Tucked away on the Atlantic ocean, Sierra Leone is a splendid combination of 570 km of beautiful white sand beaches, vibrant tropical forests teaming with exotic wildlife and breathtaking mountains that serve as the backdrop to what is an extremely unique tourist experience in West Africa. Sierra Leone is only 6 hours away from Europe, 8 hours from the US and 3 hours from West Africa’s largest city, Lagos. There are endless possibilities in the tourism sector given the diverse ecology of Sierra Leone, proximity to international hubs and an untapped natural beauty that can rival any location in the world.
Some of the world’s endangered species of monkeys, baboons, birds, butterflies, pygmy hippos and a variety of antelopes and buffalo families can be found in the tropical forests. The temperate weather is ideal for swimming and other water sports along the established beach areas that are mainly being run and developed by local communities. Sierra Leone is also considered the premier location for sport fishing with record setting tarpon catches. It is also a hiker’s paradise with gorgeous mountain ranges like Bintumani. Furthermore, the country offers visitors its historic heritage and is a site for cultural tourism as many African Americans can trace their roots back to Sierra Leone including well known celebrities like Issiah Washington. Sierra Leone’s greatest asset is its warm and friendly people that are the true representation of the laid back feel of this West African gem.
Possible areas of investment include:
- Establishment of hotels along the beaches and other eco-tourism locations across the country
- Establishment of hotels and guest houses in District headquarter towns to serve the growing private sector demands for better quality rooms, conference accommodations, etc
- Promotion of cultural tourism (ROOTS Tourism ) for the African American Diaspora and others interested in this sub sector
Overview of the Sector
The tourism sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. It generates almost US$ 4 trillion dollars annual and represents about 10% of the World GDP. Globally, this sector employs over 230 million people. Sierra Leone is poised to become a major player in global tourism and is expected to be competitive with other popular tourist hot spots in Africa such as Gambia and Seychelles given the plethora of sites and activities that can be enjoyed by visitors.
Figure 1: Sector Contributions by Countries
Sierra Leone’s tourism sector has been growing steadily with revenue growth of 10% in 2011 and it is expected to increase to 20% in the next 5 years. The number of first time visitors is also on the rise. Between 2010 to 2012, there was a 19.7% increase in visitors to Sierra Leone for holiday, business, conference or visiting friends and family. The sector has benefited from serious policy reform by the Government to engender investment and growth. These reforms include:
- the development of new incentives for investors who want to invest in the sector;
- target tourism product and marketing development around the Western Peninsula;
- further review and upgrading of regulations to ensure a more competitive edge;
- and capacity building of key Government institutions related to tourism to improve service delivery.
Investment in this sector has typically been driven by domestic entrepreneurs in hotels and guesthouses in the capital city of Freetown and other district headquarters as a response to the boom in the mineral sector; however, much investment has not gone into accommodations for eco-tourism which is an important sub-sector. There are lucrative prospects across the country to promote eco-tourism not only in the beach areas but the tropical forests.
There are significant commitments from private sector partners for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of existing hotels, as well as the construction of new large scale hotels in the capital city. The demand for rooms versus the supply is mismatched.
In 2012, the demand for business and conference rooms was about 115,094 and the available supply was a paltry 49,275. The demand for Class 1 rated rooms in 2009 was 113, 679, and there was a gap of over 80,000 in unmet demand. Even through Class 1 rated hotels have increased from 105 to the present number of 135, it is still not enough to meet the market demans.
Further investments have been made by the Government to upgrade the airport infrastructure, expanding arrival facilities and improving security especially in the handling of baggage.
Unique Selling Points
Several large chains and other investors have already entered the Sierra Leonean market based on the projections for growth in the sector. Some of these players include: