Commemoration and commodification: slavery heritage, Black travel and the #YearofReturn2019 in Ghana

Emmanuel Adu-Ampong*, Alana Dillette

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In marking 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived to Jamestown, United States in 1619, the Ghana government through the Ghana Tourism Authority initiated the Year of Return 2019 (#YOR2019). The goal was to unite Africans in the diaspora with those on the continent, especially in Ghana, through a year-long calendar of commercial and commemorative slavery heritage tourism activities ranging from visits to slavery sites, healing ceremonies, theatre and musical performances, festivals, investment forums and relocation conferences. When a destination tourism product is rooted in a less-than-desirable past, how is ‘balance’ achieved between commercialization and commemoration? In exploring this conceptual question, we developed a methodological innovation utilizing the social media platform Twitter for data collection. Using a social media crawler coded in Python programming language, we scrapped tweets from the accounts of the Ghana Tourism Authority prior, during, and after the YOR2019 based on hashtag searches. After data cleaning, 1010 tweets were inductively analysed using NVIVO qualitative data analysis software. The findings revealed three emergent themes along a commodification-commemoration continuum: (1) the eventification and festivalisation of slavery heritage tourism, (2) celebrity co-production of YOR2019 experiences through social media and (3) pivoting from a predominantly slavery heritage destination to a destination that focuses on other touristic and business travel. Ultimately, YOR2019 marked a significant push by Ghana to move into a ‘Beyond the Return’ phase that pivots away from slavery heritage towards a more well-rounded tourism product for roots, leisure, and business travellers. The research established that commodification in slavery heritage tourism does not inherently destroy cultural meanings but provide new commemorative meanings for a new generation of Black travellers searching for more than just their roots.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-139
Number of pages20
JournalTourism Geographies
Issue number1
Early online date28 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024


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