It has always been easy for previous and current heads of the Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) to say that they will make the tourism industry a priority and a vibrant contributor to the Liberian economy.
However, as of yet, nothing has happened; the industry is still in the same state, and we at LIB Life are saying again that Liberia can generate hundreds of millions of dollars from its wealth of natural beauty. The fact is that tourism in Liberia is an untapped gold mine, but the powers that be are letting opportunities slip by.
This might sound like a broken CD, as we have been saying this over and over, and over…
Although Liberia is but a small county, its wealth of tourist attractions lies in its historic monuments, water falls, national parks, rare species of wild life, mountains, rivers, lush vegetation and surfing beaches. Nevertheless, Liberia’s tourist attractions and natural environment still lie in filth and in deplorable condition.
Also Liberia’s forests are among Africa’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, home to some of the continent’s rare species of insects, birds and other animals. Liberia is known for its pygmy hippopotamus, which is found primarily in Liberia.
Tourism plays a vital role in supporting sustainable economic growth and providing locals with employment while preserving a country’s cultural heritage without depleting its values and natural environment.
In addition, tourism does not only sustain economic growth, but benefits locals directly and indirectly. The ‘goods’ and ‘services’ produced by these local artisans, tour guides, owners of restaurants and entertainment spots are consumed on the site of production. This put locals on the front lines to reap the benefits offered by tourism.
When the Liberian government makes the tourism sector one of its key priorities with a well-designed plan and a good regulating strategy, the sector can then become a pathway to poverty reduction for thousands of Liberians.
In the Gambia, according to the BBC, more than 20,000 people were employed by the tourism sector in 2015, relying on the busy October to March tourist season.
Moreover, money generated by locals from tourists through goods and services (crafts, excursions, food and beverage) directly returns to economy through the reproductions of goods and services.
Again the tourism sector also offers greater prospects to developing countries’ economic diversification policy and expertise advancement. Since tourists create demand for goods and services, this in return pressures local businesses (companies) and entrepreneurs to develop their products to meet the standards tourists expect.
This way, local businesses have the opportunity to test and sell their new products on the in-country international market that has been created already by tourists before export.
In The Gambia, tourism accounts for 16 to 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the country’s 2015/16 Tourism Strategic Document, prepared by the Gambia Tourism Board (GTB).
The document also said that the sector is the second pillar of the country’s economy after agriculture and provided $45 million in direct investment and $85 million in foreign exchange in 2013 alone.
So what is wrong with Liberia?
Unlike Liberia, which has refused to pass legislation to make the Bureau of Tourism an autonomous agency, and take it from under MICAT despite calls to do so, the Gambia Tourism Authority (GTA) is an autonomous agency that is making the The Gambia a world class tourist destination.
Another problem apart from burying the Bureau of Tourism under MICAT is the failure of the government to allow corporate sponsorship for Liberia, an already known tourist destination, for fear of outright commercialization. In this regard, Liberia as a tourist destination has lost significant value.
Yes, tourism does have inevitable elements of commercialization, and those can be managed. But the fear of over-commercialization is not a reason to leave the country in its current abandoned and decaying state – which in fact is worse than the feared over-commercialization.
Many tourist destinations in the world do not only rely on the natural beauty of the location, but on created experiences as well, which Liberia need to do to offer tourists a variety of experiences.
The Gambia, for example, has an amazing crocodile pool in Kachikali as well as the Bijilo Forest Park. These two are among many created attractions quite apart from The Gambia’s natural beauty.
Creating an exciting tourist destination is not the only requirement. The government needs to build good road networks that will connect tourist destinations very easily. Bad roads with potholes only give tourists a bad impression of the country regardless of its beauty.
Lastly the government should initiate well-designed marketing strategies (online as well) to sell Liberia as a must-visit place for tourists as the Gambia has done. Another component of that strategy should include annual tourism seminars. Liberia can also be marketed as destination for foreign film productions.
A very well-designed marketing strategy is most critical to making Liberian a tourist destination, as the way information is distributed will increase the influx of tourists to the country.