Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 September 2019:
The government of Sierra Leone took a bold step today, abolishing the requirement for all visitors travelling to the country to obtain visa at their country of embarkment, before arriving in Freetown.
Although many were expecting the government to waive or abolish visa charges as in other popular tourist destinations in the region, such as The Gambia and Senegal, this is seen as a step in the right direction, which could lead to more people traveling to Sierra Leone for holidays.
The Sierra Leone government is losing an estimated $100 million in revenue every year, as a result of very low tourist numbers.
This is due in part to the very high cost of flying to the country, as well as the exorbitant cost of hotel accommodation in most of the tourist resorts such as Aberdeen/Lumley Beach, and Tokeh Beach.
Although there are several other four star hotels in other parts of the city, such as the Country Lodge and Brookfields Hotel, these are not cheap either.
But hoteliers have very little choice in recovering their costs and make a small profit, than charging high accommodation rates, because of the very low visitor numbers in the country.
Low visitor numbers have also contributed to the decision of major airlines to stop flying to Sierra Leone.
The Gambia – a small country of about 2 million people compared to Sierra Leone’s 7.5 million, can boast of dozens of airlines flying to the country every day, carrying thousands of tourists and visitors.
For a mere £500 (British Pounds), one can buy a seven days package holiday to one of the most beautiful beach resorts in the Gambia. This will include return flight from Heathrow airport in London direct to Banjul airport – a total of about six hours flight on either British Airways, Thompson Airways, Air France, or any of the other top, well-known airlines.
The £500 holiday package also includes free breakfast, access to Wi-Fi, and other amenities designed for a relaxing and enjoyable holiday in the Gambia. The cheapest return flight from London to Freetown via Paris or Amsterdam may cost about £600, excluding hotel accommodation.
With the Gambian Dalasi exchanging at 62 Dalasi to One British Pound and the Leone exchanging at Eleven Thousand Leones to a Pound, this should theoretically make holidaying in Sierra Leone much cheaper, but the economic reality on the ground is such that the reverse is sadly true.
There is no doubt the government of Sierra Leone must do more to improve the tourism sector to compete with countries like the Gambia. But today’s decision to abolish visa application overseas – though a step in the right direction, would require other policy decisions such as reducing airport taxes and opening up negotiations with international tourist operators, if the government is to increase visitor numbers to Sierra Leone.
Some cynics are saying that the only reason the government has today stopped the sale of entry visas at Sierra Leone’s Embassies and High Commssions, is simplty to curb orruption and to directly raise revenue for the central purse.