SUN, SIGHTS, SAND and SEA are probably all the reasons you need to choose a North African destination for a much deserved holiday. If you are considering East Africa, you must be thinking SAFARI and coastal SHORES. If you can dig a little deeper in your pocket, Southern Africa offers all these in addition to breathtaking SCENERY and SOUNDS as the home to Grammy winning artists. So what is the West African “S factor” milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard? I’ve been pondering over this question while on holiday in my beloved home country, Ghana, visiting family and friends.
West Africa probably competes on an equal footing with Southern Africa on the sound factor but wait for it… We reign in one indisputable S factor: slave castles. There are the Elmina and Cape Coast castles in Ghana and Goree Island in Senegal. They are more like prisons where captured men and women were held for months waiting for ships and then transported across the Atlantic to be auctioned off as slaves. It seems to me that these castles are our unique selling points; our comparative regional advantage. Are these adequate to compete with other regions for tourism? I think not.
Compared with the other 3 sub regions, West Africa is lacking in what I call the S factor: elements that help to drive tourism, growth, and investment. Sure we have sun, but we’ve too much of it to the point where it’s a hindrance. And yes, we have the sea but virtually no white sandy beaches to brag about. As for wildlife, West Africa is not known to be the ideal destination for safaris.
As a West African, our limited offering to visitors and to ourselves bothers me especially when we have potential to offer more. We can and probably should develop our shores but we could never compete with the beaches in Sharm El Sheikh, Cape Town, Mauritius, Malindi, Zanzibar etc. South Africa blows the competition out of the water when it comes to scenery: Mountains, waterfalls, vegetation, caves… you name it, they’ve got it.
So what are our prospects? I believe we have a real shot at establishing the sub region as an ecological destination. What I like about Ecotourism is its emphasis on conservation, a real cultural (as opposed to commercial) experience and the fostering of local economic development where communities directly benefit.
My wish for West Africa is not for the sub region to make a name for itself in a major S factor but to harness a cultural experience; An experience for a discerning traveller that will not only appreciate a diverse cultural and ecological offering but support community development and conservation efforts. The elements are there… Small nature parks, small beaches in remote areas, heritage sites, etc
We can optimize what we already have. For example, beaches need not have sparkling white sands but should be clean and attractive. These coupled with strategic branding would go a long way to make the sub region more attractive to some much needed foreign exchange.
Peace and love
All photos displayed are my own.