How The Year of Return Has Transformed Tourism to West Africa
There was a time not so long ago when connecting Africans with their diaspora counterparts was just a dream. Although, some dreams are so powerful, they become reality. This reality was the 2019 story of Ghana and how it transformed an otherwise small idea into one of the greatest marketing schemes of the past decade with ‘The Year of Return’.
While the entire returnee experience package was truly enticing, it was the promise of fun and calm that excited me most. Part of the package included carefully guided tours to the Elmina slave castles and forest canopy walk in Cape Coast, tours of the former human selling stations in Jamestown, among others. While the overall holiday experience was memorable, there were things Ghana did right with the year of return, some it could’ve done better, and some Liberia could learn from.
What Ghana Got Right
Africans often speak theoretically about reconnecting Africa with her people lost to the slave trade. Although, what isn’t usually considered, is the time in-between, and what has changed in those people. As such, these talks remain theory, and no direct return point on the continent has been given to them. This is the major opening Ghana saw, and thus offered themselves as the returning point. It was genius, really, with the level of available infrastructure in Ghana, including, electricity, roads, affordable lodging, arenas, beaches, clubs, resorts, and the likes.
Ghana studied the interests of the diaspora and created an oasis fulfilling those needs on the African continent. Imagine going to the club until 7AM, then taking a road trip to learn about your ancestors, then lifting the emotions of it all at a resort, all in the span on 24 hours. This is the unbeatable experience The Year of Return offered.
What Ghana Could’ve Done Better
The opportunity afforded West Africa through the Year of Return was not one to be missed or misused. While it was not an ECOWAS initiative, probably due to unpreparedness from other member countries, it was a chance to sell the region for what it truly has to offer. However, what it felt like Ghana did was sell a dream of a western oasis created on the continent, instead of what its true realities are. The truth is, not many West Africans can afford to rent out sections in a club and party until 7 AM, and many of them definitely aren’t going to join an electric slide line since it is not indigenous to them.
Likewise, when a curated experience like the widely publicized Afrochella festival caters to only its returnee audience, it’s a misused opportunity. For example, the festival experience was more or less the same they would’ve gotten in their respective western countries, with the music, food, dances, and outright elitist hosting. The year of Return was an opportunity to sell the West African experience for what it has to offer. It shouldn’t have been an attempt to recreate the western experience on the African continent.
What Liberia Could Learn
While Ghana was largely the point of no return for Africans lost to the slave trade, Liberia was actually created to be the specific returning point. This history serves as a tangible tourism opportunity for Liberia to leverage itself as what it is meant to be – the reconnection point between Africa and its diaspora. What Ghana proved with the Year of Return is that, there exists a tremendous market opportunity for diaspora Africans interested in reconnecting with their past. With this newfound knowledge, Liberia must now prepare itself infrastructurally to host such individuals, as well as package its history and resources to enable it to pass on the knowledge and connections of its story.
West African countries have almost never been viewed by the world as ideal tourism destinations, but in this decade, the tides have already been shifted.
Continue below for a Review of our Year of Return Experience, along with Miss Mano River Union International 2019, Goretti Itoka.