Tourism should be a Concern

September 4, 2019

By Hamza Koroma

(President of the General Assembly- Sierra Leone International Model United Nation 2019)

One cannot talk about alternative development in a country without tackling one of the most important and government focused sector which is tourism. This is one of the money making machines industry for developing countries and it has led to the success and has added the GDP of many countries by created jobs. Some countries like Kenya and other Southern African countries and Gambia in the western part Africa live heavily on tourism and this has initially led to the infrastructure development in certain areas.

Tourism is today considered as one of the largest contributors to the economy of most developing and developed countries in the world. In Sierra Leone it is seen as one of the possible way of obtaining income and creating job for its people as well. Sierra Leone Tourism industry should be receiving a fair scale in the annual budget to make it more efficient. Only few Tourists come to Sierra Leone per year as compared to neighbouring Gambia and Senegal in the Sub region Gazing at the rich history we have as a country, Sierra Leone should be hottest visiting spot for tourist.

Tourism is today considered as one of the largest contributors to the economy of most developing and developed countries in the world. In Sierra Leone it is seen as the one possible way of obtaining income and creating jobs for the people. In spite of this, yet Sierra Leone Tourist industry is not yet developed to any substantial capacity.

Against this brief background, it is possible to identify a number of issues relating to the development of tourism in Sierra Leone. Addressing the issue areas is important, not least because the issues are crucial ingredients to maximise tourism’s contribution to Sierra Leone’s development.

Issues of Tourism in Sierra Leone

The quality of Sierra Leone’s resource endowment for tourism is exceptional, but it has only barely developed its tourism potential. This ranges from series of problems to modifying solutions. Given its cross-sectoral nature, tourism can only grow sustainably if it is integrated into the country’s overall economic, social and physical planning policies. To be sustainable, tourism requires an open dialogue between the government, the private sector, civil society and local communities to ensure consensual decisions and the generation of economic benefits for a broad spectrum of the population. National policies must conserve the country’s cultural and environmental heritage to preserve the resource base on which tourism is based. We sometimes demolish historical sites that should had been stored as monuments for tourisms and sometimes modify building that could have also serves as a tourist attractions. For example, Fourah Bay College, the first college in West Africa should have been preserved and protected for tourism, ancient slave raid camps etc.

The country cannot boast of any well-developed National Parks, like in the case of Kenya.  There are not much attractive historical and traditional sites that tourist will yearn to see. Sierra Leone was best known as ground for slavery, slave raids camps, chains should had been kept like the one Gambia has in Juffurey. There has to be a strong lesson about Sierra Leone and the slave trade and the resettling of slaves that were caught on the high seas. There has to be well developed national parks that should serve as national monument, i.e. there has to be an identity out of Sierra Leone. For example, France has the Eiffel Tower, London has the London Bridge, Dubai has the Bush Khalifa, America the twin towers and Egypt the pyramid of Giza, the list goes on but there has to be a sort of identification that tourist will point out in case of vacations.

The Inadequate exhibitions in the National Museum in Freetown, the museum is empty; artefacts that actually portray the typical tradition are limited in the museum. A museum should involve everything about the country from A to Z. Ranging from the tradition, super heroes, reason for names of villages, important stories that made us Sierra Leoneans, our great cultures and reason to our behaviours. If our museum can tell us who we are and what we lived for then we will know who we are and where we are heading to.

The little we have, we can develop; there is an adage which says you cannot fatten your pig on a market day, I replied but you can still keep it clean for buyers. The reality here is although tourism is not well developed industry in the country yet there is a lot of attraction for tourists in Sierra Leone which include;

  • The coastal beaches
  • The Bumbuna Dam site at Tonkolili District
  • Game Reserves e.g. Otambo Kilimi National Park Kamakwei and the Mamunta Mayoso Game Sanctuary in Tonlolili, The Chimpanzee sanctuary at Regent Freetown.
  • The Gara dyeing center in Makeni
  • The national Museum in Freetown
  • The many hotels in Freetown and other parts in Sierra Leone, Bo, Kenema and Makeni.
  • The beautiful landscape with high mountains in the north east e.g. Silla Mountain, Bintumani Mountains, Kambui hills e.t.c.

Lack of resorts and hotels in Lungi, this might not be a major problem but it might be the very reason why tourist preferred going to other countries to Sierra Leone. The distance from the airport to the town is a long one and most tourists find it very uncomfortable to travel on boats after a long a long travel on air. Some are allergic to seas and the building of a bridge will boost and promote tourism as it will encourage tourism and also serve as national identity like I stated above.

The Beautiful beaches along the coast are not well taken care of properly, see weeds and unhealthy materials are being vomited by the sea every time and little has been done to tackle such issues. Sierra Leone beaches are breath taken, beautiful and natural and they should be maintained for tourist purpose. But the sea vomiting see weeds and other materials danger to climate change can drive away tourists.

The natural environment and wildlife are not well protected, the environment is carelessly managed as most wildlife are not protected leaving the game forest empty. There has to be wildlife preservations and zoos to show Tourists our animals as this is one of the reason tourists come to Africa to see our animals. It is disheartening to find out that most tourist come to Sierra Leone to see lions because they think the name ‘Sierra Leoa’, the lion mountains means there are lions behind the mountains not knowing it was just a figure of speech that Pedro de Sintra made as a result of huge mountains and the roaring thunder. That illusion created a scenario of roaring mountains. Some argued that the shapes of mountains that resembled mountain actually inspired him to give such a name. There has to be the creation of zoos and other nature reserves that exhibit animals of all kind in order to give tourists reason to come. Tourism mostly flourishes in countries that preserve their wildlife like Kenya. Zoo should only be created because of tourism but it should serve as a tour for children on field trips for educational purposes to widen their horizon.

