Sierra Leone Telegraph:
The return of direct flights from London to Freetown, and reduction in cost of flying to Sierra Leone cannot come too soon for Sierra Leoneans living in the UK. This is even more important, if the country is to begin to open up its rich and vibrant potential for eco-tourism to the rest of the world. Much has been promised by politicians.
Sierra Leone is losing over $100 million every year in tourism revenue, due to the very low numbers of tourists embarking on what can be a very expensive and tedious travelling experience to get to the country.
Flights and hotels are expensive compared to well established tourist resorts in the region, such as The Gambia, where at a cost of £500 you can book a one-week holiday at a top four-star hotel along one of the stunning beaches at Cape Point, Kotu or Kololi (Photo: One of The Gambia’s well sought after exclusive beaches at Cape Point).
And that price also includes your flight, room and breakfast, with free access to wi-fi and other outstanding amenities. Where is Sierra leone going wrong?
To get to Sierra Leone from London is a chore and an expensive affair, costing no less than £450 or more. And that does not include hotel accommodation. (Photo below: A stunning four star hotel at Cape Point in The Gambia, where you can stay for a week costing £500 including return flight from London and breakfast).
Sierra Leone must up its game and become competitive with the likes of The Gambia, if it is to attract the sorts of tourist numbers that should make the industry a success.
Successive governments have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in modernising Sierra Leone’s Lungi International Airport, especially its runway, baggage handling and security, with the support of the World Bank.
The airport has the capacity to handle the arrival and departure of hundreds of passengers a day, but this capacity is seriously underutilised, due to the small number of flights using the airport.
Crossing from Lungi Airport into mainland Freetown by sea is still a big problem, with the ferry service struggling to meet international standards. The road network from Lungi to Freetown is good but takes far too long and safety can be a problem. (Photo below: Gambia Ferry).
The government has to carry out a comprehensive and holistic review of the tourism industry and its infrastructure, rather than the piece-meal, sticky plaster approach that is being pursued, hoping to succeed in transforming the industry and improve the number of arrivals to the country.
Last week, Awoko newspaper reported on an interesting interview it had with the chairman of Westminster Group Ltd., a company that has been responsible for managing baggage handling and security at Lungi Airport.
According to the report, the chairman of Westminster Group – Sir Tony Baldry, had a meeting this week with both president Bio and vice president Jalloh at State House in Freetown, to discuss what needs to be done to improve Sierra Leone’s tourism industry.
Westminster Group is a British owned company, operating in about 50 countries worldwide, listed in the London Stock Exchange.
“We started operating in Sierra Leone in 2012 when the country was in dire need of a professional company to handle the ground handling of the Lungi airport. At that time we sent in 30 experts to work with Sierra Leoneans and today only three are still in the country adhering to the Local Content Policy,” the chairman told Awoko.
He said that his company has spent millions of Pounds to raise the standard of baggage handling at the Lungi Airport (Photo below) and today the airport is safe, with less complaints of luggage theft. He promised to continue to invest in modern equipment and sniffer dogs because wherever they work, they believe in giving quality and adhering to standards.
Speaking about his meeting with president Bio and vice president Jalloh, chairman Baldry said: “We talked about how to modernize the airport, how we can work on bringing down the flight ticket prices, to get direct flights from London to Sierra Leone, ecotourism and how we can help in the investment conference next month in London.”
He told Awoko: “On my return I will look for flights that will start operating between London and Sierra Leone as presently there is no direct flight between the two countries. I will try all my best to make sure that we get cheap flights to operate this route.
“Today in Uganda and Kenya ecotourism is doing very well and I am sure it will be the same for Sierra Leone, so it is another area that we will pursue to help the tourism sector grow in the country.”
Chairman Baldry said that Sierra Leone has all it takes to develop its ecotourism industry and he is determined to help the government achieve this.
“I was told by the president of the investment conference next month in London and he said he will be attending. We discussed at length about how Westminster will be of immense help to work with the Sierra Leone High Commission in London to make sure the conference is successful.
“As we are one of two British companies in Sierra Leone, we would be at a vantage point to entice more British companies to come and invest in Sierra Leone. We will do all in our power to make sure that this investment conference in London becomes successful, and will see more British companies coming to invest.”
Asked by Awoko about the climate in Sierra Leone for investors, Tony Baldry said: “ If the atmosphere was not conducive, Westminster will not be here”. He said in every country there are challenges, but those challenges can always be overcome.
He said with more investments in Sierra Leone, jobs can be created for the people of Sierra Leone.
The Westminster Group chairman confidently told Awoko that Sierra Leone is open for business and president Bio is doing all in his power to attract more investors. He said that Westminster will look at other sectors such as agriculture to invest, and will not relent in helping to bring investors into the country.
Sierra Leone is open for business – watch the government’s video: