When COVID-19 came, it hit the tourism, travel and hospitality industry hard all across the world with job losses, low occupancy rates in hotels and more than significant numbers of sites and attractions simply shut down.
The revenue losses to economies around the world are a poignant reminder of the level of devastation the pandemic visited on the world.
Ghana was certainly not spared. Prior to the inception of the disease, the country was well on its way to ramping up tourism numbers.
In 2019, during the ‘Year of Return’ – Ghana’s biggest tourism campaign yet, an impressive 1.13 million tourists were recorded, which represented 18.19% of the 956,372 that was recorded the previous year. Nearly $3.5 billion in revenue was realised in 2019.
Projections based on that year’s figures put the country in a pole position to, at least, do 1.5 million visitors in the following year or two especially with the launch of the ten-year ‘Beyond The Return’ which sought to consolidate and build on the gains of the Year of Return. Then boom! Coronavirus reared its ugly head, rolling back not just the numbers, but casting a gloomy and bleak future for an industry which was responsible for the livelihoods of so many.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo recently intimated that tourism was responsible for two out of every ten jobs in the country. The downward spiral of the numbers occasioned by the pandemic was conspicuously drastic and tangibly hopeless. In 2020, the West African country managed a paltry 355000 tourist visitations – a whopping 68.6% drop from the previous year.
Even more disturbing was the massive slump in the corresponding receipts. An 88% decrease meant that Ghana made only $387 million from tourism in 2020. The latest tourism report released by the Ghana Tourism Authority for the year 2021 shows an incredible and dramatic turnaround.
2021 saw 623,523 arrivals with a corresponding $803.8 million in revenue representing a 107.7% jump from the preceding year. Enhanced Covid-19 protocols, reopening of air borders, Ghana’s relatively better management of the COVID situation and new tourism products such as ‘December in GH’ were apparent propellers of this growth.
Beyond this, however, is the very nature of tourism which has demonstrated time and again that it can weather the storms of any crisis no matter how alarming and widespread. When all other sectors of the economy crumbled under the weight of the pandemic and are yet to make a significant rebound, tourism is already taking giant strides toward full recovery.
Even on the local front, domestic tourism has seen its own revival, Director of Marketing at the Ghana Tourism Authority, Mrs Roberta Dawson-Amoah says, they are happy about the domestic tourism figures considering that they were close to what they had projected. For the year 2021, the Authority had forecasted 600000 domestic tourists and came close to the figure with 588,946, representing 71% increase from 2020 numbers.
“These numbers have shown that with the right approach we can make tourism the cornerstone of our economic recovery, and more importantly, domestic tourism has proven to be the foundation of the ever-resilient tourism sector. For us at GTA we will continue to encourage and promote domestic travels because it is our firm belief that the surest way of rethinking tourism is to focus on the domestic front,” Mrs Dawson-Amoah stated.
Perhaps, buoyed by these numbers, these days, the government is becoming more ambitious with its projected arrivals and receipts.
Ghana is hoping to attract two million visitors with a corresponding $4 billion by 2024. As audacious as this might seem, the good thing is that it is achievable albeit with an increased commitment by the government and every other stakeholder to tap into tourism’s unique resilient ability and drive the right investment into the sector in the areas of facility upgrades, training of frontline workers, development of new products and enhancing of visitor experience.
The government, through the World Bank-funded Ghana Tourism Development Project, is doing quite well in this regard but a lot more could be done because tourism can be so much more. This is a position GTA’s Marketing Head agrees with.
She postulates, “We have seen the power of tourism to transform lives and drive whole economies and that’s exactly what our strategies are geared towards; to make the sector a reliable source of sustainable livelihood for those engaged in it and a top priority of the government.”