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How Ghana's Year Of Return Campaign Put Black Destinations In The Spotlight
2019 was one of the best years for Ghana’s tourism industry after President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced the Year of Return campaign.
The campaign was a yearlong celebration to honor the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. The goal was to offer people of African descent an opportunity to learn about the “culture and history of their ancestors.”
As a result, Ghana saw a more than 40% increase in the number of visitors. An estimated 1.5 million people visited Ghana in 2019 and more than $1 billion in revenue was poured into the economy.
For Rashad McCrorey, founder of Africa Cross Culture, a travel company that reconnects African Americans with their roots in the diaspora, he says that Ghana’s Year of Return campaign has sparked curiosity among black travelers to visit black destinations.
“It may sound like a cliché, but Ghana’s Year of Return and Beyond the Return campaigns sparked this recent surge in Africa travel,” he told Travel Noire in an interview. “Ghana put their money and resources where its mouth was. Ghana is the first sub-Saharan African country to openly market, promote, and court black Americans.”
In an interview with Travel Noire, McCrorey discussed how Ghana’s success is having a domino effect on black travelers where they are looking for black destinations and how other African countries will now follow suit:
Travel Noire: You have helped hundreds of black travelers explore and connect with their roots through your company. What is a common theme that you hear from people after you take them through countries and cultures in Africa that maybe they would not necessarily say about anywhere else in the world?
McCrorey: I call it “All Black Everything.” When I speak of Africa in this sense, I am speaking of sub-Saharan Africa. In these sub-Saharan African countries, you see a sea of black people – meaning its black people as far as your eyes can see everywhere you go.
Yes, America is a melting pot and you see all kinds of people even in traditionally black communities due to gentrification.
But in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is “All Black Everything.” Black businesses in abundance, black people on all the billboards, black people all over the television, on every channel 24/7. All the news anchors on every station are black and interviewing people that look just like them. From the politicians, actors, athletes, entertainers, original programming with all black (African) names in the end credits, it’s all created, influenced, and owned by black people. You don’t get that anywhere else in the world.
Travel Noire: What is it about this representation that you think draws black travelers?
McCrorey: In America where we tend to be numb to the negative effects of systematic oppression, exploring Africa reveals many different things to black Americans.
I am from Harlem, every corner is filled with Chinese restaurants, South Korean beauty supplies stores, Yemenis’ and Latin bodegas, Indian 99 cent stores, and European owned supermarkets. Sometimes it feels like black America only has barbershops and restaurants.
When you come to Africa, you witness all the amazing things people do in their country where it’s mostly owned by them. Black Americans, disappointingly, does not always have that experience. We are always competing with other races, who mostly have the experience of a country of origin where they have clear examples of ownership in abundance.
Travel Noire: You mentioned that other countries in Africa are going to now follow suit as a result of Ghana’s success. Explain how?
McCrorey: Black Americans spent nearly $63 billion in tourism in 2018, the year before the Year of Return. And in 2019, more than $1 billion went into Ghana’s economy for the Year of Return.
This means that there’s an opportunity for other countries in Africa to court black travelers.
Other countries are already using Ghana’s campaign as the blueprint.
Benin is having something similar, Nigeria is doing the “Gate of the Return,” and Togo as well.
This is the time for other Sub-Saharan countries who are not big on tourism to start welcoming and courting black Americans.