Nabeela F. Tunis, newly appointed Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs of Sierra Leone, has underscored the critical importance of the tourism sector to the economy of her country. In this interview with Obinna Emelike, the minister assured that the tourism sector is well placed to offer employment opportunities to the youth of her country especially, the creative and culture sub-sectors. She also highlighted the strength of Sierra Leone’s economy, while underlining five key priorities of her ministry.
How important is tourism to Sierra Leone?
When I was the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, I authored the current medium-term of national development plan, which expires this month. One thing that we did was to highlight tourism as one of those growth sectors. We still believe that tourism has a lot to offer to us as a country in terms of projecting economic growth for Sierra Leone.
Certainly, my mission is to ensure that tourism takes place as one of the biggest income earners. As a country, we have been focusing on five basic priorities which are: human capital development, technology and innovation, public sector reformation and youth employment. Tourism sector can provide 500 jobs, especially in the creative and culture sub sectors.
Do you have masterplan for your tourism development?
There are lots of efforts by governments to ensure that the tourism industry takes the center stage that we want it to take.
First of all, we are in the process of developing our tourism strategic master plan. It is a 10-year strategic master plan, which I believe will be ready by early next year. As a government, we are also working on the legal framework. This is because if we want to have an industry that is driven by the private sector, we also need to have a legal framework that will bring trust between the public and the private sector.
So, we are working on the legal framework to ensure that we have the tools to deliver on the strategic plan. As a ministry, we are also expanding the structure to involve a directorate that would certainly enhance private sector relationships. A directory that would focus on research and communications, another one that focuses on monitoring and evaluation, and one that also focuses on creativity.
So, these are some of the things that the government is doing in house to prepare us to launch the tourism industry in Sierra Leone.
What is the tourism focus of Sierra Leone?
While everyone is focusing on beaches and other products, we want to focus on the people in terms of creativity and our culture because what you see is much more competitive these days. There are so many people who are going in for conservation or going in for our nature based solutions. But Sierra Leone can offer a lot of adventure, a lot of integration with our communities, a lot of volunteer tourism as well. So, these are the aspects that we like to look at. Aside from us having the products and having lovely beaches, beautiful landscape, lovely topography, and beautiful environment, we are also focusing on the people and what they have to offer.
We have done exceptionally well in promoting cohesion and religious tolerance.
As a country, we were looking at how we could pitch these into a bigger picture and bigger product out of tourism in the global space and ensuring that our creative and cultural industries are the aspects that people come to Sierra Leone to also explore. Exploring freedom is exploring our people, exploring our assets and enjoying our products.
What is your impression about WTM?
Being at WTM this year and seeing the different stands also show you the world is just one global place. It is my first time here. It is a great experience. I must say that I am happy to be here to see what other countries are pitching and to see how we can pitch together to create partnerships, because there are lots of complementarities across countries.
So, for me, it is my first experience here and I am sucking it in and enjoying everything. I am learning a lot as well to see how other countries are promoting their tourism industry. I am here also to see how we can create partnerships and share what we have, share with the world and see how we can also preserve our assets and our products.