Ghana's commemorative campaign the 'Year of Return' that targeted African Americans and the diaspora wishing to trace their ancestry and make pilgrimages to their countries of origin, has brought a marked rise in the country's marketability.
Ghana designated 2019 as the Year of Return to commemorate 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in the United States. The country is using the campaign to market itself as a tourism destination with Trans-Atlantic trade appeal.
Since the campaign commenced multitudes of African Americans in the diaspora have made spiritual pilgrimages to Ghana to trace their ancestry and mark this morbid milestone in Black history. Furthermore, Ghana is the only country that has legally offered to resettle people of African descent in Africa.
The year-long event was designed to incentivise diaspora returnees by waiving some visa requirements and permitting people of African origin the right to apply for indefinite stays. Outside of this, marketing activities have co-opted traditional authorities as well as local and international celebrities as part of the campaign.
The tourism sector contributed 5.5% to GDP in 2018, coming fourth after gold, cocoa and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. Although various government agencies and supporters of the campaign have publicised figures such as "200,000" extra international arrivals; "1.5 million" total number of visitors for 2019; and "$1.9 billion" in revenue, these figures are not factual and the campaigns actual impact are yet to be ascertained.
However, officials remain obstinate on the positive impact made on the economy. Last year Ghana's Tourism Minister Barbara Oteng-Gyasi said during the inauguration of a tourist centre at Anomabo, a town in the central region that, "There has been tremendous community involvement which has stimulated the local economy including hoteliers, tour operating and other related businesses."
The Minister added that, the "Year of Return" had "cemented Ghana's pan-African legacy and had put a global spotlight on the country and helped to position it as a historic, cultural and vibrant hub and had as well changed the narrative of what was reported about Ghana and the rest of Africa in general."
Despite the positive outcomes of the campaign, economists are cautious on how this will affect local small and medium sized enterprises. According to The Conversation diasporan people who invest in the local tourism industry could crowd out smaller enterprises or the increased tourism could trigger inflation in the local economy. It is therefore important that domestic firms are supported and the entry and operations of foreign firms in Ghana controlled.