By Foday Moriba Conteh
In a bid to enhance the improvement and the development of the tourism sector in the country, the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone on Monday 13 January, 2020 launched the first National Tourism Census Report, an event that took place at the Miatta Conference Hall at Brookfields in Freetown.
In her statement, Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr. Memunatu Pratt expressed appreciation to his Excellency The President for making tourism one of his top priorities in the New Direction manifesto, adding that the tourism sector is very significant to the country’s economy and one of the top priority areas within the development paradigm of the New Direction Government.
She pointed out that the goal of the survey is key and will provide the fundamental basis for the initialization of tourism development and promotion in any country, also adding that one of the key indicators in the New Direction manifesto is for the development of a tourism master plan.
She further stated how this is the first time, since the aftermath of the civil conflict in Sierra Leone, that a comprehensive census of tourism, cultural sites and related establishments was undertaken, noting that such has provided an insight and understanding of the vast array of the natural, cultural and historical resources of the country furthering how the census effectively identified all touristic and cultural assets as well as establishments operating in the country.
She noted that with the launch of the National Tourism Census such will help the Ministry to physically map out the country’s tourism master plan through geospatial data in order to know what are available in the country.
The Minister said that the exercise was conducted in collaboration with Statistics Sierra Leone. Additionally, 150 young men and women were hired together with officials of the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and its sub-vented agencies to visit every nook and cranny of the country including isolated coastal areas. She informed that the main goal is to digitalize the tourism sector through the use of GPS mapping of a wide variety of tourism and cultural assets and establishments countrywide.
Dr. Memunatu Pratt further disclosed that the exercise was conducted over a period of seven (7) days and an impressive result obtained saying it is a demonstration of the high potentials of the tourism and cultural sectors of Sierra Leone. She said the findings, when properly marketed, will lead to an increase in revenue collection within the sector also stating that they are creating opportunities in collaboration with Local Councils to protect, preserve and restore important cultural, historical and natural sites. Minister Pratt underscored how such will generate more interest in local and international visitors to visit urban and rural communities to enjoy and experience the vast array of tourism assets.
She applauded Statistics Sierra Leone, Ministry of Finance, and Staff of the Ministry of Tourism and its agencies for their tireless support in putting the report together.
Underscoring the purpose of the National Census Report, Director of Tourism, Mohamed Jalloh, disclosed that the Tourism Census Report is a resource audit and fundamental ingredient in the development trajectory of any successful tourist destination. He informed that the report clearly spells out the tourism resource base of a destination which, he said, forms a strong appeal in attracting tourists, adding that some tourist destinations make the silly mistake of embarking immediately in glamorous advertisement and promotion of their destinations leading in most cases to a mismatch between tourism demand and supply.
He said the report will help the country to have an incisive knowledge, insight and understanding of what tourism can offer adding how the Tourism Resource Audit has identified, assessed and analysed tourism natural resources such as beaches, important rivers, lakes, mountains, parks, forested areas and reserves.
He noted that cultural resources having to do with historic buildings, heritage sites, shrines, burial sites, ancient mosques and churches, historic monuments and relics, event resources, activity resources, purpose built tourist or leisure attractions such as entertainment centres, parks, shopping spots were captured during the survey.
According to the Director, students from tourism institutions also embarked on the data collection exercise across the country, adding that the survey team were equipped with GPS gadgets that aided them to capture location tourism resources. He said the information and statistics collected are tabulated and analysed with tables, graphs and charts.
Deputy Statistician General, Andrew Bob Johnny, disclosed that the Tourism Census covers each and every region, district, chiefdom and section in the country as long as there is tourist interest in that area, adding that it collected both statistical, geospatial data and they worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism in the preparation of the survey instruments.
He said that several countries in Africa rely on tourism to provide a substantial revenue base and contribution to the GDP, noting that the tourism sector has been identified by His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio as one of the key sectors for the diversification of the economy to improve Government’s revenue generation and create job opportunities.
Commissioner of Right to Access Information Commission, Ms. Yeama Sarah Thompson, disclosed that over the Christmas period, they witnessed an increased influx of Sierra Leoneans living abroad, tourists, black Americans seeking to return to their roots, including the Gullah Geechee that visited the country to relax at the beach, explore nature, embark on sightseeing or simply to enjoy the country’s hospitality.
She noted that the tourism industry has indeed been experiencing a boom in the past 12 months and is continuously generating increased revenue for the country.
She said that as the Commission responsible for the facilitation and enforcement of freedom of information rights and obligations, they have signalled their commitment to one of their core mandates which is facilitating and strengthening measures that promote openness through the initialization of an open data initiative: a revolution that seeks to foster collaboration for the ultimate improvement of data quality and accessibility.
“We are very pleased that the benefits of open Data re-use are gaining recognition in the tourism sector and pleased to be part of this launch and want to applaud the Ministry of Tourism and Statistics-Sierra Leone as the intended outcomes of the GIS tourism data will support many priority areas,” she underscored.