Earlier this week, Ghanaweb published a report culled from a barely-known blog named ‘The AfroDrifter’ with a tiny social media following of 4 Instagram followers, 144 Facebook likes and 339 Twitter followers. The author of the blog post, Freeman Chari, is a Zimbabwean living in America. We wish to point out emphatically that the statements made in the blog post about Ghana’s booth at the New York Times Travel Show are false and likely driven by a desire to drive traffic to his site or stems from inadequate understanding of the show or the industry. Interestingly the blog had no picture of the booth or the four people he claimed were on their phones continuously for two days.
In 2020, North America is being focused on as a key target market as Ghana builds on the momentum of the Year of Return into the new project ” Beyond the Return”.The World Tourism Organization reports that Americans spent 144 billion (U.S. dollars) on tourism expenditures in 2018. The buying power of the African-American population is expected to increase to 1.4 trillion U.S. dollars by 2020 as reported by Statista.
To capitalize on the North American market trends and to enter the United States travel trade show sector, GTA for the first time ever, attended the New York Times Travel Show held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City from 24th – 26th January 2020. The delegation was led by the Minister of Tourism Arts & Culture and included the GTA CEO, Manager Year of Return, GTA Product Development & Investment Manager, and three of the leading private sector tour operators (Landtours, Sunseekers, Apstar). The New York Times Travel Show attracts more than 35,000 attendees with over 700 exhibitors from more than 175 countries, making it the largest travel trade and consumer show in North America.
The GTA booth was dually branded as ‘Visit Ghana’ and ‘Beyond The Return.’
The setup was engaging with several trade and consumer visitors. At one point in time, GTA had to annex an unoccupied stand to be able to serve the numerous visitors. The tables were nicely covered with the white “Year of Return” cloth, the backdrop was boldly branded as ‘Beyond The Return,” and the entryway branded as ‘Visit Ghana.” There were thousands of marketing materials and giveaways to visitors which included Ghana chocolate, notebooks, pen drives, informational materials and much more.
Ghana was also one of the few African countries that had a speaking opportunity at the show with the CEO featuring as a product expert on Heritage offerings. On the sidelines of the travel show, the team led by the Minister engaged media Houses such as the New York Times, Harlem Times and clinched a deal to host this year’s Africa Tourism Association “World to Africa” Tourism Conference in Ghana in October, 2020.
In the post-event wrap up meeting the Minister held with the private sector tour operators, they were extremely happy with the leads they generated through the lead retrieval app deployed to collect lead information. To collect a lead, tour operators and GTA officials used their mobile phones to scan the QR Code on the name badge of each interested lead. The data from the QR Code about the lead was automatically sent to a database for immediate action.
We have taken pains to explain in detail because several well-meaning and patriotic Ghanaians have reached out to find out the accuracy of the report. Whilst we welcome criticism and feedback, we will not be distracted in our quest to market and make Ghana a top tourism destination.
The ‘AfroDrifter’ blog post is inaccurate and must be disregarded.
Celebrated Holywood African- American actor, Boris Kodjoe has voiced his opinion on the media’s depiction of Africa as a war-ridden continent. For him, the opportunity to showcase the other side of Africa to the world was not only to commemorate the 400thyear of the arrival of the first documented enslaved Africans in Virginia but to also help make that switch from the mentality of “Descendants of Slaves” to “Descendants of Survivors”.
According to him, they (Boris, his wife, his brother, Bozoma Saint John and his crew) wanted to show people the true side of Africa because the media’s narrative of Africa as a famine and war zone is quite disappointing and perpetuation of falsehood. He stated that Africa is not a country, as some people perceive. On the contrary, he stressed the fact that seven (7) out of the 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa with a rich diversity in food, culture, music, people etc.
Speaking on the American talk show, THE REAL, the actor of Ghanaian descent asserted, “traditional media has painted a picture of Africa as a place of war and famine to Europe and it’s not true”. And we wanted to show people the True side of Africa”. He recounted all the fun they had with the huge crowds at the Afrochella festival and Afronation, which were two of the major events that took place in December in Ghana.
He made these remarks with regard while sharing his experience at the Essence Full Circle festival held in Ghana. He also spoke about visiting amazing Heritage sites in Ghana such as the Cape Coast Castle and many other heritage sites. He added that Africa was not just great for tourism but also great for business.
