It has been five years since international tour operators last visited Sierra Leone, but today (14 November 2022) Invest Salone, a UK-government funded private sector development initiative, welcomed a party of specialist UK, European and US tour operators to experience first-hand the country’s environmental and cultural heritage.
The week-long familiarisation trip has been organised in collaboration with local destination management companies – Visit Sierra Leone (VSL) and Tourism is Life. An itinerary has been created to reflect the growing interest for nature and cultural experiences among tourists. The itinerary aims to introduce tour operators, specialising in adventure, ecotourism, heritage and ancestry, to Sierra Leone’s unique qualities – making it easier for them to sell Sierra Leone to their clients.
Recent research by Invest Salone found that 80% of tour operators interviewed had never visited Sierra Leone and had limited knowledge about the country. They were, however, significantly more interested in finding out about Sierra Leone than they were two years ago. Invest Salone’s research also showed that the international travel industry is excited by Sierra Leone’s interesting biodiversity – including the wide variety of primates, birds and other wildlife – as well as the country’s vibrant traditions, history and culture.
The week-long familiarisation trip is aimed at European and USA markets and reflects the National Tourist Board’s strategic priorities which focus on ecotourism, community and culture. The trip itinerary includes:
- The award-winning Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
- Bunce Island’s slave trading fortress
- Tiwai Island – home to the world’s most diverse chimpanzee and monkey populations, as well as the elusive pygmy hippopotamus
- Banana Island – an unspoilt island with interesting wildlife and nature
- Rogbonko Village Retreat – where they will have the opportunity to experience traditional rural life.
The visit will conclude with a tourism seminar on the 19 November, where visiting tour operators will meet with local industry representatives, to share feedback and discuss current and new opportunities for Sierra Leone’s tourism sector.
Avril Pratt, Consultant with Invest Salone, said that the familiarisation visit is intended to help tour operators and travel agents appreciate Sierra Leone’s exceptional qualities and encourage them to promote the destination to their clients. “We are delighted to host the first familiarisation visit to Sierra Leone in five years and look forward to showcasing all that Sierra Leone has to offer. Tourism is potentially a major engine for job creation in Sierra Leone and a driving force for economic growth and development. It can also provide opportunities for inclusion and education – and contribute to preserving cultural heritage and the environment.
“Increased tourism activities will create opportunities for existing businesses to improve revenue by providing services to tourists as well as open opportunities for new businesses.” Ms Pratt added. “We hope the familiarisation trip will provide the tour operators with an experience which will help them become advocates for Sierra Leone and spread the word about everything our country has to offer.”