White sands on Ghana’s Gold Coast
Accra is a new stop on many international airlines’ routes as Ghana’s beaches, conference centres and cultural tourism attract holidaymakers and businessmen from Europe and the US.
Just five hours’ flying time from Europe or South Africa, with endless beaches and guaranteed sunshine, Ghana is a natural tourist destination, even though it may lack the consumer paraphernalia of North Africa or the Caribbean.
For the government, the development of a modern tourist industry is simply part of an overall plan to transform the country into an economic and cultural hub for West Africa.
International airlines have understood Ghana’s importance to the region. In 2010, several of them added Accra to their routes: Virgin Atlantic, for example, launched a service three times a week from London’s Heathrow in May, in direct competition with British Airways’ daily flights.?
United Airlines began flying from Washington’s Dulles airport in June and Delta has complemented its existing New York flight with four direct flights per week from its main hub in Atlanta. Since July, Brussels Airlines has been flying direct to Accra from the Belgian capital and Turkish Airlines now departs four times a week from Istanbul to Accra via Lagos, Nigeria.
According to Ghana’s deputy transport minister, Dzifa Attivor, there are plans to expand Accra’s airport to meet greater demand. The immediate priority is likely to be some sort of shuttle service between the emerging oil city at Takoradi and the capital.?
Holiday Inn, Best Western and Novotel are among the major hotel chains to have recently opened branches in Accra, with Hilton and Marriott due to follow suit in 2011. Swiss hotel giant Mövenpick will open the Ambassador Hotel in the downtown business district in 2011 and a 270-room Accra Kempinski Hotel should be ready for guests by January 2012.
Tourism is Ghana’s fourth largest foreign-exchange earner, bringing in some $1.6bn in 2009. Parliament is expected to pass the Tourism Bill, which will establish a tourism development fund and a national tourism authority to regulate the industry. A $1m Visitor and Tourist Information Centre is under construction in Accra and the government has launched a ‘Brand Ghana’ campaign.
The ministry of tourism held the first ever International Tourism Investment Forum in 2010. It attracted entrepreneurs from across the country who were interested in investment in hotels, national parks, ground transport and local airlines.?
Foremost among Tourism Minister Zita Okaikoi’s priorities is the promotion of domestic tourism, to create jobs, to bridge regional disparities and to inspire Ghanaians to protect their natural heritage.
US President Barack Obama’s choice of Ghana for his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 boosted the country’s profile. The US is Ghana’s leading tourism market, and the growth in heritage tours for African-Americans has been a significant part of this.
Ghana benefited from the Black Stars’ success at the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa as it became the only African team to reach the quarter finals. Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan, one of the stars of the tournament, was subsequently nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Ghana’s successes on the international conference scene included hosting the AU in 2007, the UN Conference on Trade and Development in 2008 and UN World Tourism Day in 2009. The conference trade also helps Ghana’s economy. Business tourists made up more than half of international tourist arrivals in 2009 and they are likely to provide much of the growth in the coming years.