May 2019

Why Sierra Leone should go straight to the top of your must-visit list

Everyone wanted to believe they’d just seen a pygmy hippo. We’d paused our kayaks after a greyish backside was spotted swishing into the forest.

There are fewer than 200 pygmy hippos in Sierra Leone and they’re no easy sighting – but around 80 per cent of them are found in this area. Then again, as someone said later, it could’ve been a pig.

This is Tiwai Island, part of Gola Rainforest National Park in the southeast of Sierra Leone. A six-hour drive from the capital Freetown, its 12 square miles are home to 11 primate species in a setting as serene and green as any.

“Wildlife-viewing isn’t easy,” our guide Kenewa Korona says, “but we have bushbabies, red colobus and green monkeys, black-and-white colobus, sooty mangabeys.”

We do spot red colobus, their exuberant mating session drowning out everything else.

This is one of Sierra Leone’s most promising ecotourism spots. Eight local communities and assorted environmental organisations own or manage Tiwai, but there’s still a way to go. This nation remains synonymous with the 1991-2002 civil war and the blood diamonds that funded it, but that conflict ended 17 years ago. Then, in 2013, came Ebola. “We had researchers here before,” says Korona. “Fewer after the war. After Ebola, almost none.”

Sierra Leone has been Ebola-free for more than three years. Now, under a new government and rejuvenated tourism ministry, there are concerted efforts to get tourism – particularly community tourism – right. At Kambama village, where boats depart for Tiwai, a rarity occurs: a cultural performance that doesn’t invite squirming. The dancing is joyful, the vibe warm, and there’s laughter and chat between us as each element of the ritual dances is explained.

Later that week, in the northern town of Kabala, two village chiefs would give us their blessing to climb the sacred Wara Wara mountain, a moderate hike rewarded by freshly tapped “poyo” palm wine on the way up, panoramic views and, on our descent, traditional dance and acrobatics in the village square before overdosing on cassava, spicy jollof rice, cold beers and 1980s pop in a local bar.

More established than Tiwai is the vast, RSPB-managed Gola Rainforest National Park, the country’s best protected, where there’s been greater investment into lodges, rangers and guides. Wildlife doesn’t appear on-tap at Sierra Leone’s “green diamond”, but you might see habituated Diana monkeys, red colobus and the picathartes bird, one of 333 bird species clocked here. And, if you’re very lucky (or have tired eyes), possibly a pygmy hippo.

A game changer is Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the Western Area, south of Freetown. During a recent visit by primatologist Jane Goodall, the government declared the chimpanzee the national symbol and face of tourism, replacing diamonds. “This is great for us,” says Aram Kazandjian, Tacugama’s pioneering new manager. “We’re Sierra Leone’s only chimp sanctuary. Around 5,500 wild western chimpanzees remain in the country; they’re critically endangered because of deforestation, logging, encroachment, poaching.”

On the tour (you can overnight here too in treehouse-style lodges), we meet Mama P, a human “surrogate” mum who provides orphaned baby chimps the TLC they need until they turn four. She’s currently swaddling nappy-clad, seven-month-old baby Caesar, who’s gazing at her and touching her nose. Can we hug him? No. What’s it like when your babies leave this enclosure? “I feel sad,” says Mama P. “But I visit when I can.”

“We have a moral obligation to protect chimps,” adds Kazandjian. “They share 98.6 per cent of our DNA and display similar emotional traits. And they love peanuts and popcorn.” Kazandjian is also helping to develop Sierra Leone’s first ecotourism circuit, working with rural communities to promote conservation and sustainable travel around the country.

For all the focus on wildlife, diamonds remain big business; the mining industry in the east is huge. Around the diamond-rich cities of Kenema and Koidu, trades such as farming and carpentry were mostly ditched after gems were discovered in the 1930s. A shame, says tourism expert Bashir Koroma. “We have arable soil, perfect for cassava, pumpkin, corn, bananas. But governments invest more in mining.” It recalls a school song a previous guide sang to us. “We are all going to our classes with clean hands and faces/To pay great attention to what we are told/Or we shall never be happy and clever/For learning is better than silver and gold.”

But the diamond industry is based on hope, one mine-owner tells us. For most, it’s a hard slog, riches reserved for the few, but equally, it’s no longer funding war – many are keen to redirect this “conflict diamond” narrative.

Other narratives need to be shouted from the rooftops, retold, then told again. A boat ride from Freetown is Bunce Island, a place that should be on every history curriculum. From the 17th to 19th centuries, Freetown was one of the biggest hubs for the Atlantic slave trade. Bunce Island, built by a British slave-trading company (Sierra Leone was a British colony from 1808 until its independence in 1961), was where some 50,000 African slaves made the treacherous journey to the Caribbean, and Georgia and South Carolina in the US; many African-Americans can trace their ancestry back here.

