Ghana’s return tours using African-American celebrities draws controversies

The Ghanaian government launched the “Beyond the Return” campaign last December 2020 as a follow-up to its record-breaking Year of Return initiative that resulted in 1.1 million visitors and $3.3 billion in tourism revenues in 2019.

Designed as a ten-year strategy to attract African Americans to visit and invest in Ghana, the Ghanaian government and tourism board continuously tap African-American celebrities to market the recovery of the country’s tourism industry. The said marketing campaign isn’t a new one, however this tactic draws controversies from Ghanaian communities amidst the ongoing pandemic.

In a world currently struck by pandemic, the use of African-American celebrities who tout their lavish vacations online is an inequitable marketing approach. Several questions arising include the translation of tourism-driving stars into economic empowerment and an improved quality of life for host communities, and the long-term impact of a tourism campaign that encourages the mass exodus of privileged African Americans to Ghana.

To the Ghanaian community, there is tension around the campaign because people are not seeing what the benefits could be in the future for the average Ghanaian citizen. Per Kristin Quaye, African-American co-founder of Certified Africa, locals feel that the celebrities who are coming to Ghana are painting their country in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality on ground. There is also a controversy on celebrities taking pictures with the president as it does not reflect what an average African American visitor can do.

Per local communities, displaying the luxurious side of a destination has been the industry’s modus operandi since its creation, but after the last two years, the flaws of the campaign are becoming more apparent as they do not seem to see the gains translate into an improved quality of life despite deeper inequalities.

Aside from the controversies with the taps of African-American celebrities, the Ghanaian government is building an ecosystem that doesn’t yet exist in West Africa in the way it does in East Africa. This is according to Certified Africa’s Quaye who believes that the “Beyond the Return” campaign is an effort that’s in its infant stages.

Regardless, as the African American celebrity vacation in Accra keeps flashing across screens in upcoming months, there’s still hope that this polarizing marketing approach will deepen the conversation on what defines a value visitor, and what the economic promise will be for Ghana’s tourism sector and Ghanaians.




Author: Deb Davad

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