Radisson Blu, Freetown, Thursday 13 August 2020 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio today announced Le 4.8 billion ($US 480,016) to support the tourism and hospitality sectors for the revenues and jobs they lost since the COVID-19 pandemic in March this year.
“There is general unease that we are on a slippery slope to probably never recovering that sector for as long as COVID 19 persists…So I want to start by challenging us all to build upon the optimism that we expressed in the New Direction manifesto that we can make tourism a key growth sector of our economy. We believed then and we believe now that while showcasing the great beauty and heritage of our nation, we could create jobs and get substantial revenue.
“We argued that we could do so by (i) improving the policy and legal environment; (ii) developing tourism sites and products; (iii) developing tourism infrastructure; (iv) improving, promoting, and marketing our country’s unique image as a safe site for great tourism experiences; (v) developing skills that serve the tourism sector, and (vi) diversifying our tourism products,” he said.
The President further informed the gathering of the collaboration of the Ministry with the National Tourist Board and the Hotel and Tourism Association to collect and collate data on tourist establishments and workers in that sector – from hotels, beach bars, casinos, and nightclubs.
“Based on the data collected, I am therefore pleased to announce that my Government has allocated Four billion, Eight hundred and eighty-three million, Eight hundred and forty thousand Leones (Le4,883,840,000.00) to the hospitality sector as Social Safety Net Wage Bill support. This is a three-month wage compensation package that will serve a total of 2,363 workers in the hospitality sector.
“This amount is meant to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and reduce the economic burden on workers in tourism. It will be distributed equally and fairly right across the entire country to every Sierra Leonean who was registered, irrespective of region, ethnicity, and gender. So whether you are in Makeni, Port Loko, Bo, Kenema, Kabala, Freetown, as long as you fall within the bracket earlier described by the Honourable Minister, you will receive your fair and equal share,” he said.
President Bio also noted that his government had started addressing key sector challenges at a very early stage of the pandemic, with the support of the World Bank, adding that that collaboration resulted in the development of a Strategic Tourism Development Master Plan, a National Tourism Marketing Strategy, an Island Tourism Development Policy, a Tourism and Wildlife Development Policy, an Accommodation Standards and Classification Manual, and an Investor Perception Survey among other initiatives.
“International tour operators have shown a more than keen interest in Sierra Leone tourism. To recount some of our successes over the last one year, we received a group of 300 Danish tourists; the cross-border Budapest-Bamako Rally with over 700 participants terminated here; and a significant number of African-Americans, Gullahs, traced their ancestral roots to Sierra Leone.
“Tourist arrivals surged up by 40% to 107,000 arrivals and tourists spent an estimated US$63 million in the Sierra Leone economy. Bed capacity and occupancy increased with new tourism facilities and the Lumley beach stretch has been developed by locals, creating thousands of jobs for Sierra Leoneans. There is also increased domestic tourism and increased interest in domestic tourist sites from waterfalls to islands and nature reserves and habitats. Recently, the Mambo Waterfalls has become a site of fascination and recreation,” he said.
Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, catalogued a host of safety net programmes already being implemented by the New Direction Government as part of its social safety net agenda, which included cash transfer, school feeding programs, and increasing the minimum wage. He said they had also supported bailouts to critical agencies that had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Madam Memunatu Pratt, thanked the President for tremendously choosing tourism as one of the growth sectors for the diversification of the country’s economy. She said that the launch of the safety net would help to alleviate the level of poverty, especially for those affected.
President of Hotel Association, Johnny Shallop, said that although their industry was drastically affected by the COVID-19, they were thankful to the government for the intervention and in easing the effects of the pandemic on them. He expressed gratitude to the President and his government for the initiative and their commitment to the tourism industry.
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