In Western Europe, billboards and posters advertising foreign countries are unashamedly trying to tempt you on luxurious holidays to exotic lands filled with sun, sand, culture and adventure. The displays host edited-to-perfection photographs of pristine turquoise oceans, unspoilt forests, snow-capped mountains and savannahs dotted with elephants, zebra and lions. The captions read “Come Visit…”, “Discover…” and “Relax…”. The temptation to travel ignited, you find yourself browsing online through package holidays and weekend city trips, deciding how to treat yourself… after all, you have been working very hard lately and the grey skies and short days are not good for your health.
In West Africa, there are also billboards and posters tempting people to foreign lands. But rather than extravagant tourist ventures, they are planting the suggestion of ‘study abroad’ or a ‘work holiday’. The signs vary hugely both in size and quality (or effort in design), but in general the advertisement is selling the same thing. The temptation on offer is the facilitation of (usually ‘express’) visas and passports, and assistance with travel itineraries, accommodation at destination, and study and work placements, among other things. No lounging women in big sunhats tanning by the pool. No honeymoon couples entranced by exotic birds or cheetah cubs. No white water rafting, bungee jumping, or mountain climbing. The images which tempt people in Africa to travel are those of education, work experience and a better wage.
The difference may simply reflect a different socio-economic reality: Relaxing, pleasure-oriented holidays in exclusive resorts are a luxury that more Western Europeans than West Africans can afford.
Or do the posters reflect different understandings of adventure, of challenges, of pushing ourselves into new environments and situations? A new job or a new step in your education is an exciting but challenging experience in and of itself, even when it isn’t hundreds of miles and several degrees outside your comfort zone.
Of course, advertisements cannot accurately measure individual and household motivations for travel abroad. But they do reveal what the advertisers think is most likely to tempt new clients to travel. It would seem that while Western European advertising companies believe deserted beaches and tropical wildlife will tempt Western Europeans to travel, West African advertising companies feel the temptation lies in work or study opportunities.
Tamara Last undertook an internship at the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana May-July 2013, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.