Sierra Leone government Declares Visa on Arrival to woo tourists and encourage home-coming

Sierra Leone

By Ishmael Kargbo

Discussions about making Sierra Leone accessible to the world and an ideal tourist destination have raged among Sierra Leones over the years. A lot of tourism policy propositions are still being debated vis á vis putting Sierra Leone on a par with neighbouring countries. Complaints had been lodged to successive governments about the failing embassy or consular services. The eternal visa issue had enjoyed wide currency in the discussions withib the context of international tourism promotion. But one thing which had remained conspicuously elusive in the past was a better and lasting solution to the problem of visa acquisition.

Among Sierra Leones in the diaspora who have enjoyed the luxury of generous immigration policies, which have allowed them the benefit of acquiring foreign passports, the hustle involved in obtaining a mere Sierra Leonean visa for a visit back home had sometimes been regarded as a mammoth undertaking. Inadequate information about which embassy or consular services were available, compounded by rediculously higher visa and postage fees were among the crippling issues one had to face when planning a holiday to Sierra Leone. The situation was worse for Sierra Leoneans leaving in countries where Sierra Leone has had no embassy representation at all. Consider for example, Sierra Leoneans living in the Nordic region. First, it was the frustrating calls to our High Commission in London, where no one actually knew exactly who was in charge of visa issues, neither were there fixed telephone hours for visa enquiries. But as indegenes of Sierra Leone have had to undertake this visa adventure, choice was and is still non existent when it comes to going back home. With unbearable nostalgia, feeling our hearts, the need to make up for lost and precious time with family members urges one to endure the ordeal. One must vacation in Mamma Salone, even at a bitter cost. But imagine if it were that difficult for Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to obtain a visa from our embasies and consulates, how much more could it have been for non Sierra Leoneans?

When the current administration of Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio assumed the driving seat of government affairs, he sounded very optimistic and ambitious about real reform within the most promissing economic sector of the country-the tourism industry. The need for urgent and substantive actions to woo international tourists was palpable in the president’s maiden speach in parliament. The government of the ”talk and do” president, as has been dubbed by staunch party supports has strongly demonstrated the desire to go beyond political rhetoric. The realization that if Sierra Leone’s full tourism potential is to be made competitive, concrete and development prone actions have to be taken. With the new government in power the urgency and prominence of the visa issue resurged in the cyber tourism debate. This time though, the issue seems to have gained priority, and the government has demonstrably understood that making Sierra Leone attractive to tourists and diasporas implies a tandem process of making the country accessible to all. The announcement of the government’s new visa policy on arrival was perhaps the most welcoming news from Sierra Leoneans in recent days, and it is no surprise that the news has receive overwhelming acclaim. This is definitely a big administrative score for the Bio led government.

Easy access to a countries visa is the most perfect lure that catches the attention of tourists scanning the world wild web for their dream vacation. It is one of the fundamentals of tourism development and destination marketing. To know about Sierra Leone, is to be able to gain legal access to the country. And tourism promotion would be meaningless, unless visa restrictions are eliminated.

While it could be argued that the declaration of the new visa on arrival policy may have tentatively eclipsed all other issue relating to the tourism sector in Sierra Leone, it is a giant leap towards the ultimate goal of stimulating interest for the rapidly evolving tourism landscape in the country. With a visa on arrival policy in place, hope is renewed for Sierra Leone’s tourism industry, and a huge burden has been lifted off the shoulders of Sierra Leoneans in the dispora and tourists alike.

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