Addressing stakeholders at the workshop, the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dixon Bella Fofanah said the tourism industry was hard hit by the Ebola Virus Disease causing a drop in hotel occupancy, job cuts and loss of government revenue.
He said the objective of the validation was to critically look at ways and means to create a medium and long term transformation of the tourism industry for socio economic growth.
The General Manager of the National Tourist Board, Rassin Kargbo, while making his statement, said presently the Government of Sierra Leone has put premium on tourism development in the pillar 1 of the Agenda for Prosperity.
He also expressed frustration and disappointment over the nonchalant behaviour of our colonial masters, Britain, during the Ebola outbreak for halting all their flights to Sierra Leone and also stopping tourist to travel to the country.
He said British Airways left the country when we needed them most and also fumed against the fly salone branded airline which did not serve the purpose it was meant for.
He however applauded Brussels Airline for their role in transporting experts in and out of the country during the Ebola period.
A Board Member of the National Tourist Board, Ahmed Wurie said during the Ebola outbreak the hoteliers suffered the most with harsh economic setback, citing that among the 70 hotels across the country only 20 were operational and out of the 200 guest houses only 42 were fully functional.
He said with the new Tourism Crisis Recovery planning, the tourism industry will be revamped to promote socio economic development and tourists will start to flock the country.
The Consultant of the Tourism Crisis Recovery planning Diagnostic report, Benjamin Carey said Tourism is a driver of sustainable economic growth around the world and Sierra Leone has got the potential to attract more tourists.
He said the team spent eleven days travelling across the country for the research and noted that some of the challenges facing the industry include branding of the country with a special tourism package to attract visitors and the lack of biodiversity hot spots and world heritage sites and poor infrastructure, amongst others.
He said the absence of a marketing strategy and lack of adequate accommodation in rural areas is also another challenge to the sector.
He said Sierra Leone needs to establish transnational heritage sites, improve on eco-tourism areas and promotion of rural tourism.
Statements on revamping the tourism industry were also made by Deputy Financial Secretary, Nancy Tengbeh and Hon. Frank Kposowa
The validation exercise climaxed by a group discussions and submission of recommendations to the consultants.