The President, Mr John Dramani Mahama, has challenged brand experts in Africa to help change the age-old negative perception of the continent by exploring innovative ways to sell it to the world.
“There are many selling points on the continent that could be packaged for the world to buy. If we package Africa properly, the international media will respond,” he said.
Opening the Regional Conference on Africa in Accra yesterday, the President said the continent had no reason to stay behind, considering its capacity to build a strong image for itself, as well as the skills and creative minds of its people.
The three-day conference, on the theme: “Enhancing Brand Africa, Fostering Tourism Development”, is being attended by stakeholders in the tourism industry, including tourism ministers, tourism associations, journalists and the private sector, with the aim of, among other things, creating synergies among African countries towards greater cooperation in the promotion and positioning of a common African tourism brand.
Africa’s tourism development has been hindered by the negative picture painted of the continent in international circles.
The generalisation of crisis in specific countries as a continent-wide problem has also not helped matters.
What worsened matters in recent times was the outbreak of Ebola.
Even though the disease broke out in a few countries, the international media painted it as an African crisis, a development that resulted in a reduction in international tourist arrivals from five to two per cent in 2014.
Consequently, the need to build and manage a strong image has become so crucial to ensure the needed development in the tourism sector.
President Mahama said Africa had unjustifiably been painted as a backward continent where under-development, diseases and wars were the order of the day.
He said the time to change the mindset of the international community about Africa was now.
Touching on Ebola, he said it was most unfortunate that the packaging of the disease affected the growth of many countries, although it broke out in a few countries.
“In many cases, it was made to appear as a continent-wide outbreak and this resulted in several countries issuing travel alerts to their citizens to avoid any non-essential travels to Africa.
“Indeed, this was most unfair to Africa,” the President stressed.
Ghana, he said, was not spared the Ebola misinformation, saying there was about 30 per cent reduction in air travel in 2014.
Tourism is the fourth biggest foreign exchange earner for Ghana.
President Mahama said the country had achieved the target of one million tourist arrivals and was working even harder to improve on it through effective marketing and related initiatives to promote attractions.
He said, for instance, that the completion of the Sawla-Fufulso road had resulted in a significant increase in tourist arrivals at the Mole National Park.
“We aim to diversify the country’s tourism assets through investment in beach fronts, marina entertainment and amusement centres.
“Tourism is big business; tourism is good business, but tourism is all about good attractions, good service and good destinations,” he said.
The Director-General of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), Dr Taleb Rifai, said African tourism was coming of age, with arrivals reaching 56 million currently, up from 26 million in 2000.
He expressed delight at Ghana’s vision to enhance the country’s development, which would go a long way to boost the country’s tourism.
“I was here six years ago and the difference I see now is remarkable,” he said
He described tourism as a profitable industry which Africa must use profitably.
Dr Rifai said it was a tragedy that many of the positive stories of Africa were hidden from the world, adding, “Africa is, indeed, on the move.”
The Minister of Tourism, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare, catalogued the developments that had taken place in the tourism sector and said Ghana hoped to use the conference to build on those achievements.
The Chief Executive of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Dr Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije, said the assembly was concentrating on activities that would stimulate private sector investment in tourism in Accra.