The Essence Full Circle festival was held in Ghana under the ‘Year of Return’ initiative, which was themed “Celebrating the African Resilience”. Thousands of people of African origin especially African Americans including several Hollywood celebrities visited Ghana for Christmas. Some of the stars include Idris Elba, Naomi Campbell, Akon, Rick Ross, T.I., Ludacris, Steve Harvey and several others from the diaspora who were all welcomed home to Ghana and will hopefully become one of the legacies which celebrate African resilience.
Also visiting Ghana in 2019 to partake in the celebration were the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus, Kofi Kingston and also the Prime Minister of Barbados.
The Ghana Tourism Authority, on behalf of the Government of Ghana, and Event Horizon, Organisers of the Afro-Nation Festival, on Monday, 20th January 2020, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Ghana to play host to “the biggest urban music beach festival in the world” for the next five years.
The MoU, which was signed by Mr. Akwasi, CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), and Obi Asika, CEO of Event Horizon, was witnessed by the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in London, on the sidelines of the UK-Africa Investment Summit.
The signing of the MoU is part of a number of plans Ghana is putting in place, as it kick-starts the “Beyond the Return” project.
‘Beyond the Return’ aims to engage Africans in the Diaspora and all persons of African descent more positively in areas such as trade and investment co-operation, and skills and knowledge development.
The MoU will also allow the Ghana Tourism Authority and any governmental ministry, agency or authority it deems necessary to on behalf of the Government of Ghana, oversee all designs, content and production of Merchandise for the Afro-Nation Ghana Project.
The parties have also agreed, in preparation for the event every year, to establish a Local Organising Committee, comprising of representatives of each of the parties or their affiliates for the Afro-Nation Ghana Project with the LOC, amongst other duties, to be stated in the binding document responsible for securing additional sponsorship for the project.
In his remarks, after the signing of the MoU, Obi Asika stated that “Ghana is a welcoming destination, and we were happy with the warm reception we received since we took Afro-Nation to the country. The President’s commitment to the project is unparalleled, and we look forward to another successful event in December 2020“.
On his part, the CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), Akwasi Agyeman said “Afro-Nation is amongst one of the key events on which we are anchoring the ‘Beyond the Return’ initiative. We want to make Ghana the number one entertainment destination in Africa. December in Ghana will never be the same again”.
About Beyond The Return
Beyond the Return” is a follow-up to the successful Year of Return, Ghana 2019’ campaign which commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first recorded enslaved Africans in Jamestown Virginia in 1619. The landmark campaign also celebrated the resilience of the African over the past 400 years and welcomed all people of African origin to return to Africa especially Ghana.
It’s the last Saturday of the year in the heart of Accra, Ghana’s capital. The air is thick with the anticipation of the thousands of revelers who have swarmed the gates of El Wak Stadium to take part in an annual celebration of African culture known as Afrochella.
Inside it’s a sea of diversity. Austrian, Ivorian and Nigerian men pose for cameras before inviting an American woman to join.
Nearby, two French women draped in the traditional Ghanaian Kente cloth dance to a mix of reggae and afrobeats.
At the bar, four British men chat with locals while scanning the crowd bathed in neon lights.
They all have one thing in common: they answered Ghana’s call to come home.
A new Harlem Renaissance
Ghana is having a moment and some describe it as akin to the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920s movement in the United States that’s credited with revolutionizing African-American arts and culture.
Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History at Howard University, says what’s happening in Africa now correlates almost identically with the Harlem experience.
“The Harlem Renaissance was a time when African culture and arts were finally being valued during a period when segregation and racism ran rampant in America,” Araujo told CNN.
“We are finding now that the diaspora wants to experience their culture and feel accepted in a place where racism is not so engrained as in many parts of the West,” she says of Ghana’s appeal.
Cynthia Ofori-Dwumfuo, a 35-year-old Ghanaian citizen who serves as the head of marketing for an insurance company, agrees.
“We are getting to a point where the dichotomy between Africans and the diaspora is slowly fading away,” she says. “We are all starting to see that we are all African. What is happening here is a celebration of culture and it has helped me to see that being African is so cool.”
The Pan-African movement
This is not the first time that African-Americans and the diaspora have heeded the call to come home to Africa.
Araujo says that shortly after the US abolition of slavery in the 19th century, influential leaders such as Marcus Garvey pleaded with African-Americans to return to Africa, some staying for good, including the Pan-Africanist intellectual, W.E.B. Dubois.
In 2019, Ghana ran a hugely popular Year of Return campaign to attract international visitors of Ghanaian descent.
In Accra, people from all walks of life arrived in the thousands in the last few days of 2019. Among them was the mother of megastar Beyoncé, Tina Lawson, who was visiting Ghana for the first time.