Foreigners from developed countries fear diseases like malaria, typhoid fever, Cholera, Yellow Fever and now Ebola fever simply because of our underdeveloped hospitals. This fear reduced tourism in Sierra Leone since the outbreak of the Ebola. Tourists still believe that apart Sierra Leone from being a poverty striking nation is still being hit by Ebola and other deadly diseases. This face of a country that has suffered from war and diseases is being questioned by tourists and it has led to the ministry of tourism meeting other stakeholders and sensitizing as well as marketing the country for tourism.

Sierra Leone Tourism should be positioned in the face of the globe.
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Many tourists have pictured Sierra Leone as a war zone and the Ebola country. There has to be an aggressive marketing and campaigning. It is the role of the ministry of tourism and the National Tourist Board to change the negative perceptions by sensitizing people about the beauty of Sierra Leone. They can also do this by the having a sit down discussions with travel writers and journalist from all countries that are well known for tourism including United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Spain.

Steps and moves have been made by the ministry but in selling out a country that was known for bad image must be done in a robust and rigorous manner. The country should be taking part in more international exhibitions and tourism show, giving us the platform to tell our stories and exhibit our rich culture. This will create a room for inquisitively and will drag more tourists in the country. These exhibitions which are partake in the UK, France and Spain invites lots of investors from other countries which many are going to show interest to come and invest in the sector.

Ways to Improving Tourism in Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone is recognized internationally for the quality of its resource endowment for tourism, and yet it has not managed to realize its full potential. If Sierra Leone can better cater to consumer preferences as stated in the problems above, tourism could have a strong impact on economic growth.  Tourism is highly dependent on public support, governments will have to support tourism through improvements in policies and elimination of critical constraints as stated above as well.

According to the International Labour Organization, approximately 8,000 Sierra Leoneans are employed in the tourism industry, with a growing number of jobs expected to be created in the future. The main entrance point is Freetown International Airport, where transport to and from has been problematic.

It is however, necessary to remember that tourism is more than an economic activity. It is, in essence, a massive interaction of people, demanding a wide range of services, facilities, and inputs that makes opportunities to host countries. For this reason, it is necessary to manage the growth of the tourism sector and to have clear guidelines to ensure that growth is compatible with the country’s objectives.

The Sierra Leone government should allow investors to invest on tourism, thereby creating an expansion of investments in hotels and other accommodation alone will result in an increase in economic benefits.  As an essential condition, tourism must create value added for international travellers and provide an experience that is unique for them.  Thus, tourism products and services must be built upon intrinsic tourism assets like coastal, wildlife, nature, cultural, or city based that can compete internationally.  The natural assets must be accompanied by and packaged with appropriate and competitive built assets, i.e., accommodation, tourist services, and infrastructure, as well as a safe and healthy environment for tourists like I mentioned earlier. The selected packages should create a distinctive quality product that draws tourists away from alternatives elsewhere in the world.

Sierra Leone can compete with every other destination in the type and price of tourism it offers.  If Sierra Leone is to be successful in competing in the international tourism market, standards of excellence must be introduced for its products, particularly for infrastructure and accommodation and services.  Management and administration of the sector must improve. Governments must shift to policies that encourage tourism, as discussed above.  For example, the sector cannot develop without improvements in public health and personal safety in tourist areas. Air policies that support ease of access and traffic growth are also critical. Governments must also invest in expanded human resource development and institutional capacity building, and improve environmental mitigation and protection.  The value to the final consumer is determined by the quality of all these components of the tourism package.

The main attractions for tourist in Sierra Leone are the beaches, nature reserves, mountains and the islands (Banana Island and Turtle Islands).This includes River Number 2 beach, which is 15 kilometres from Freetown, which was voted as the best beach in Africa by the Guardian newspaper. Sierra Leone is also considered one of the best places in the world to catch Atlantic tarpon.

Since we are focusing on Alternative Development and the pathway to success in Sierra Leone, This particular section focuses on the management of the tourism sector within a national framework. Because of the rich history of Sierra Leone and every single black American celebrities claiming Sierra Leone as their origin, a generic policy framework should be presented that will have to be adapted as recently recommended by the U.N. Commission for Sustainable Development, countries that intend to pursue tourism need to formulate a comprehensive policy framework, sometimes called a master plan. Such a plan will require consultations with a broad range of participants and stakeholders. To be successful, tourism requires coordination and complementarily between the government and the private sector, civil society and, in particular, local communities that are specifically impacted by tourism, where NGOs can facilitate the process.

Domestic tourism is another aspect that the government should take interest in, kudos to the government for refurbishing the Bonthe Island clock tower and launched the Bai Bureh grave as a heritage site. To improve Tourism, these are the issues that should be addressed, our rich cultural heritage, past history and traditions.

If Tourism is fully developed in Sierra Leone, the country stands to benefit the followings series not only financial gains and foreign exchange as we were thought in primary schools but it would help us protect our environment which is currently at danger, our environment would be protected both naturally and culturally. Our fine beaches, beautiful sceneries and wildlife would be under great care. With the construction of beaches and other tourist related areas, it would create unemployment not only for youths but also for old people who know the ancient history.  Our history is slowly dying because our grandfathers are dying with them.  Therefore, many people who will be engaged in tourism industry will be better paid, breaking the chain of unemployment. Nonetheless, it encourages infrastructural development; such as the construction of Tourist facilities like restaurants, hotels, good roads at other jaw dropping and breath taken sites. Tourism should not be overlooked as it brings out the culture of that country, with tourism, there is the increase in demand for locally produce goods e.g., carving, Gara cloths, cultural wears and traditional accessories.