How to reinvent W’Africa’s tourism industry, by S’Leone’s Tourism Minister

Travelling around Africa, particularly, West Africa is not only difficult by air, road, rail, or sea but one that has seriously impacted negatively on tourism on the West Coast according to the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Sierra Leone, Dr. Memunatu Pratt.

Pratt, who was in June 2022 appointed as the global chairperson for women in tourism by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), while fielding questions from Aviation Metric at the just concluded Akwaaba Africa Travel Market (AfTM) held in Lagos, recalled that the sub-region missed the opportunity to connect the region through the West Africa Railway, the West Africa air transmission and others as far back as 1975-1980 due civil wars in many parts of the place like in Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and many other countries which disrupted the process.

She expressed her gratitude to Nigeria for restoring peace in many of the war-torn countries, adding that without the crises, West Africa would have been able to have good connections among each other’s territory.

She said, “During those periods, these were the critical periods where we would have been able to connect ourselves. What we have now is a region that is poorly connected by rail, air, and even by sea. If you go to many countries, you can use your ferries to go to different places, islands are not barriers, and coastal areas are not barriers but we have missed that. If you go to countries like Seychelles, it is made of about 115 islands but you cannot feel it because at every moment there is a boat going, there are domestic aircraft there and they are wonderful ferries put together by the business sector.”

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“If a country like that can achieve it, what about West Africa? I am bringing this comparison to be able to say we have not been able to do much to explore and exploit what we have. If you take the whole of West Africa; all the cities are sitting on the west coast, what is wrong with putting crew ships on those places, creating jobs, and connecting people? In our own countries, itself, cost of traveling is very high even though we know people want to move. It’s not only the cost of travel but taxes also affect us”.

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She stated that without infrastructure together, getting regions connected, tourism would never thrive in the region.

 “The point I am making is that tourism is based on those things. If you want to move services and goods, you want to multiply the economy; you have to make sure it works.  Tourism sits at the top of all of these”.

“West Africa has huge natural and heritage resources that can market the whole of this region. There are slave ports like Badagry in Nigeria; Sierra Leone Bows Island and then when you go to Ghana, you go to the cape coast and castle and other places. We have other destinations and there’s a demand for root stories to thrive. For the eco-tourism facilities, If you look at the forest, and the wildlife, it cuts across the whole of west Africa; so my point is that the concept and vision as a region to use west Africa as the backbone of developing the economy across west Africa has been missed but it’s not too late yet”.

The Minister lamented that West Africa is lagging behind in the area of tourism by not taking advantage of the numerous potentials of the sector that could bring prosperity to a region in need of economic growth, pointing out that it was high time the region looked at tourism strategically

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She explained that one area that was lacking was marketing the natural resources, sites, and products which she said at the moment is not good enough.

“We have not been able to market West Africa as we should wherein people can begin to know what is here. We know the tour operators are doing well but I think an integrated approach will make a lot of difference. Marketing should be strategic and have an integrated version but unfortunately, all of us are not on the same page in our different countries in West Africa.

The Minister lauded the incredible resilience of the promoter of Akwaaba Travel Market (ATM), Mr. Ikechi Uko for sustaining the development of travel and tourism in the continent of Africa with his annual programme.

Wole Shadare