Ghana eyes surf­ing to boost tourism num­bers

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Brett Davies paced up and down the slop­ing sands of Kokrobite beach in Ghana, or­ga­niz­ing surfers from 20 dif­fer­ent coun­tries at his an­nual in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. Along the beach, some 30 kilo­me­ters (20 miles) west of Ac­cra, dot­ted with dug-out fish­ing boats, Rasta­far­i­ans were sell­ing T-shirts and small chil­dren were play­ing in the sand. Davies, 42, is lead­ing the push to bring surfers to the West African na­tion as a way to help boost the coun­try's un­der­de­vel­oped tourism sec­tor. The Bri­tish na­tional al­ready runs a surf school at Kokrobite and has helped to bring surf­ing to Busua, near the bor­der with Ivory Coast.

"The great­est thing about surf­ing in Ghana is that we have un­crowded world-class waves that ap­peal to the be­gin­ner and in­ter­me­di­ate mar­ket," he told AFP. "Most well-known des­ti­na­tions are very lo­cal­ized and very in­tim­i­dat­ing to the av­er­age surfer." At the com­pe­ti­tion, which was held last month, lo­cal reg­gae boomed from the speak­ers stacked in the cor­ner of a car-park.In the wa­ter, Em­manuel An­sah cut across the breaks, deftly ma­neu­ver­ing his board, try­ing to catch the eye of the judges sit­ting on a wooden plat­form, look­ing out to sea. The 19-year-old from Busua started surf­ing five years ago and de­scribed his first time on the waves as "like hav­ing a new girl­friend". "I was so happy," he said. Now he, too, wants to see Ghana be­come a surf­ing des­ti­na­tion in its own right-and one day rep­re­sent the West African na­tion at over­seas com­pe­ti­tions.

Un­tapped po­ten­tial

Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, 897,000 in­ter­na­tional tourists vis­ited Ghana in 2015. In com­par­i­son, just over 1.1 million went to Kenya and 8.9 million trav­elled to South Africa. But the World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil (WTTC) es­ti­mates num­bers for Ghana could jump to nearly 1.3 million this year and more than 2.0 million by 2027.

In the last few years travel and tourism have di­rectly con­trib­uted $1.3 bil­lion to Ghana's econ­omy-the equiv­a­lent of about 3.0 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

Tourism gen­er­ally fo­cuses on nat­u­ral at­trac­tions like wa­ter­falls and na­tional parks, his­toric slave forts and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties. But with some 550 kilo­me­ters of un­spoiled coast­line, wa­ter­sports on the At­lantic Ocean, off the palm tree-lined golden sands, are be­ing seen as a ma­jor draw. "Surf­ing has a huge po­ten­tial," said Ghana tourism spe­cial­ist Gil­bert Abeiku Ag­grey. "We have not de­vel­oped our beaches. "We have not done any­thing, it's a raw op­por­tu­nity for any­one who wants to come."

At­tract­ing surfers is seen as a good way to bring in mid­dlein­come earn­ers to Ghana, plug­ging a grow­ing gap be­tween bud­get trav­ellers, vol­un­teers and those on busi­ness. "The gap be­tween the low end and the high end is very huge, it's an un­tapped mar­ket," said Ag­grey. "It is be­cause peo­ple aim at mak­ing profit so they hike the price or rate look­ing for the high-end trav­ellers."

De­vel­op­ment plan

The high cost of flights and ac­com­mo­da­tion in Ghana has been blamed for de­ter­ring tourists. A stay at a stan­dard three­star ho­tel in the cap­i­tal can set trav­ellers back $100 (88 euros) a night, while flights even within West Africa can be eye­wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive. The head of the Ghana Tourism Author­ity, Kwesi Agye­mang, said there are plans to start tar­get­ing dif­fer­ent in­ter­est groups and im­prove reg­u­la­tion. The author­ity's work in­cludes tar­get­ing other coun­tries for visi­tors. The gov­ern­ment's Na­tional Tourism De­vel­op­ment Plan in 2012 noted there were "com­pletely vir­gin" beaches in Ghana's West­ern Re­gion be­cause of lack of ac­cess.

They showed "great po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ment", it added. Ghana's new gov­ern­ment, in power since Jan­uary this year, has put a fresh em­pha­sis on tourism and wants to de­velop Ac­cra's un­der-de­vel­oped and im­pov­er­ished beach front. The Marine Drive Tourism In­vest­ment Project aims to de­velop nearly 100 hectares (250 acres) of the shore­line with ho­tels, shop­ping malls, theme parks, an of­fice and casino. In the 2017 bud­get, Ghana's fi­nance min­is­ter Ken Ofori-Atta said tourism could help ad­dress soar­ing lev­els of debt and high un­em­ploy­ment. Ghana, once cel­e­brated for its rapidly grow­ing econ­omy, saw rates of growth slow to some 3.6 per­cent in 2016 -- the low­est in two decades and well down on 14 per­cent in 2011. Davies ac­cepted that gov­ern­ment help was needed but, what­ever hap­pens, he will be en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to ride the waves. "Ghana is just about to ex­plode due to surf­ing tourism and it's very ex­cit­ing times for surf­ing in Ghana," he added. — AFP

Young surfers pose with their board for a picture dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion on Kokrobite Beach, Ghana. — AFP pho­tos

Surfers run to the waves to com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion on Kokrobite Beach.

Ghana­ian surfer Cle­ment Slater com­petes in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion on Kokrobite Beach.

Surfers do flips as they wait to com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion in Kokrobite Beach.

Surfers con­cen­trate on their board be­fore com­pet­ing in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion in Kokrobite Beach.

Surfers fin­ish their semi-fi­nal set, dur­ing the an­nual in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion.

Surfers wax their board be­fore com­pet­ing in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion in Kokrobite Beach.

Em­manuel An­sah (Bebe) walks on the beach after he fin­ishes his semi fi­nal set dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion.

Brett Davis speaks to the surfers be­fore they com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion in Kokrobite Beach.

Ghana­ian surfer Em­manuel An­sah pre­pares to com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion.

Chil­dren en­joy body board­ing dur­ing the an­nual in­ter­na­tional surf day com­pe­ti­tion on Kokrobite Beach.

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