How can Ghana's tourism industry recover from the pandemic?

Tourism is an important driver of economic growth in Ghana, as the third-largest GDP contributor and recipient of increasing levels of foreign investment each year. The Year of Return campaign for 2019, appealing to the diaspora population, was a success and is seen as a blueprint for future tourism marketing campaigns to build upon the growing international awareness of Ghana as a tourist destination. The country also has the potential to boost its domestic tourism – as well as to develop niche tourism segments such as surfing and other water sports – by leveraging interest in its more well-known historical sites, national parks and wildlife reserves. Taken together, these efforts are expected to help the West African county attract a diverse demographic of visitors in the coming years.

Structure & Oversight

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MoTAC) oversees the tourism sector, allocating funds from the budget. In 2019 travel and tourism contributed 5.9% to Ghana’s GDP, with revenue of $3.7bn. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic caused this figure to fall to 2.9% of Ghana’s GDP in 2020, and $1.9bn in revenue. However, the sector’s performance is expected to recover as travel restrictions ease, vaccination campaigns pick up and MoTAC continues its National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2013-27.

In 2020 the government allocated GHS103.9m ($17.8m) to MoTAC. The funds contributed to an upgrade of the Accra Tourist Information Centre, the construction of the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary and Cultural Village, and the rehabilitation of the Tetteh Quarshie Cocoa Farm. The following year tourism’s allotment fell to GHS98.7m ($16.9m), with financing earmarked for the Beyond the Return campaign – an extension of the Year of Return – focused on attracting the diaspora, as well as renovating tourist sites.

Both budgets included financing for the Marine Drive project, a $1.2bn plan to redevelop 97.5 ha on Accra’s waterfront. The project, which broke ground in 2017, is expected to create around 600,000 jobs once complete. While tourism’s budget fell in 2021, it is expected to increase in the coming years, to GHS126.1m ($21.6m) in 2022 and GHS151.4m ($25.9m) in 2023.

As part of an oversight and quality-management programme, in 2019 the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) introduced an obligatory certification and licensing scheme designed to manage quality assurance in tourism establishments. This scheme responds to health and safety concerns around sanitation practices in micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises across the industry, as well as the underdevelopment of several tourist sites, many of which are characterised by ageing or inadequate infrastructure. In 2020 the GTA inspected and licensed 4774 establishments, of which 3804 were in accommodation, 510 were in catering and 460 were involved in travel.

In line with efforts to create a professional and competitive hospitality sector, the same year the Hotel, Catering and Tourism Training Institute developed a strategic plan and service delivery standards to act as a framework for education and training programmes.

Arrivals & Source Markets

The number of international tourists had been growing in recent years, though the pandemic reversed the trend. In 2019 the country welcomed 1.3m foreign tourists, but in 2020 this declined by nearly 73% to 355,000 arrivals, according to the GTA. The sector began to see a recovery in 2021 with the opening of borders and easing of health restrictions. Ghana recorded 411,000 international arrivals in the first nine months of the year, hinting at recovery over the course of the year. Domestic tourism numbers saw a similar improvement, from 290,000 in 2020 to 350,000 in the first nine months of 2021.

Visitor arrival demographics shifted between 2019 and 2020 due to international restrictions on travel. In 2019 the main source of international tourists was the US, accounting for 26% of arrivals, followed by the UK (23%), Nigeria (21%), Côte d’Ivoire (8%) and Germany (5%). However, in 2020 Nigeria contributed the largest portion of arrivals, at 26%, followed by the US (21%), the UK (20%), Côte d’Ivoire (9%) and Germany (6%). As part of the NTDP 2013-27, MoTAC aims to host 8m tourists by 2027, contributing $8bn to the economy.

Employment & Spending

Ghana’s tourism sector accounted for 514,800 jobs in 2020, or 4.2% of total employment. This figure was down 30.7% from the 742,500 individuals employed in the sector in 2019, underscoring the severity of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on the sector.

In late March 2020 the government restricted arrivals by air, land and sea in response to the pandemic, causing a temporary contraction in the tourism sector. Traditionally, there are approximately twice as many women as men working in Ghana’s tourism industry, meaning that women were disproportionately affected by the decrease in jobs in the sector.

Visitor spending was likewise affected by the pandemic. In 2019 domestic tourists spent $1.7bn, while foreign tourists spent $1.4bn, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. However, with borders closed and restrictions tightened, in 2020 domestic spending fell to $1.1bn and international to $372.6m. Beyond the decrease in numbers, these figures highlight a shift: while in 2019 domestic tourists accounted for 56% of spending, in 2020 they accounted for 74%. This underscores the role that domestic tourism can play in the recovery moving forwards.

A similar consolidation was seen in terms of leisure and business spending. In 2019 leisure tourists spent $2bn, or 63% of the total, while the remaining $1.2bn and 37% was spent by business tourists. In 2020, as companies adopted remote work and meetings went virtual, leisure tourists spent $1.1bn, or 79% of the total, while business tourists spent $294.4m, accounting for 21% of tourist spend that year.

