Sierra Leone before the civil was one of the world’s accessible tourist destinations and used to receive tourists from all over the world due to the country’s rich touristic potentials not until the conflict scare that drove out the regular visitors and other friends of the beautiful nation.
The national image was already damaged by the armed conflict which discouraged the consistent inflows of tourists to the country for fear of the war in security and the high cost destination in.
Tourism apart from mining is expected to be a growth industry if managed well. The sectors has in the past played very significant roles in the country’s revenue mobilization, with excellent foreign exchange performance if given the needful political will and desired attentions, which is still far from those good old memories because tourism is still burden with multiple challenges. And poor planning has also not given chance for proper and structural administrative success in the industry under review. So something needs to be done in achieving our desired ecotourism dream.
Most common but hardly identified by the Tourism and Cultural Affairs Ministry is internal tourism, nor the board hardly invest in internal tourism – killing the local the sector already. There are hardly good hotels in the provinces and if there are any, then such accommodations are always offered at a high cost, which disqualifies the locals from travelling and tours. Talk less of tourists’ attractions so one would wonder where is the ministry and the board investing funds allocated to them for tourism sector management and overall development of the industry.
Media reports are that government through the Ministry of Finance allocated Le 35.1 billion to the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs with 13.0 billion to the National Tourist Board, whiles Le 7.2 m to tourism marketing, from the 2019 budget financial year. But little or nothing is really known about Lake Sunfo, Tiwa Island, Tamba Kilima National Park and list of other tourists attractions in Sierra Leone. Everything is centralized as if tourists only want to limit their visits to Freetown alone.
Freetown is not Sierra Leone, Koinadugu and Bumbuna in the north have friendly weather and fine climate whiles in winter in Europe so if those places are well planned with good hospitalities, tourist would want to visit there, as well as similar environments in the south and east of the country. Sierra Leone tourism sector major troubles always start with the lack of hospitality especially in provincial cities of the country. Poor accommodations everywhere you go with little or no site and relics attractions won’t impress tourists to visit Sierra Leone. There is still no set standards in the industry at all; every Jack, Tom Dick and Harry can open and run his/her house as a hotel but fails to offer hotel hospitality simply because of being covered up under the protections of the National Tourist Board.
If one may ask again where is the money going Minister Pratt whiles our tourism industry is dying? Has everything been paid on settling airline tickets and hotel bills abroad, daily sustenance allowances, or being spent on media visibility to promote her personal egos? Is it that the tourism minister Pratt has utilized part of the Le 35.1 billion to re-erect makeshift structures on our beautiful beaches or are we going to see five star hotels in every district and chiefdoms of Sierra Leone soonest in the fake name of improving ecotourism? We wait for answers from your ministry.
Freetown and few major iconic sites are the only popular tourist attractions so far being given attention to by the ministry; outside of the city there is nothing to impress tourist due to lack of the appropriate infrastructure, market local and international, absent of ambitious private and public sector investments in the industry, lack of working synergy and collaboration with related sectors as well as deliberate failure by the ministry and the tourist board to share Sierra Leone’s culture and tradition with the world. All these are happening under the leadership of Minister Pratt.
Moreover, the country has automatically become isolated in terms of world traveling and tourism due to the bad publicity being done by government to tarnish the hard earned reputation of the last government and the opposition All Peoples Congress APC party. Nasty and destructive publicities on inheriting a looted and bankrupt economy, alarming probing of officials of the past administration and the very commissions of inquiry have all to a very large extent blackmailed Sierra Leone and the people of this country.
Traveling to a country where one is not certain of total peace and socioeconomic stability is that risky and scary. The war characterized by amputations, rape and other human rights abuses and violations destroying a lots of touristic potentials, the more reasons government should have embark on major investments along with robust rebranding of the tourism sector with no hesitation to meet the needful turn around.
In the first place the situation on ground does not in any encourage tourists to visit Sierra Leone having blackmailed the country in the last one year and six months of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party SLPP regime of president Julius Maada Bio. The leader with sound intentions for the tourism sector though much is not known about the country’s rich touristic values. Of course his 2012-2018 campaign manifestos promised attractive package on tourism which we are yet to experience.
