Ghana’s 2019 Year of Return initiative is one to remember, bringing in over $3.3 billion and 1.1 million visitors. The successful campaign is part of a ten-year plan to bring in more African American tourists and investors. 

Even during the pandemic, Ghana’s 2020 “Beyond the Return” campaign was star-studded, attracting African American visitors. Celebrities posted about their luxury experience, while Ghanaian communities were experiencing hardships from the pandemic.

The stark contrasts have sparked questions around how African American celebrities will positively impact the economic advancement of local Ghanaians. 

Kristin Quaye, co-founder of Certified Africa, tells Skift, “We definitely talk about it and I think there’s tension around it right now because people are not seeing what the benefits could be in the future for the average Ghanaian citizen.”

Contrastly, natives like Kwame Gasu, think the government’s strategy to increase tourism by inviting African American celebrities is great. “It has paid off; Ghana is the number one tourism hub in Africa when it comes to Christmas, everybody talks about it,” says Gasu. 

According to Visit Ghana, tourism brought in the country’s fourth-largest foreign exchange earnings pre-pandemic. Tourism growth is a huge priority and the Ghana Hotels Association reveals that the hospitality sector has almost recovered from the pandemic. 

Locals criticize the government’s approach to driving tourism through celebrities, claiming that celebrities only are exposed to the big city life in Accra, while locals are faced with rising unemployment rates and inflation.

Rich Hackman, a content producer, tells Skift about the Year of Return: “It felt a bit more organic initially when we had celebrities coming into the country by virtue of their lineage.” He goes on to say, “Most of their experience is very curated — you connect with an organization on the ground in the country that shepherds you around from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, and the harsher realities on the ground may be briefly touched on, but you’re not getting the real experience.”

Gasu states that Ghana’s tourism sites should be updated. “I always say that the Kwame Nkrumah museum was nicer when I was a kid than it’s looking now. Sometimes it is even a pain to go out of Accra and visit other sites because the roads are so bad — you don’t believe this is Ghana; it doesn’t depict the Ghana we read in foreign news, that people talk about,” says Gasu.

In April, Ghana’s government announced they would allot $25 million to renovate major tourism sites.