Time Magazine has just released its World’s Greatest Places to Visit in 2023, and expectedly Sierra Leone is listed in the top 50 places globally. The massive investment and visionary leadership of President Julius Maada Bio are bearing fruits. In the report titled “Freetown Peninsula: Sierra Leone Africa’s new coastal hub”, Terry Ward, wrote, “Emerging from the pandemic with the backing of the World Bank to help promote the West African nation’s rich tourism potential—with diverse wildlife, world-class surfing waves, the vibey coastal capital of Freetown, and a brand-new airport—all odds are on Sierra Leone to explode on the adventure travel scene.” Ward also added that “The time to go is now.”
During his speech at the unveiling of the Brand-New Airport in Lungi earlier this month, President Bio stated, “We plan to leverage the ultra-modern airport to boost tourism and position the country as an aviation hub in the region” some sceptics dismissed this as political rhetoric. A few months on, the world is bracing for a possible surge in tourism activities in the country in the coming months.
Unbiased observers have long foretold the country’s future as one of the world’s best tourism destinations due to President Bio’s methodic investments in the sector. Home to rare birds and threatened species such as the pygmy hippopotamus, Diana monkey and chimpanzees, Sierra Leone rainforests and tiny exotic islands attract eco-tourists and sports fishers. The unique beaches have become a prime attraction, with white, sandy beaches and safe seas that are calm, clear and warm to swim in.
Sierra Leone is also closer to Europe than other more developed beach destinations, such as the Caribbean, the Maldives and Mauritius, and in the same time zone. Due to quality leadership and strategic investments, the country is now set to compete with other global tourism destinations.
Sierra Leone’s tourism potential has yet to be explored. The diverse ecosystem offers attractive white sandy beaches, a tropical forest, scenic mountains, and exciting wildlife. There are also historic islands with a wide range of activities, including swimming, bird watching, fishing, and hiking.
The decade-long civil war impacted the tourism sector and destroyed infrastructure. With the ensuing peace, stability, and purposeful leadership, the industry has been experiencing consistent annual growth averaging 28 percent. However, international arrivals declined significantly with the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in 2014. Nevertheless, the sector quickly re-bounded when the country was declared Ebola-free in 2016, and arrivals increased by more than 500 percent in 2018.
Opportunities exist to stimulate and attract investment in this sector. Having identified tourism as one of the diversifying growth sectors alongside agriculture and fisheries, the government formulated a national tourism policy and a national ecotourism policy to serve as blueprints for the sector’s sustainable development and seeks to attract 20,000 international and 30,000 domestic ecotourism visits by 2025. The government now provides visas on arrival and has reviewed the high travel costs to the country. The airport infrastructure has been upgraded, arrival facilities expanded, and security improved.
The private sector could engage in rehabilitating and reconstructing existing hotels and constructing new large-scale hotels, both in the beach areas and the tropical forests. The overall government objective is to increase revenue and jobs from tourism by promoting the country’s international image and cultural heritage, improving the policy and legal environment, developing historic sites, skills, and infrastructure, promoting marketing, diversifying tourism products, and attracting investors into the sector.
The tourism industry has significant potential for growth as the country showcases its tourist sites and natural resources. Building human capacity in the tourism and hospitality industry provides prospects for investment in this sector.
Companies can invest in building resorts, hotels, and restaurants along the stretch of white sand beaches and providing tourism services, including touring, sport fishing, bird watching, and hiking.
It’s time to explore the verdant landscape and the pristine beaches of Mama Salone.