Covid-19 and tourism in Sierra Leone
It is no longer a secret that tourism plays an indispensable role in the lives of people the world over. It is what makes the world a worthy place to live. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent travel bans and restrictions, the world has witnessed an unprecedented halt in tourism.
Suffice it to say that tourism became dormant in the last six months or so. Airports were/are shut. Aircrafts parked. Hotels and restaurants closed. Everyone is advised to stay home or risk contracting the novel coronavirus.
This is happening at a time when Sierra Leone’s tourism sector was being resuscitated by the current Tourism and Cultural Affairs Minister, Dr Memunatu Pratt.
2020 was to be declared the year of local tourism, while 2021, to coincide with Sierra Leone’s 60th independence anniversary, should be the year of root tourism.
President Julius Maada Bio promised to diversify the country’s economy by putting premium on tourism, marine resources and agriculture. True to his promise, the tourism sector was developing at a break-neck speed.
For the first time in many years, tourism arrivals shoot up in 2019 with a corresponding increase in tourism-related businesses. The Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Monuments and Relics Commission and National Tourist Board have been going the extra mile to market the country as an attractive tourist destination. As the government was pushing to overhaul the status quo, so do the private sector.
Tour operators like Visit Sierra Leone (VSL), Tourism is Life Tours and others succeeded in forging excellent business relationships with international group tour operators while simultaneously bringing some tourists here.
The Budapest-Bamako-Freetown rally brought approximately 700 tourists to end their race in Freetown. Bobben and Rogers Tours brought in 300 Danish tourists. All this happened in one month-February 2020. Just before the pandemic.
The end of the Coronavirus pandemic will see an exponential increase in tourism development even if it would take a while for the sector to fully pick up.
Currently, the hospitality industry is at a standstill. It is the worst to happen to the industry in a while.
In their impact assessment of the Covid-19 outbreak on international tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) had this to say in their Executive Summary:
“Travel and tourism is among the most affected sectors with airplanes on the ground, hotels closed and travel restrictions put in place in virtually all countries around the world.
In an unprecedented blow to the tourism sector, the COVID-19 pandemic has cut international tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2020 to a fraction of what they were a year ago.
Available data points to a double-digit decrease of 22% in Q1 2020, with arrivals in March down by 57%. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about USD 80 billion in receipts.”
This gloomy atmosphere does not spare the sector in Sierra Leone.
Driving through Aberdeen-Lumley beach, one could easily infer that nothing is happening now. Empty is way too lenient to describe the status of the beach bars. Hotel owners have closed their property for obvious reasons. Bartenders, waiters and waitresses have lost their jobs. The gyms are no go areas.
Like Radisson Blu Hotel on Aberdeen, Nix Nax restaurant on Siaka Stevens Street has temporarily closed down.
The ruins of Bunce Island have not seen new faces for a while now. At Tacugama Chimpazee Sanctuary, the chimps have not seen strangers in the last couple of months. The Aberdeen Water Taxi, Sea Coach and Sea Bird and other forms of sea transportation have no reason to shuttle again, at least during this period.
We can no longer enjoy ourselves at the newly established Underground Night Club on Savage Street or any club for that matter.
But all is not lost. The Coronavirus pandemic will go away and all of us will embrace the new normal. Tourism will rise again and this time it will surely surpass the gains already made before the advent of Covid-19.
Let’s get ready for a massive boom in local tourism as we strive to end this unwelcome covid-19. No one needs to remind anyone that tourism makes the world a better place. Without it, the world would be such a dull, boring and uninteresting arena.
But for now, we must all do one thing. Let’s endure all the inconveniences aimed at containing covid-19.
By Mohamed Faray Kargbo
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