Decorated Ghanaian entrepreneur, Bright Simons, has exposed gross inaccuracies in figures being bandied about as visitor numbers and revenue from the “Year of Return” initiative.
The “Year of Return” initiative was championed by the Ghanaian government to mark the 400th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. It has been hailed as successful because it has put the international media spotlight on Ghana as a tourism destination and has attracted global icons to the country.
While praising the initiative and its success, Bright Simons who is founder and president of mPedigree, pointed out exaggerations of the success of the initiative in terms of the number of visitors and revenue.
On December 16, 2019, the state-owned Daily Graphic reported that a “total of $1.9 billion has been generated into the economy through activities related to the ‘Year of Return’.
The source of Daily Graphic’s story was the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs Barbara Oteng-Gyasi. She was quoted in the story as saying the “Year of Return” programme had also brought about an increase of over 200,000 in total arrivals into the country.
In an article titled “Year of Return” Success Needs No Embellishment, Bright Simons said the figures cannot be true.
According to Mr Simons, who is also IMANI Africa’s Vice President in charge of Research, the government has projected the number of foreign visitors to Ghana in 2019 as one million people, and even if the projection is met, the “Year of Return” figures will still not be accurate.
“As at last count, 750,000 international visitors had made their way to Ghana in 2019. The Authorities are projecting total arrivals for the year to hit 1 million. This is however doubtful considering the proximity to year-end.
“But even if the numbers do hit 1 million, that would only mean a tiny fraction more than the 984,250 visitors who showed up in 2018, in fact, a mere 15,000 more,” Bright Simons wrote.
On the revenue, he went on to explain why the $1.9 billion is a fabrication:
“According to Ministry of Finance computations, average spending per tourist was $1512 in 2014, rising to roughly $1800 in 2018. Let’s pad this to $2000; though with Cedi exchange rate depreciation outstripping inflation, foreigners should actually find Ghana about 5% cheaper than last year and might spend less.
Be that as it may, the “extra spending” that could conceivably be attributed to an increase in arrivals due to the Year of Return (if the projected 1 million visitors estimate holds up) would amount to about $30 million in this scenario”.
“By what conceivable mechanism can a $30 million optimistic projection mutate into $1.9 billion?” Bright Simons asked.
“As already hinted, growth in tourist numbers in 2019 may well be below the average 3% per year rate seen over the last couple of years (and certainly below the 5.1% annual growth rate trend experts have projected between 2017 and 2027).”
From the above analysis, it is not likely that the 1 million international visitors projected will be met. And even if it is met, it will be difficult to attribute all additional 15,000 international visits to the “Year of Return” initiative, which brings government’s credibility in communicating the success story of the commendable initiative to question.
Ghanaian officials are basking in glory and ecstasy following a very successful marketing and branding campaign for the “Year of Return”, an initiative of the President of Ghana marking a major timeline in the sordid history of black slavery.
So far, impressive feats of national showcasing are there for all to see: tons of positive international press, great mentions and fabulous celebrity endorsements, most of it at no cost whatsoever to Ghana.
So why is Ghanaian officialdom so keen on selling the success of the initiative on the tabletop of incoherent statistics and woolly numbers instead of better cataloguing these clear achievements? It is a very strange sight to behold. Is this sad spate of fuzzy arithmetic just another example of how as a country Ghana struggles to master data-driven policymaking or is this an isolated case of mere overexuberance?
Bright further added that:
I know that no malice is intended, but before I am pummeled to a pulp for being a killjoy, let me hasten to point out that sound data is important for drawing accurate inferences.
Unfortunately, various government agencies and supporters of the Year of Return program have bandied figures such as “200,000” extra arrivals, “1.5 million” total visitors and “$1.9 billion” extra tourist spending as measurements of outcomes related to the Year of Return with zero commitment to using actual, widely available, statistical data.
This means that instead of focusing on what so spectacularly went well – the brilliant coopting of African American celebrities like Steve Harvey as informal brand ambassadors – we shall soon be luxuriating in fictitious numbers bearing no resemblance to reality.
But all this should really be beside the point since no data-conscious person would insist that every successful marketing exercise must necessarily bear fruit even whilst it was still underway. There is almost always a time lag before results materialise. The danger in elevating phantom figures to the level of truth is in the complacency they can breed. So that instead of girding our loins to build on this successful marketing exercise and translate the increased awareness about Ghana and its enduring international goodwill into tangible tourism gains, we would instead declare victory on all fronts, relying on shaky, unchallenged, numbers and then promptly relapse into business as usual.
The only reason, therefore, for sounding the alarm about these widely publicized and widely believed numbers is the wish to forestall such a bad outcome and to motivate the authorities to see their successful marketing and communications strategies as merely the foundation on which to erect a truly effective sales plan for Ghana’s tourism and investment climate potential.
And we absolutely have their back.
Click on the comment box below and leave us your thoughts. Thank you