In my role as Director Graduate School at one of the largest Universities of the Arts in the Netherlands (www.artez. nl), critical voices are often raised by our students, educators, and researchers regarding the notion of representation and agency. Who represents who, for what, located where and how can this message be translated to a larger audience – doing justice to the world we live in? Can we, as humans, introduce alternative perspectives into discourses and the common practices of imagination and image building?
This is a response to the article written by Ada Adoley Allotey: Destination Image and Diaspora Engagement in Tourism Development: Views of the Netherlands-based Ghanaian Diaspora
Let us assume that the answer is yes. Then accordingly, what could the value of a critical research question be? Does it open the door to an alternative practice?
According to me and backed up by many critical publications like the thesis on Ghana’s image, mainstream image building solutions do not suffice anymore in a world where data, information and even knowledge have become tools of power, manipulation and commercial simplification. Image building is nowadays often perceived as propaganda ‘light’ and even if destinations establish a governance structure that does justice to good information collection and dissemination, the perception of image campaigns themselves has changed so drastically that even the best of campaigns raise eyebrows and invite elbows. This thesis is an urgent call for a fix.
Setting up a system of alternative representations about tourism destinations definitely requires a new set of tools. This is the first and foremost value of this research: it brings in an alternative and intrinsic powerful group of representatives (diaspora communities) who can help image building through overseas networking and close to home personal interaction and information sharing.
This research in particular demonstrates the willingness of the Ghanaians in Amsterdam to play a role in image formation for their (former) home-base Ghana. This destination is poorly understood and often misrepresented.
One could find the thesis conclusions logical, almost like an open door. Yes, of course, the local Ghanaians in Amsterdam can play a role in informing potential visitors about their country of origin. Who could better step in and set the image straight? Yes, indeed: they can, they should, and they potentially want to, by organizing cultural events and providing genuine information.
The question is: why is it not happening already?
The answer is not, as this research presents, the lack of motivation and intrinsic willingness of the Ghanaian community. They are ready to take up this task. But are they in touch with the tourist, the individual or groups planning to travel? Do they have the financial and human resources? And more importantly: who takes action?
The answer is most likely related to general exclusions of many global diaspora communities: No, they are not included in the large business of tourism. Yet. They act in isolation from the large tourism industry and that is the missed opportunity for all parties involved.
Ironically, one of the largest bookers in the world is headquartered in Amsterdam itself. But where is the connection to the Ghanaian diaspora? Again, I see a clear opportunity for tourism professionals to utilize.
However, I would like to make one point very clear. If tour operators do want to engage with this vibrant and large Ghanaian community in Amsterdam, my strong advice would be to include them as professionals: appoint them as ambassadors, organize cultural events and prepare them for this important promotion role. Tourism destination promotion is a profession and the representatives are trained professionals, not unpaid volunteers with a good heart and honest motivation. At the end, this community can bring in business. Therefore, I suggest a professional approach. Of course, it is up to the Ghanaian community to be open to this idea of professional engagement. It would, however, be an excellent practice of inclusion, and it could also benefit Amsterdam as a tourism destination, branding itself as a multicultural and diverse city with business opportunities for internationals.