With huge chunk of funds annually being allocated to the Ministry of Tourism and the National Tourism as well as Monuments and Relics Commission, similar concerns should be as well focused on local and international advertisements of the touristic potentials and cultural values in leading global media outlets so as to draw the attentions of world travelers to Sierra Leone, where they can explore new and untapped tourists sites and lots of investments opportunities, rather than spending all allocations on traveling and DSAs.
Traveling of top officials of the ministry and the sector should not go with the entire annual budget just to foot bills for Minister Pratt’s personal world tour and at the end return home to speak poor accent English on the TV. We noticed some efforts made online towards marketing the sector though not really enough as more need to be done attract tourists to visit Sierra Leone and not just Freetown and few Islands.
This is not tourism sector boom as promised by president Bio and Madam Pratt when she took up office barely a year and six months now. Tourism is something very practical with lively positive socioeconomic impacts on other related sectors when handled well, which is presently missing under the weak political leadership of Tourism and Cultural Affairs madam Memunatu Pratt.
However if we are to call thing by their real names then somebody needs to tell her to be more result oriented in the discharge of her duties as tourism minister. She must be seen confronting problems faced by the industry and solve them with permanent solutions rather always making than too much media visibility to grab attention from the presidency for a tap on her shoulder for pushing the visa on arrival thing. That fact that Madam Pratt has always accepted challenges in her ministry, always crying for attention yet, she has so far not been able to demonstrate her ministry’s preparedness to move forward with steady growth in the tourism industry.
No expansion is hardly in the news and tourists do not only want to limits their stay in Sierra Leone to expensive and congested Freetown, where everything is costly; accommodations and poor infrastructures in almost everywhere outside the city and western rural, lack of basic social services as energy, telecommunication safe drinking water and efficient internet connectivity, no among lots of unending challenges are the problems militating against the steady growth of the tourism sector.
Meeting with musicians, actors and taking traditional mask devils to US are not promoting the development of the sector so go out of Freetown; take internal tourism as first step towards developing the sector by way of educating the public about local tourism and how it can as well formed positive impacts on the economy.
But imagine where people are less aware about tourist attractions in their country or it is too costly to visit sites people won’t take the risks, which is why Minister Pratt, the tourist board and the monuments and relics commissions should move out to make attractions sites in all district headquarter towns and inform and education the public about local tourism at cost effective rates, through public and private sector investments. Every community in this country has its own history and people coming in for the first would want to know about them so be at work now, before you continue to fail.
In fact, by way of further reminding the tourism ministry, the board and the entire government the SLPP regime’s failure in developing the country’s tourism sector, one also needs to draw the attentions of the whole team of failures about the deceitful lies and campaign promises to the nation about reforming the tourism industry and diversify it through multiple jobs and employment creations. These were commitments registered by president Bio while in opposition campaigning for the presidency though he tends to have forgotten about that political campaign promises now, making tourism a mere failed sector under his leadership, the new direction and talkative minister Pratt.
We know SLPP party sons and daughters as well as supporters and team of the failed minister would always defensively want to say, well let’s wait and see what the minister has to place on the table in pushing the local tourism industry forward.
Yet the tourism sector boom jobs and inter-sector related multi-national foreign investment are still nowhere to be found in Sierra Leone because nobody wants to risk into a country with high level of corruption as publicized by the present government.
Adds to the continuing frustrations is the elastic patience of the people which is being exhausted, while waiting for the much talked about boom in the industry – tourism information portal, tourism products, stability in foreign exchange rate, whereas it has gone out of hands under the present dispensation with the $ 100, at over Le 1,000,000. Is that what we expected from the new direction era?
In other words with all the promises made by president Bio and his party during his campaigns are not fulfilled and there are little or no signs of even fulfilling them so soon, leaving the huge problems facing the tourism sector unaddressed. Therefore while anxiously waiting to see results from the tourism industry under the new direction we want to continue to gently keep reminding president Bio to fulfill his promises made for the development of the Sierra Leone tourism sector