestic tourism
Denise Slabbert
Published: 14-MAR-06

You can spot them a mile off. They’re the ones who start wailing the minute they step foot on the tarmac. Arms outstretched, shouts of ‘home, at last’ echo all the way across to the customs officials in the airport terminal buildings. Americans are generally not your quiet sort and African-Americans on a pilgrimage are no exception. Besides, they have every reason to wail with joy – they’ve made the journey ‘back home’ to Africa. Finally.

The African-American market constitutes the bulk of tourists to Ghana from the United States and Slave Route Tourism has been pretty successful in bringing in the dollar-touting tourist. Needless to say, tourism has become the second foreign exchange earner for the country.

If you think the arrivals hall at the airport is an emotional space, then try a visit to Elmina Castle. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the main centres for slave trade during Africa’s darkest days (in fact, of the 32 European castles used for slave trading in West Africa – some 29 are in Ghana). It must be said that even if you have no emotional attachment to the country or its people, the melancholy atmosphere at Elmina Castle is enough to make even the toughest cynic swallow pretty hard. The place is a solemn reminder of the ‘dark side’ of humankind and at Elmina there is nowhere to run or hide. For the average African American – it’s a harrowing homecoming.

A number of tour operators based in the States (with links to their local Ghanaian counterparts) are successfully selling “Roots Tourism” to Ghana.

However, the African American market is very much a once-off tourist market (once they have completed the pilgrimage, it’s not likely they will return time and time again). As a result it has been identified that the neighbouring countries as well as domestic tourism could well bring much-needed revenue to the country.

According to an article on Ghana Home Page, Ghana needs to shift its focus to the African continent. Says columnist, Richard Kwame Debrah: “The African market should form an integral part in GhanaianTourism’s Strategy in developing the country as a tourist destination.”

According to the article, 61 percent of tourists to Ghana come from Africa and 88 percent of these are from the neighbouring countries (mainly Nigeria, Cote d’ Ivoire and Togo). The article suggests that the neighbours who come to visit should be encouraged to stay for a few extra days.

Another objective for government is to get local Ghanaians to visit their own country. While tourists may flock from neighbouring countries or from the USA, many local inhabitants have not taken the journey to visit places like Elmina Castle and the Kakum Forest – two of Ghana’s major highlights.

During the 2005 World Tourism Day celebrations, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Minister of Tourism and Modernisation of the Capital City, expressed his views on the critical aspect of domestic tourism. “For every one international tourist visitation, there needs to be ten domestic tourist visitations.” He called on all Ghanaians to explore their own country and to get excited about what Ghana has to offer in terms of travel and tourism. Government is putting its clout behind operators and tour companies to create affordable and accessible packages for the local market.

Ghana is certainly growing in awareness of what an aggressive tourism strategy can do. Roads are being upgraded, there is a call for more five-star hotels as well as a particular focus on eco-tourism. Of course, the African American market remains an important money-spinner, and Ghana will continue to market itself as a ‘roots’ destination, however the more sustainable options are certainly getting some serious attention. As journalist Lovelace Opoku–Agyemang pointed out in a recent article, “The Ghanaians need to develop the industry in line with modern intention and competitive trends and luckily the government is working towards that effect.” Agyemang says that countries like South Africa have shown that tourism has widespread effects on the living conditions of the local people in terms of job creation, and he feels that Ghana should do the same.

“For Ghana, Africa’s best-kept tourism secret, tourism is the new gold that we never gave serious thought to,” he writes. “Ghanaians should not rest or rely on exhaustible foreign exchange earners like gold, timber but turn to the more sustainable gold reserves in tourism.”

Ghana must sees

  • The Art’s Centre for fantastic kente cloth and craft
  • Elmina Castle and Kakum Forest.
  • Independence Square
  • Labadi Beach (especially around cocktail hour)
  • At least one jazz bar

    Moving Around
    Traffic in Ghana is nothing short of ridiculous. In fact companies like Hertz and Avis refuse to hire out cars to those without a local driver. Case in point. Taxi’s are generally a good option – they’re inexpensive and at least the driver’s know the unwritten rules of the road.

    Getting There
    SAA’ flies directly from Johannesburg to Accra four times a week. Flight costs begin at around R6100 excluding taxes. Visit: www.flysaa.com for more details.

    South Africans need a visa to visit Ghana (as well as a yellow-fever inoculation certificate). For travel advice call the Ghana High Commission in Pretoria on (012) 342 5847.

    This tourism report was first published in Business in Africa Magazine, February 2006. To subscribe click here

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