Sierra Leone in 2012 was ranked worldwide as “the fastest growing in the tourism sector” according to the General Manager of the country’s National Tourist Board, Mr. Yassin Kargbo. He was speaking in a media interview conducted in second week of August 2015.
|Yassin Kargbo: GM of National Tourist Board
This revelation from Mr. Kargbo is not surprising given fascinating beauty of the country’s beaches, mountains and forest reserves. Known for its huge tourism potential prior to civil war breaking out in the early nineties, the country had just started to re-claim its past Tourism glory when Ebola struck the sub-region.
Now, with Ebola stalled in its merciless path, Yassin Kargbo is hopeful that Tourism can again be revived and visitors re-swell the country’s luscious landscapes.
Kargbo says by the year 2012, Sierra Leone was not only the fastest growing but had attained an enviable rank of 28th position. Kargbo believes the Tourism industry can rebrand the country but lamented that very little is invested in the sector. For example, he intimated that NTB receives “inadequate” quarterly subventions from Government.
He intimated that there are so many beaches in the country for which the Board is not only concentrating on Lumley Beach where the private sector is doing well but appealed for more investments in the industry and for Government to demolish makeshift structures and clear the Lumley Beach of criminals.
He said tourism would create jobs, generate revenue for development projects and disclosed plans to promote eco-tourism upcountry. He urged the Ministry of Transport to provide some of the new buses to the NTB to convey tourists from the Freetown International Airport at Lungi to the city, noting that poor marketing and publicity of the country’s rich touristic potentials, the civil war and the Ebola outbreak have all negatively affected the growth of the industry.
According to the General Manager, the logo of the NTB is a diamond that attracted tourists into the country but that during the civil war, the country’s diamonds were dubbed blood diamonds.
“That discouraged tourists from visiting the country,” he lamented, adding that Government has very good initiative to run Sierra Leone as a business which would place the country in an enviable position in the world.
Mr. Yassin Kargbo continued that before Ebola, tourism contributed $46.4 million to the economy yearly with the potential for an increase, assuring that after the Ebola outbreak would have been contained, the sector would be rebranded as was the case after the civil war to make Sierra Leone an attractive destination. He said the country has jumped the hurdle before after the civil war and would do the same after the pandemic.
He disclosed that the NTB would launch an aggressive marketing campaign as it has the manpower and infrastructure to do so and as part of the post-ebola recovery priorities, pleaded with the Government through the Office of the Chief of Staff at State House and the Ministry of Trade and Industry to provide funds of between Le200 and Le250 million to Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) in the hotel, restaurant, bar and the hospitality sector that has never benefited from such opportunities, especially when the sector is adversely affected by the outbreak to improve their infrastructure.
The General Manager went on to state that only tourism can guarantee sustainable income for the country for which he is determined to make the industry self-sufficient, pointing out that other resources deplete with time.
He furthered by disclosing plans to improve on the classification of hotels from the ECOWAS grouping to the international standard of 5, 4 or 3 STAR Hotels, maintaining that hotels would be assessed and graded annually, including their surroundings, to maintain standards, reiterating that he wants to change the dynamics of the industry.
Mr. Kargbo disclosed that the archaic Tourism Act is currently at a stage of being almost 50% reviewed to reflect current trends and would be completed by October this year for which he acclaimed the Attorney-General and the Law Officers’ Department, noting that the Act has absurd fines such as Le25,000, and that for it to be effective, NTB should be transformed into an Authority or Commission with more powers to enforce the law and reclaim its property.
According to the General Manager, the Tourism Act confers all touristic sites, including beaches and lands to the NTB but that regrettably most of the lands have been sold as the NTB is incapacitated by law to reclaim the property. He revealed plans to recruit Beach Wardens to complement the police to reduce crime along the beaches, generate income from sand mining, establish a works yard, car park for 100 vehicles, public toilets and make the Lumley Beach a toll road, all aimed at generating income that would be paid into the Government Consolidated Revenue Fund for development purposes.
He also observed that if the Lumley Beach is transformed into a toll road, it would prevent crimes and accidents, including head-on collisions, misuse of the road and other vices and commended the Mayor of the Freetown City Council for his support and partnering with NTB to address some of these issues.
He went on, “I have the qualified personnel who are committed to transform the industry. Before the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the National Revenue Authority (NRA), NTB was collecting bed tax of 7 ½ percent per hotel but we want collaboration with NRA as we have the expertise to collect the tax since some hotels refuse to tax guests.”
He also informed that before the Ebola pandemic, FARM tours from Europe and other parts of the world visited the country to explore touristic opportunities while this year’s Expo-Milan in Italy wants to tap the same prospects to attract investors and that the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs in February this year, attended a pre-meeting at the Expo-Milan with key stakeholders.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.