Akwasi Agyeman, CEO, Ghana Tourism Authority: Interview

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Akwasi Agyeman, CEO, Ghana Tourism Authority

Interview: Akwasi Agyeman

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted Ghana’s tourism sector, and what do you see will be necessary to support recovery?

AKWASI AGYEMAN: Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic Ghana was focused on developing heritage and diaspora tourism and attracting tourists from the US in particular, while also taking steps to promote domestic tourism. International visitor numbers trended upwards in recent years, peaking at 1.1m in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of domestic tourists reached 620,000 that year, up from 535,000 in 2018.

Tourism was one of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic, as countries limited travel and imposed various levels of lockdown measures. Moreover, jobs in the sector are not easily done remotely. In 2020 Ghana saw tourism arrivals drop 68% from pre-pandemic levels to 355,000, and as such, businesses required support in order to survive. However, 2021 has seen the beginnings of a recovery, and Ghana is on track to receive 600,000 tourists by the end of the year. As countries around the world transition into a post-pandemic reality of living with the virus, we expect to see a lot of the pent-up demand for travel significantly drive up tourism numbers. The speed of the vaccine rollout will be a determining factor in the rebound in tourism activity, in addition to striking a balance between the implementation of necessary safety measures without them being overly intrusive.

What are your expectations for a recovery in tourism in 2022, and how can Ghana make the most of a global economic rebound?

AGYEMAN: A large portion of global travel industry is made up of business tourism, and this will likely continue despite the rise in remote meetings and events, and Ghana has an opportunity to cater to this segment. A key priority for Ghana’s tourism in the current environment is to leverage meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) to become a regional centre for tourism. Typically events focused on Africa require travel to Europe, the US or the UAE. However, bringing these events to the continent will boost demand for venues that can support high-level meetings and conferences.

Recent events such as the UN World Tourism Organisation’s Africa Youth in Tourism and Innovation Summit highlight the readiness of Ghana to host such gatherings safely and to become a leader in MICE tourism. There is also the potential to develop other areas of tourism, such as heritage or ecotourism, as an extension of business trips. We expect that Covid-19 will continue to exist, and countries will have to learn to live with it safely through health measures and widespread vaccination.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities to further develop domestic tourism offerings, as well as cater to local demand?

AGYEMAN: Domestic tourism is an important segment for the development and growth of the tourism sector, but it took a significant hit by the pandemic after the imposition of health measures, including a ban on public gatherings, lockdowns, social distancing and mandatory masks. Hotels, bars and restaurants also faced temporary closures. Domestic tourism has begun to improve in 2021, and expanding the segment will continue to be a priority going forwards. The focus on tourism infrastructure now is to ensure that tourists return safely from hotels, restaurants, museums and other activities.

Ghana has the opportunity to develop the historical, cultural and ecotourism segments, although sustained investment will be necessary to promote the country’s offerings at home and abroad. At the same time we have been investing to redevelop sites so that the length of time spent by visitors is extended and of greater benefit to the local communities.

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