Freetown itself is a chaotic, heritage-rich, coastal capital, a towering 400-year-old cotton tree marking its centre, with historic churches, Krio architecture built by the descendants of freed slaves, and souvenir haven Big Market. Its National Museum, which has an excellent Bunce Island exhibition, and the murals and statues of the Peace and Cultural Monument, are good introductions to key players and events in Sierra Leonean history – including the arrival of the first free slaves in 1787 and the founding of today’s “Freetown” five years later.

It’s a fun city too. Along Lumley Beach Road are scores of beach bars and restaurants, and the Freetown Peninsula extending into the mountain-backed Western Area is beach heaven; River Number Two, Tokeh and Mama Beach are some of the choice spots for the country’s higher-end hotels, a Star beer and fresh fish. Off the mainland is Banana Island, keen to welcome tourism, with diving, hikes, beach lodges and community-led tours of its slave-outpost history.

Like many places emerging from a troubled period, life isn’t always easy for its residents. Tourism can help but it’s certainly not the sole answer. But for many visitors, crowd-free hiking, untouristy towns, decent roads, wildlife in varying doses, a capital bursting with history, chimps and beaches will prove irresistible. Like the diamond that’s long symbolised its wealth and woes, Sierra Leone is sparkling again.

Ministry of tourism and cultural affairs and National Tourist Board welcome German and Swiss Press Team on a Tourism Familiarization to Sierra Leone.

Ministry of tourism and cultural affairs and National Tourist Board welcome German and Swiss Press Team on a Tourism Familiarization to Sierra Leone.
The Press team from Germany and Switzerland visit to Sierra Leone is as a result of the aggressive tourism positioning pursued by the dynamic leadership at the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and its sub vented agency National Tourist Board to promote Sierra Leone International (ITB BERLIN 2019) being one of such venture that has yielded this visit.

ITB Berlin is the most popularly attended Travel and Trade Show in Europe by the crème de la crème of tourism worldwide.
The display and engagement of sector players on the potentials of tourism Sierra Leone exhibits outside of the continent is critical to image rebranding process of a competitive and multidisciplinary industry.
The Press team will be in Sierra Leone for seven days familiarizing themselves with our rich, unique and authentic tourism destination, scaling for themselves our niche that will be promoted in the global tourism sphere (destination marketing) a key driver or pull factor that informs tourism growth.
Tourism can contribute substantially to developing the people of our country as it is a highly labour intensive industry accommodating a wide spectrum of skilled and semiskilled labour thus the importance been placed on tourism by government as a priority sector and conduit for economic diversification.
The Acting General Manager National Tourist Board in her opening highlighted the exigency placed by the Ministry to domestically and internationally market Sierra Leone’s vantage tourism potential in the global market. Our engagements gave birth to the historic visit of a German and Swiss Press led by our agent KPRN to get an empirical research of the destination, a critical data that destination marketing Companies will rely on as magnets of travel choice to prospective tourists.
Sierra Leone has strong potentials for tourism development which is the crux of the Fam Tour. It has excellent beaches and islands, mountains and rich biodiversity, interesting wildlife, friendliness and rich social and cultural capital packaged as a surprising tourism destination.
The German Ambassador to Sierra Leone Horst Gruner in his statement welcoming the team emphasized that within a short stay in Sierra Leone, he can authoritatively state that the country is a fantastic tourist destination little known worldwide but with special qualities that will magnetize any visitor. He reiterated that Sierra Leone is a gem for tourists globally that may want to see new trends in the industry.
Such visit by journalists from Europe is a major effort in generating interest and impressions outside of the country which is a viable platform for partnership, trade, investment and the tourism promotion.
Dr. M’baimba Lamin Baryoh the Sierra Leone Ambassador to Germany in his submission noted, that Sierra Leone is ripe for tourism bearing in mind the indicators of political stability, political will to support and leverage the tourism infrastructure for the transformation of the sector.
Germany and Sierra Leone enjoy friendship over decades but tourism is opening new frontiers of development worthy of effective collaboration and entreat the team to be brand ambassadors of our tourism globally.
Sierra Leone under this government is positioning the country as a viable global trade partner that attracts investment in priority sectors tourism being key.
Hanna Kleber is head of KPRN network one of the leading communication, public relation and marketing agencies for the travel industry and Sierra Leone’s tourism representative in Germany and Switzerland also leads the Familiarization mission to Sierra Leone.
My passion for the continent of Africa to realize a valuable market share of the tourism value especially that Sierra Leone to benefits from the tremendous tourism potential is critical to the data sought by this Fam Visit says Hannah.
Knowing well the industry the government inherited, various strides were facilitated by a dedicated team in the ministry and its sub vented agency to upscale our tourism marketing and promotion internationally by attending significant Trade Fairs and Exhibitions thus rebranding Sierra Leone a success we are feeling tonight by this Fam Visit of German and Swiss Press says Madam Memunatu Pratt Sierra Leone’s Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
Relaunching Sierra Leone in the global competitive tourism sphere requires a framework developed to match our competitors. That experiential model for travel agents, tour operators and other tourism professionals is Familiarization Visit/Trip or Tours. The visit to Sierra Leone constitute the promotion of the host destination directly to selected and targeted tourism pro’s that are given empirical experience of the vantage pedestal that the specific destination offerings to visitors.

