Monrovia- Many times, Liberian governments have complained about inadequate funding to carry on necessary developmental activities as well to fund governmental expenses, however, some of these funds we often seek from donors and international partners can be generated right in our backyard from a major sector we overlook: The Tourism Sector. Our Chief Executive Officer and Senior Editor takes an in depth look into how the Liberian Tourism Sector can be a treasure for Liberia’s economy.
The physical features of Liberia is something that is enviable to many countries of the world. Beautiful rivers and lakes, plus thousands of miles of coastline and natural islands are stamps on Liberia’s beauty. Thousand of miles of forest, rich with natural habitat lies in the southeastern region of the country, while physical land features and qualities are ingredients of the country’s beauty that can’t be ignore. The country in essence, sits on a treasure that if attention is given, will relieve the present and future governments of some of her financial difficulties.
In 2017, Kenya generated US$1.2 billion from her tourism industry, a 9.8 percent growth from 2016, and 20.3 percent growth in the previous year. Kenya over the years has been able to consolidate her natural attractions, improved it, and made it attractive to tourists from all around the world. 11 percent of Kenya’s employment comes from her tourism industry, and the United States and the United Kingdom boast of the highest tourists to the country, at 17 and 11 percent respectively. Dubai, a city-state located in the United Arab Emirates is usually mistaken as a country by itself because of its tourism industry. In 2015 alone, tourism added $36.4bn to the GDP of the United Arab Emirates, with Dubai playing a major part in that regard. The small island nation of Indonesia rakes $4.6 billion in foreign exchange income annually from its tourism industry alone. We can go on and on naming countries that are generating significant amount of revenue from their tourism industries, however, Liberia needs to take cue from those countries. Most of those countries don’t even have the natural scenery and habitat we have, yet, they are making the best of of the little available to them and mostly adding artificial features.
When I arrived in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County for the first time, I thought I was in a semi-paradise. That thought did not come about because of beautiful infrastructures or well designed architectural facilities, it came about because of the beauty of the landscape surrounding the well placed Lake Piso. I was so moved by the scenery, that I insisted on spending a week; extended from just a three days trip. When I thought I saw it all, my visit to the Kpatawee Waterfall was such an amazement that I wanted to take a nap in the water. And in Tubmanburg where my mother hail from, is the Blue Lake, an artificial lake created as a result of mining activities. Just few miles from Bomi County, taking a diversion from the mean highway is the small village of Jomalbaul located near the mouth of a river, sea and a lake. It also has an Island neatly located between the lake, river and Atlantic. The beaches of Marshall are sights to behold, while the Monkey Island where the Chimpanzees once used in the testing labs in Marshall now reside is a vicinity to amaze anybody.We have the beautiful and well structured landscape of Harper and Cape Palmas in Maryland County. The biggest catch of all is the Sapo National Park located in Sinoe County.
In a report published by Flora and Fauna of Liberia, the Sapo National Park is home to several globally endangered species, including the Pygmy Hippopotamus, the African Forest Elephant, the West African Chipanzee and the Zebra Duiker. The report also states that there are lot of other species yet to be discovered. Although over the years Mining and Logging activities have threatened the area, however, in recent years, the Liberian government have been able to clear the area of miners, with logging still remaining a challenge.
Despite all the tourist attractions Liberia possesses, the country is still far from generating the adequate revenue from the tourism industry. In fact, Liberia’s tourism industry runs on a mere 5 percent of the total tourist attractions we have and the country is sitting on a revenue that would boost employment and revenue generation. If Liberia can truly consolidate all her tourist attractions, plan and invest in them, the tourism industry will be on par with the National Port Authority, if not higher, in terms of revenue generation. To have a viable tourism industry, the department of tourism needs to be removed from under the Ministry of Information and set up as a separate agency, where they will formulate laws, engage investors and develop programs that will make the Liberia Tourism attractive. A million dollar industry cannot be a mere department of another entity. In fact, over the years, the main area of concentration under the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism has been been the information component. The tourism and culture components have been dormant or almost nonexistent. If Liberia pays real attention to her tourism sector, in few years, we will be raking in hundreds of millions, if not billions. To date, Dubai who was only known as an oil rich city only gets 2 percent of its GDP from oil, with almost the rest of its income from tourism. Dubai is not even the richest city in the world, but because of its well-set-up Public Relations Strategy, it is presented like it is the wealthiest city on the planet.
It is not too late for Liberia to reset and ignite a flame in her tourism industry. Since the industry is a million dollar sector of any economy, we can start preparing for the future by firstly investing in the human resource development while restructuring. The first thing that needs to be done is for the legislature to pass a bill establishing a Ministry or Agency of Tourism which will have a complete set-up with various departments of its own. Give it the first three years to engage partners, while also carrying out adequate training of staff. In addition, the Government during that period should also do maximum Public Relations both locally and internationally while at the same time giving some few years of tax breaks to would be investors. The Public Relations aspect is one of the most important part of tourism, and even with all the money Kenya, Dubai and other countries make from tourism, they still spend millions on advertising and public relations. Liberia can get there. We already have the raw materials which are the natural attractions. It is about developing the skills to turn them into finished products, which is restructuring, training, investments, etc. Only the right mentality can get us there.