Sierra Leone’s tourism potential remain largely untapped. The diverse ecosystem offers attractive white sandy beaches, a tropical forest, scenic mountains, and interesting wildlife. There are also historic islands with a wide range of activities including swimming, bird watching, sport fishing, and hiking.
The decade-long civil war severely impacted the tourism sector and destroyed infrastructure. With the ensuing peace and stability, the sector experienced consistent annual growth averaging 28 percent between 2003 and 2013 driven largely by the re-emergence of iron mining. 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.
The sector is challenged by a poor regulatory environment, weak policy framework, an outdated tourism master plan, poor institutional capacity, limited access to finance, poor service delivery, inadequate infrastructure, poor maintenance of tourist sites, and corruption. There is a need to rehabilitate historical attractions, rebuild the country’s image, provide sector-specific training, and address issues relating to deforestation, desertification, sand mining, encroachment on sensitive areas, poor sewage and disposal systems, and the dwindling wildlife population.
Despite these challenges, 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 sustainable development of the sector 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 costs of traveling to the country. The airport infrastructure has been upgraded, arrival facilities expanded and security improved. The private sector could engage in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of existing hotels, as well as the construction of new large-scale hotels, both in the beach areas and in the tropical forests. The overall government objective is to increase revenue and jobs from tourism by promoting the international image and cultural heritage of the country, improving on the policy and legal environment, developing historic sites, skills and infrastructure, promoting marketing, diversifying tourism products, and attracting investors into the sector.
There is significant potential for growth in the tourism industry 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.
U.S. 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.