Move over Lagos. Accra is campaigning hard to bring international tourism and business to its verdant shores.
Outside Accra’s shiny new Kotoka International Airport is a fleet of 30 black Land Cruisers waiting for a motley group of 60 African-Americans gripped by wanderlust.
The airport, birthed from the partnership between Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), now processes around 1,250 passengers per hour with a goal of welcoming some six million passengers each year to the leafy West African country, according to Joshua Otchere of Ghana Immigration Service.
This is Ghana’s attempt to become the hub of sub-regional travel by distinguishing itself from the likes of Lagos.
“We are now offering better services, faster turnaround times from airlines and a world-class experience when traveling, which we believe will compete with the rest of the world along with great retail spaces,” says Otchere.
It is a fitting welcome to the star-studded group of visitors including international supermodel Naomi Campbell and actors Idris Elba, Anthony Anderson and Rosario Dawson among many others. Ghana, once a major hub for the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries, has several historical ties with the USA.
Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo declared and formerly launched ‘Year of Return Ghana 2019’ for Africans in the diaspora in Washington D.C., in September last year with the aim of uniting Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters abroad. Tasked with playing her role to make that vision a reality is fellow Ghanaian and Chief Marketing Officer of William Morris Endeavor, Bozoma Saint John.
“I had an audience with the president after meeting him at an event by the Africa-America Institute in New York where we were both presented with awards. During my acceptance speech, I spoke about Ghana and when I came back to Ghana, he asked me what I was going to do to represent Ghana in the diaspora,” says John.
“He said he was proud of my achievements but what am I going to do specifically to help promote Ghana. I took it to heart and I thought about all the friends that I have invited to Ghana throughout the years and all of those who have changed their opinions about what Ghana is and sometimes it was only after a week. So I knew how powerful that process was,” she says.
The former Chief Brand Officer of Uber immediately reached out to Hollywood star Boris Kodjoe to brainstorm on how they could get more people to join them to discover Ghana and the Full Circle Festival was born.
“Boris and I thought about who we could invite. It wasn’t about just getting the biggest names, it was about inviting our friends who have influence both in Hollywood and in the business circles who can come to Ghana and really enjoy the experience,” says John.
The country came fourth out of 19 countries in CNN’s list of top places to visit in 2019. In addition, there have been massive infrastructure projects, digital skills training for millions as well as substantial investments into the startup ecosystem.
“Google is setting up its Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Accra and that shows just how far we have come as an economy and country,” says Franklin Cudjoe, President of Imani Centre for Policy and Education, a leading Ghanaian think-tank.
This year, Ghana is attempting to ramp up its tourism status. The initiative is set to attract some half a million tourists, with about 350,000 coming in from North America, while the rest will come from the Carribean, South America and Europe, according to Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA).
“We expect a lot of networking and business opportunities to come out of this unique initiative especially between Ghana and the USA that will generate revenues for local industries in Ghana,” says Akwasi Agyeman, Chief Executive Officer of GTA.
For the attendees of the recent Full Circle Festival, however, the experience is somewhat more about a deeper spiritual connection. Activities included a visit to the historic Cape Coast castle as well as tourist hotspots like the Royal Senchi resort and a trip to Lake Volta, Africa’s largest artificial reservoir.
“It is hard to explain what it feels like when you spend time in a place where double-consciousness doesn’t exist, the freedom to just be, the peace of mind and to be closer to your ancestors’ spirit than you have ever been.
“To feel the dreadful weight inside the slave dungeons and then the surge of empowerment when you step back into your life with a newfound purpose and 400 years of collective survival energy behind you. To connect with your royal heritage and to see the beauty in your culture that can never be denied. To eat the food and dance all night and connect with people who carry such effortless joy and pride, I simply love Ghana,” says actor Kodjoe.
It has been 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. For many, the impact of the slave trade cannot be overlooked.
For John, this is the beginning of a journey of enlightenment for her friends in Hollywood. It is time to play her part for Ghana by bringing awareness to the destination as a tourist hotspot for the US.
As CMO of one of the biggest talent agencies in the US, her opinion certainly holds weight. And there is no shortage of passion when it comes to the country that seems to have now captured the attention of corporate America.
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