“This experience has been eye-opening,” she told CNN in Accra. “I understand now why everyone is talking about coming here. This place makes me want to heal.”
Felix Darko, 26, a German-Ghanaian computer engineer who moved to Ghana when he was eight, says the Year of Return is significant.”It was the year that Ghana jumped into the global and diaspora consciousness,” he says.
“This place is incredibly rich in culture and is also one of the more culturally relevant places to visit for the diaspora as most slaves that were taken from the continent were done so from our shores.”
‘A spiritual and birthright journey’
The Year of Return marked 400 years since the first arrival of African slaves stepped on American soil.
The Ghana Tourism Authority and Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture spearheaded the campaign, inviting the “global African family, home and abroad” to make the “landmark spiritual and birthright journey.”
Two hours west of the capital, in the Cape Coast, comedian Steve Harvey, actors Boris Kodjoe, Danny Glover and musicians T.I. and Ludacris all visited the Elmina Castle, a life-changing trip for most, who come to tour the major hub that served as the final destination in Africa for millions of slaves before being shipped overseas.
Ghana Tourism Authority’s CEO, Akwasi Agyemang, told CNN that the social, economic and media impact from Year of Return has been a “phenomenal awakening.”
A rival to Ibiza or Cape Cod?
The World Bank also notes that compared to 2018, Ghana’s economy expanded with a GDP growth rate at 6.7% in the first quarter alone, its private sector grew stronger and local businesses have seen a significant improvement, said Agyemang.
Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo said last December that the diaspora has positively impacted countries “through increased trade activities, investments and the transfer of skills.”
Ghana made 126 African-Americans and Caribbeans its citizens part of Year of Return celebrations
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo/Facebook
Asante Berko, owner of two restaurants, AM&PM and Fat Fish, at Accra’s upscale community, the Villagio, described how his businesses have been impacted in one word: “Phenomenal.”
“Sales practically tripled,” he said, adding that demand was so high that he was forced to turn people away.
But the reason behind this was more important than the business revenue, he insists. “To be a part of this movement has taught me the strength in numbers. [The diaspora] can normalize this and make this a place akin to Ibiza or Cape Cod.”
The country’s tourism authority agrees. “This is a very important time for this country,” CEO Agyemang says.
“People are now starting to make the pilgrimage here just like Jerusalem or Mecca, and we are here to welcome them if they decide to return.”
Ghanaian-American Kojo Terry Oppong, the owner of a Ghanaian lifestyle concierge service, doesn’t need any further convincing to return.
“As many of us in the diaspora experience our “moment of clarity,” he says.
“I trust that others will join me in agreeing that it is not malaria, poor infrastructure, etc… that you need to be concerned about. It is the “Ghana Bug,” which once bitten, makes you hold her dear in your heart.
“You will find yourself coming back again, and again, and again,” he says.
President Akufo-Addo wants Ghanaians to extend their supportive attitude portrayed towards the “Year of Return”, to this year’s “Beyond the Return” initiative.
President Akufo-Addo believes it was due to such an attitude that the year of return was a success and he wants to see same for Beyond the Return.
A statement from the Presidency indicated that, “the welcoming attitude and the warm Ghanaian hospitality proved to be the strongest attention to hundreds of thousands of our ‘kith and kin’ from the African diaspora, who thronged our shores to commemorate the year of return.
“I urge all Ghanaians to demonstrate this same level of excitement and commitment that characterised the “Year of Return,” he added.
President Akufo-Addo initiated the Year of Return to invite all diasporans back home to not only learn more but explore and even invest in the country.
Since this initiative began many African-Americans have made their way into the country to learn more about their history. Some include Steve Harvey , Samuel L Jackson , Anthony Anderson, Micheal Jai White, Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, Diggy Simmons and many others.
The President launched the now “Beyond the Return” initiative as a way to continue with and solidify relations between Africans and those in the diaspora.
He said the “Year of Return’, proved itself to be exciting, and afforded Ghanaians the chance to re-establish, intensify and solidify the relations between those of us on the continent and those in the diaspora.”
He further commended the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and other institutions and persons who made The Year of Return possible for “their sense of professionalism and dedication to duty, which enabled them to preserve the peace and security of our country in the course of the celebration.”
The President also urged Ghanaians to take advantage of all opportunities that the initiative will present as this “will entail that we engage in mutually beneficial trade, investment and cultural co-operation with the Africa Diaspora.”