The global tourism industry is one of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the World Economic Forum estimating over $1 trillion in economic losses for the year 2020 alone. What’s more is that the health crisis has placed over 120 million tourism-related jobs at risk.
Asia and the Pacific were the first regions to take a hit, given their proximity to the first epicenter of the Coronavirus. Nearly a year later, stringent travel restrictions continue to stifle cross-border movement. In Southeast Asia where tourism is a main driver of economic growth, countries like the Philippines suffered from huge losses, as tourism revenues dipped by a whopping 35% this time last year due to the pandemic. Africa hasn’t fared any better either, with tourism revenues on a downward trend. Before the pandemic hit, it was the second fastest growing region for tourism in the world. In fact, it’s raked in as much as $38 billion in revenue last 2018, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Ghana, in particular, has caught worldwide attention in 2019, thanks to the Ghana Tourism Authority’s (GTA) “Year of the Return” campaign. This initiative, targeted at international visitors of African descent, marked the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in Jamestown, Virginia. It was so successful that it spawned a decade-long follow-up called “Beyond the Return.”
Future of tourism in Ghana
Unfortunately, the pandemic halted the campaign’s momentum too. To curb the spread of COVID-19, land and sea borders in Ghana were closed until further notice. It was only in September that the Kotoka International Airport in Accra reopened for international passengers traveling to the country.
As of now, no movement restrictions within Ghana are in place, but authorities have adopted a phased approach to opening establishments. Hotels, tourist attractions, and restaurants have been allowed to reopen, provided health safety measures are followed.
However, because the future of international travel remains uncertain, authorities have instead turned inward to resuscitate tourism. For instance, last December 2020, the Ghana Tourism Authority began the “Travel, See, Snap, Win” campaign, which aims to rekindle interest in local tourism amid the Coronavirus.
To this end, Ghanaians were urged to travel to their favorite tourism and hospitality establishments and post it on their social media accounts to drum up engagement. Winners will win a return local airline tickets and free hotel stays, among other prizes.
Another solution that was proposed is the digitization of Ghana’s tourism resources. Virtual tourism efforts such as digital safari tours have already taken off as an answer to international travel restrictions. This has helped countries like Kenya mitigate the worst of the economic downturn brought about by the health crisis. To extend the same solution to Ghana, authorities have been urged to bank on the country’s rich cultural heritage. This includes the forts and castles in the Volta region, as well as the Asante buildings in Kumasi.
Aside from these measures, agencies like the United Nations International Labour Organization have also moved to address those whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. For example, thousands of members of the Ghana Tourism Federation underwent skill-building workshops in anticipation of hospitality and tourism operations slowly restarting. Among the skills they’ve learned are digital marketing, business recovery, and work safety measures.
It will take plenty of time and decisive leadership to recover from the economic damage brought by COVID. Even with hope and a vaccine on the horizon, the future remains uncertain. As such, all we can do now is try our best to reinvent what travel and hospitality means in the context of the pandemic.
Author: Shane Hilarmont