The West Africa EcoTourism Network (WAEN) has been officially launched with the aim of empowering stakeholders in the tourism industry to develop sustainable opportunities through ecotourism. The event which was organized by the West Africa Tourism Organization (WATO) with support from the World Bank took place at the plush Royal Senchi Hotel in Ghana.
The two-day event brought together various stakeholders in the ecotourism ecosystem to deliberate on challenges and solutions surrounding ecotourism initiatives, projects and sites in the sub-region. Participants included ecotourism operators and managers, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations associated with ecotourism from various parts of the world.
In a speech delivered by the Chief Executive Officer of WATO, Ola Wright, she stated that, ‘’the decision to have a network of ecotourism stakeholders was to bring together professionals around the ecotourism industry and interconnected sectors.’’
‘’The ecotourism network started with a simple conversation with the World Bank after we realized that it was difficult to get any information on ecotourism projects in West Africa. We discovered that everyone had the same challenges so we decided that the way forward was to have a network”, she explained.
Tourism is an industry like an octopus with many tentacles that interact with many other industries. The ecotourism tentacles therefore have a strong grip on wildlife, plant life, local cognitive and their various cultures.
Addressing the stakeholders at the event, the paramount ruler of Akwamu, HRM Odeneho Akoto III emphasized the need for an ecotourism network. “Tourism is one of my main areas of focus during my tenure and the work of WATO align with my vision of promoting and attracting tourism to Ghana. The idea behind the creation of a network that emphasizes ecotourism is a very commendable one’’, he reiterated.
On her part, World Bank representative, Loiuse Twining-Ward, said ‘’The wonderful thing about ecotourism right now is that after COVID-19, it has been more interesting traveling and going out in nature. This can bring employment opportunities to the local people as well as help in areas of biodiversity which West Africa is rich in’’.
As part of activities to outlined for the event, there was a workshop where key ecotourism the stakeholders were made to brainstorm solutions and actions to be taken to improve the challenges of ecotourism in the sub-region.
The two-day event included a Fam-tour of ecotourism sites such as the Shai Hills Resource Reserve where stakeholders explored the wildlife and museum in the facility. Stakeholders also visited the Akwamufie, palace of the Akwamuhene, where there was a tree planting exercise to promote afforestation in the sub-region. The event was climaxed with a dinner culminating in a celebration of exotic West African cuisine and cultural performances.
The West Africa EcoTourism Network (WAEN) is a network of ecotourism stakeholders in West Africa, who commit to the shared understanding of the positive impacts that can be generated by ecotourism in the region.