One question in the mind of most foreigners visiting Sierra Leone for the first time is, why a country with pristine beaches and a rich cultural heritage not swamping with tourists. Well, this same question floats in the mind of some Sierra Leoneans as well. Tourism in Sierra Leone has had its highs and lows over the years. Once a thriving tourist destination in the 1980’s, the country is still picking up its tourism sector long after the end of the civil war that destroyed this tropical tourist destination. So far the tourism sector has managed to renew arrivals of members of the Diaspora visiting friends and family and also business travelers but it is not reflecting the once-thriving tourist destination. The few attempts made towards igniting the sector has not resulted in the tourist flow as hoped for by the government and other parties of interest. The question therefore is;
why is tourism not working for Sierra Leone?
Arguably, there are many factors as to why tourism is not working for Sierra Leone. For instance,how tourism is perceived by the people of Sierra Leone and also their mindset towards this industry is a major factor that should be considered. It is important to note that how residents perceive the impact of tourism, their attitude and support towards the sector collectively determine its success factor. The average Sierra Leonean will tell you “come and visit us” but lacks the understanding of the mechanism behind such an invitation. The present understanding of tourism is on a surface level and thus the reason for the casual handling of this industry. It is fair to say that tourism to some extent has been neglected in Sierra Leone.This attitude can be traced in past governments as far as the early 90’s. There seem to be a lack of understanding of the basic concept of tourism and tourism as a product which contributes largely to the current issue.
However, the lack of support for tourism from the government in the past decades can be understood as prioritizing other sectors. For a developing country that is dusting off the handovers of war, the recent Ebola outbreak and high rate of poverty, there more pressing issues that needs attention and resources, like political stableness, health care facilities and etc.Even with the desire to develop a thriving tourism industry, prioritizing other industries with resource allocation could result to tourism not getting the full attention it deserves.
So far, you may have asked why bringing up the above issues and what is this column about. Well simply put, this column will dive into all issues relating to tourism in Sierra Leone. The reason is to explore the challenges and opportunities that comes with tourism. It is also to inform and educate the general public about the potentials of tourism. The author of this column holds a Bachelors’ degree in Tourism and Cultural studies and a masters’ in Tourism Destination Development.