 

GERMAN PRESS TEAM IN SIERRA LEONE

The German and Swiss Press Team explore Bunce Island Slave Castle as part of their Familiarization Visit to asses the tourism potential of Sierra Leone

The team is hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and National Tourist Board.

The group is in Sierra Leone to conduct an empirical and experiential tour of our nation’s rich, unique, and authentic tourism potential that most people refer to as unexplored.

A composite of palm-fringed pristine beaches with hot water for sports and relaxation, breathtaking mountains, tropical rain forests known as the ‘green diamond’ of Sierra Leone and our diverse and vibrant living heritage.

These exemplified resources speak to the character of the nation as one of the most tourism seductive destinations in West Africa that ‘Fam Tours’ like this help to market and promote in a globally competitive industry like tourism that the country is gearing up for.

The Bunce Island Tour conducted by Monuments and Relics Commission for the Press Team is predicated on the fact that it is one of Sierra Leone’s important heritage resource proclaimed in 1948 as National Monument with conservation remit.

The slave fort in the Sierra Leone River is a testament to the monumental significance of the Upper Guinea Coast as a strategic slave export region from the mid 18th Century to the abolition period of the 19th Century.

Bunce Island Slave Castle is a site with great tourism potential especially cultural heritage/root tourism and a channel to mass educate people globally (our African Diaspora included) about the intersection of Sierra Leone specifically and broader Africa and the wider Atlantic world during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era.

The destination marketing and promotion of the tourism resources after this visit by the team, will further espouse Bunce Island’s Outstanding Universal Value around the world.

Francis Musa Momoh
Research and Development Officer
Monuments and Relics Commission

THE NEW YORK UNIVERSITY HOST SIERRA LEONE’S MINISTER OF TOURISM

THE NEW YORK UNIVERSITY HOST SIERRA LEONE’S MINISTER OF TOURISM

Today the 8th May 2019, the New York University hosted the Sierra Leone Minister of Tourism and Culture- Madam Memunatu B. Pratt to throw experience and expert on the topic “Knowledge Sharing on Sustainable Tourism Development.

The New York University is a private research university originally founded in New York City but now with campuses and locations throughout the world. Founded in 1831.

The Minister of Tourism and Culture was invited to share knowledge on this topic, because this has been her drive since inception: that is sustainable Tourism development with an acute phase of Tourism Governance.

With other experts from the very University on the panel, the Minister of Tourism shared her technical experience on the topic with both academic and practical approach on the topic.

Her main point of discussion was centered on: Using Tourism Governance to uplift Sustainable Tourism Development in countries around the world. She pinned point with her case study Sierra Leone, she was able to convey to the message of sustainability using the right Human knowledge capacity.

The Minister cited according to UNWTO: “Over the last decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and increased diversification, becoming one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. The business volume of tourism today equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles, offering millions of direct entry points into the workforce, particularly for youth and women, and a diversity of investment opportunities for young entrepreneurial talents. Tourism has become one of the major sectors in international trade, at the same time representing one of the main income sources for many developing countries. It is their only service sector with recorded surpluses in trade compared to the rest of the world.”

Against this background she built her opinion that Tourism alone can suffice other sectors, only if countries can manage the challenges and activities of the modern trend

SIERRA LEONE TOURISM MINISTER MADE A PRESTIGIOUS GENERAL TOUR OF SITA 2019

The Tourism Minister garnered SITA attention. The Sierra Leone Minister of Tourism stand out strong amongst others, even though it’s the only English speaking Destination but demonstrated visibility and proactive recognition of Sierra Leone and this restored dignity again in the Ivorian French speaking country. The Country’s attendance was timely and necessary for profiling and the rebranding process.

Foreign exhibitors were astonished by the level of attention given to Minister of Tourism and it’s delegation, during the event. The Ivorians were still considering Sierra Leone to be a war zone and insecured tourist Destination, this the Minister of Tourism was able to make a destinctive clarity to the visitors and in key Investment meetings.

Key meetings for Tourism development, Investment, transportation and timely B2B was attended to sought better and profitable outcomes for the country.

Also the Minister and senior officers that formed part of the delegation were part of the Tour De SITA organised solely for Sierra Leone able Minister of Tourism, to ascertain a first hand facts and measure the weight of the event.

The enthusiastic Minister of tourism was energetic and poised to visit several booths within the trade ground.

The last day of the event brought more attention for meetings on many trending issues: like Investment in accommodation, Eco tourism and many more.

Surprised! Surprised! The Ivorians and Sierra Leone delegation celebrated the Minister of Tourism on her Birthday. Where she made her birthday Statement and extend profound thanks and appreciation for the surprise.