Ghana: Hospitality and Happiness?

Posted on January 1, 2011 by

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Ghana is rich in natural resources, but is not a rich country as it does not processes these but rather exports them raw. One of Ghana’s great strengths is its people’s hospitality and friendliness however, and tourism is increasingly important. I stayed with a family in a rural village and was treated wonderfully. However, I fear that without a booking system limiting the number of tourists traditional life could be overwhelmed. Despite this I would greatly recommend a visit to Ghana.

Smiling faces everywhere

It’s nearly 50 degrees temperature difference between Ghana and Sweden. That is what I realized when I finished my three months internship in Ghana and came back to Sweden last month. Ghana is one of the world’s largest exporters of gold, timber and cacao [1], and its oil and gas industry has recently garnered international attention. In other words the country is rich in natural resources. Despite this, its economy is sluggish. This is because Ghana exports its resources to foreign markets in their raw form. Foreign markets can get raw materials at low prices and then sell them, processed, at a higher prices. Thus Ghana does not profit significantly from these industries. Moreover, these natural resources are non-renewable. Even if Ghana successfully managed to process its natural resources, it would not generate sustainable economic growth. These industries do not generate an equal distribution of income over the country and they risk encouraging over-exploitation and environmental degradation. In light of these facts Ghana has been encouraging the growth of its tourism sector to foster sustainable development. It is hoped that tourism can promote the conservation of the environment, preserve and enhance local cultures, and generate fairly distributed income. Indeed tourism has become an important source of foreign exchange for Ghana: the fourth biggest in ranking, behind gold, timber, and cacao.

The research topic of my internship was related to the recent growth in tourism in Ghana. Although tourism, as the country’s fourth biggest foreign exchange earner, is a significant sector of the Ghanaian economy on an international scale, Ghana is not a well known tourist destination. There are various problems which need to be addressed for Ghana to experience sustainable development of its tourism sector. The issues to deal with are often multidimensional and cross-disciplinary, involving matters such as infrastructure, education, agriculture, and technology. The relationships of these attributes are complex, especially in a developing country like Ghana which does not have sufficient means to support all of these sectors.

Host family and the mud house where we stayed

However, I believe that any challenge can be overcome and development achieved. Here, I would like to share some of my experiences in Ghana. One of the attractions of Ghana is the population’s great hospitality. Smiling faces everywhere welcome you warmly. During my stay in Ghana, I visited many tourist sites and met lots of fantastic people. I was amazed with the Ghanaian people’s kindliness. On the other hand, I was afraid these people might eventually get tired of being nice to foreigners.

Ghana has been promoting its tourism sector internationally, using tourism as a tool for rural development in the country. Interestingly, if we only look at the country’s physical attractions, Ghana could be seen as having less to offer compared to African countries such as Kenya or Mali, where large wild animals can be seen and near-untouched tribal cultures discovered. So what does Ghana promote as its own unique tourist attraction? Yes, its people’s peacefulness and hospitality. Most Ghanaian people are clever enough to understand this. They know their own strengths and they use them well when it comes to tourists.

When I visited an eco-village where community-based tourism is practiced, the villagers welcomed me with overwhelming hospitality. This was despite my friend and I visiting the village without any prior booking – we just went there and asked them for a home-stay. As soon as we arrived, they provided us with a room (we slept in a mud house) and started preparing us dinner, pounding yams and cassava for three unannounced visitors. When we said we would love to see a cultural performance, all the villagers gathered and started to dance for us. This is one of my best memories of Ghana; what a great way to experience local culture! But let’s think about this a second. There are many tourists who visit their village without any booking like we did. Pounding up food is really tough work. Performing traditional dances every day may tire local people and sap the spirit from the dancing. The more their village becomes popular, the more they are likely to suffer physically due to the attractions they offer, which is, it must be remembered, also their traditional way of life.

Children welcomed our visit

I think it would be better if they had a booking system which would control the numbers of visitors, keeping them at an optimal level. Creating this kind of system and letting the villagers manage it is likely to be difficult unfortunately because of a lack of knowledge and technical skills. This is another issue which needs to be solved with education and training. I asked a villager if they were getting tired of having tourists in their village and, so far, the villagers are all happy with the situation. However, I am still afraid the day they do get tired may come.

Hospitality should make local people happy, not exhausted. I may be critical of the current system of organization, but I do nonetheless appreciate Ghanaian hospitality and hope it will last for generations to come. Tourism is such a complex matter and if we add sustainability to the equation, it becomes even more complex. As for me, who had never been to a developing country, it was a great experience. Sustainable development does not have the same meaning in the developing world as it does in developed countries: developing countries seek economic growth through sustainable development, while developed countries aim mostly for environmental preservation.

I have not been able to digest my experiences from Ghana yet, but I believe that sharing them with people is the key to doing so. If you are interested in African countries, I very much recommend you to go to Ghana. It is a safe country and people are amazingly cheerful and pleasant, and I am sure that you will have a great deal of fun amongst the Ghanaians.

[1] Martin Kwamina Panford (2001) IMF-World Bank and labor’s burdens in Africa: Ghana’s experience, Kwamina ponford. P68

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