Hotel Infrastracture

The country’s hotel occupancy in 2019 averaged 55.3% across three-star hotels, 59.2% across four-star hotels and 66.3% across five-star hotels, a rate that has remained largely unchanged since 2014. Part of this is attributed to the fact that hotel rooms are more expensive than alternatives in comparable holiday destinations – at around GHS217 ($37.09) a night for the average double-occupancy room – which results in many domestic travellers opting for international destinations with lower prices.

The government is working to address these shortfalls and make the sector more competitive via largescale projects. The first is Airport City Accra, near Kotoka International Airport, featuring restaurants, car parks and shopping malls. It also hosts several international hotels, including the Accra Marriott Hotel, the Ibis Styles Accra Airport and the Holiday Inn Accra Airport. The development is set to expand further, with two additional hotels in the pipeline. The first is Accor’s Pullman Accra Airport City, a 40,000-sq-metre hotel with 214 hotel rooms and 149 serviced apartments, set to be completed in the third quarter of 2022. The Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF) contributed $25m to the project, aimed at attracting meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism through a conference and events centre in the complex. The second is Protea by Marriott, a 200-room property expected to be operational in July 2022.

Meanwhile, resort development along the coastline is expected to further boost tourism. The GIIF contributed $6m to the development of the Maaha Beach Resort, a 121-room, three-star multi-purpose facility located in the Ellembele District in the Western Region.

Business Tourism

The business segment has expanded significantly in recent years, making up the largest proportion of arrivals in 2019, at approximately 31.1%. This was followed by leisure tourism (13.8%), visiting family and friends (12.5%), studying or teaching (10%) and conferences (9.6%). The NTDP 2013-27 focuses on advancing MICE tourism over the next decade, building on the momentum gained after hosting several noteworthy conferences, including the UN World Tourism Organisation’s Regional Congress on Women Empowerment in the Tourism Sector in 2019; the International Conference on Finance, Bank and Economics in 2020; and the Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation Summit and Challenge in 2021.

“While there is potential for Ghana to become a major international destination for MICE tourism, it will be necessary to build upon the current infrastructure to meet future demand,” Emmanuel Treku, CEO of the Chamber for Tourism Industry Ghana, told OBG. “To improve the country’s MICE capacity, it will be important to encourage greater levels of investment by well-known hotel brands to build hotels with business facilities. It will also be important to invest in basic infrastructure, and improve connectivity between airports and major tourism destinations.”

Niche Markets

There is significant potential to expand upon Ghana’s niche tourism segments, with some of West Africa’s largest national parks, diverse wildlife and UNESCO World Heritage sites spread across the country. According to the WTTC, wildlife tourism contributed more than one-third of the total travel and tourism revenue in Africa in 2018. That year expenditure attributed to wildlife tourism on the continent totalled $70.6bn, employing 8.8m people. Kenya and South Africa, in particular, are known for their successful wildlife tourism industries that attract steady streams of tourism centred around wildlife and safari visits.

Ghana has the potential to expand its environmental tourism through the development of natural sites including Mole National Park, Kakum National Park, the Ankasa Conservation Area, the Shai Hills Resource Reserve and the Wli waterfalls – the tallest falls in West Africa. In addition, Ghana has a vast array of wildlife, with 773 recorded species of birds, the Bobiri Forest and Butterfly Sanctuary, the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, and several national parks that are home to elephants, buffalo, colobus monkeys, manatees, chimpanzees and a variety of antelope. The potential for ecotourism, as well as wildlife and wellness tourism resorts, is substantial given the large area of Ghana’s natural reserves and its expansive coastline.

Another growth area is adventure tourism and water sports, which is relatively underdeveloped given Ghana’s surf-friendly coastline. The country has recently attracted media attention for its stretches of sandy beaches, waves and lack of crowds. However, beyond relatively small competitions such as International Surfing Day in Accra, the industry is not well known.


The GTA has rolled out several successful promotional programmes in recent years to encourage greater visitor numbers. The Year of Return initiative, aimed at attracting the diaspora from around the world to visit Ghana on the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in Jamestown, Virginia, saw high levels of engagement. MoTAC announced almost $2bn in related revenue in 2019, and planned to continue the programme with Beyond the Year of Return, although the success of the initiative was dampened due to the pandemic. “The Year of Return was successful in attracting the diaspora from the US,” Treku told OBG. “However, Ghana lacks a brand in other markets, with few people from Europe or Asia recognising it as a tourist destination. Establishing Ghana in the way that South Africa did through its Inspiring New Ways campaign, or India with Incredible India!, would help attract new source markets.”


Ghana’s tourism sector is steadily developing and will be a critical economic driver as the country continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. The emerging MICE and more established leisure segments will build on the success of earlier tourism marketing campaigns, as sector authorities work to diversify source markets. Public investment is expected to grow, as both general and tourism-specific infrastructure becomes more developed.

At the same time, private investment is garnering interest thanks to the popularity of large-scale development projects such as Airport City Accra, as well as luxury resorts leveraging Ghana’s sun, sand and sea. Greater investment in connectivity between airports, cities and nature destinations could further enhance opportunities, as well as investment in coastline offerings to attract more visitors to the country’s beaches.

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