Sector Overview

Tucked away on the Atlantic  ocean,  Sierra Leone is a splendid  combination of 570 km of beautiful  white sand beaches, vibrant tropical  forests  teaming with exotic  wildlife and breathtaking  mountains  that  serve as the backdrop to what is  an  extremely  unique  tourist  experience in West Africa.  Sierra Leone is only 6 hours  away from  Europe,  8  hours from the US and  3 hours from  West Africa’s  largest  city,  Lagos.  There are endless possibilities in the tourism sector given the diverse ecology of Sierra Leone, proximity to international hubs and an untapped natural beauty that can rival any location in the world.

Some  of  the   world’s  endangered  species of  monkeys,  baboons, birds,  butterflies,  pygmy  hippos and a variety of antelopes  and  buffalo families can be found  in  the  tropical  forests.  The temperate weather is ideal  for swimming and  other water  sports   along  the   established  beach  areas  that  are mainly being  run and  developed  by  local communities. Sierra Leone is also considered the premier location for sport fishing with record setting tarpon catches.  It is also a hiker’s paradise with gorgeous mountain ranges like Bintumani. Furthermore, the country offers    visitors  its  historic  heritage  and  is  a site  for  cultural tourism  as many  African  Americans  can  trace their  roots  back to   Sierra Leone  including  well
known celebrities  like  Issiah  Washington.  Sierra Leone’s greatest asset is its warm and friendly people that are the true representation of the laid back feel of this West African gem.

The tourism sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. It generates almost US$ 4 trillion dollars annualtourism2 and represents   about 10% of the World GDP.  Globally, this sector employs over 230 million people.  Sierra Leone is poised to become a major player in global tourism and is expected to be competitive with other popular tourist hot
spots in Africa such as Gambia and Seychelles given the plethora of sites and activities that can be enjoyed by visitors.

The deadly EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) significantly reduced the number of visitors to the country. However priory to that Sierra Leone’s  tourism  sector  has been   growing steadily  with revenue  growth of 10% in 2011 and it is expected  to  increase to  20%  in  the  next 5 years.   The number of first time visitors is also on the rise. Between 2010  to 2012,  there was a  19.7%  increase in visitors to  Sierra Leone  for holiday, business, conference  or  visiting  friends and family. The sector has benefited from serious policy reform by the Government to engender investment and growth.  These reforms include:

  • The development of new incentives for investors who want to invest in the  sector
  • Target  tourism  product and marketing development around the Western Peninsula
  • Further review and upgrading  of regulations  to ensure  a more competitive edge
  • The capacity building of key Government institutions related to tourism to improve service delivery.

Investment in this sector has typically been driven by domestic entrepreneurs in hotels and guest houses in the capital city of Freetown and other district headquarters as a response to the boom in the mineral sector; however, much investment has not gone into accommodations for eco-tourism which is an important sub-sector. There are lucrative prospects across the country to promote eco-tourism not only in the beach areas but the tropical forests.

There are significant commitments from private sector partners for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of existing hotels, as well as the construction of new large scale hotels in the capital city. The demand   for rooms versus the supply is mismatched.

In 2012, the demand for business and conference rooms was about 115,094 and the available supply was a paltry 49,275. The demand for Class 1 rated rooms in 2009 was 113, 679, and there was a gap of over 80,000 in unmet demand.  Even through Class 1 rated   hotels have increased from   105 to the present number of 135, it is still not enough to meet the market demands.

Further investments have been made by the Government to upgrade the airport infrastructure, expanding arrival facilities and improving security especially in the handling of baggage.

Possible areas of investment include:

  • Establishment of hotels  along  the beaches and other  eco-tourism locations  across the country
  • Establishment of hotels and  guest houses in  district  headquarter  towns  to serve the growing  private  sector  demands  for  better quality   rooms,  conference accommodations, etc
  • Promotion of cultural  tourism (ROOTS Tourism ) for the African American  Diaspora and others interested in this sub sector

Market Readiness

Several large chains and other investors have already entered the Sierra Leonean market based on the projections for growth in the sector. Some of these include:

Hilton: through a UK based firm, IDEA-UK, the Hilton is reviving Cape Sierra Hotel. It is a 200 bedroom hotel with an estimated investment value of US $ 47 million.

Radisson Bleu: this is a joint venture between US private equity investor and the National Pension fund of Sierra Leone (NASSIT) to rehabilitate and operate the Radisson Mammy Yoko.

Savoy Hotels: is an African hotel management group owning and managing hotels in South Africa. The company has partnered with Sam-King Group in Sierra Leone to operate and expand the Taia Resort Hotel in Freetown.

Brookfields Hotel:  this is a state owned hotel with 100 rooms. Government envisions that it will upgraded to a 3 star facility and also serve as a training institute for the Tourism and Hospitality sector.

Konakridee (MAPE Project): A beautiful resort environment with a variety of recreational activities. Located close to the Lungi International Airport, the project will include a beach hotel (such as villas and chalets), presidential accommodation.

Eco Tourism

Outamba Kilimi National Park:  The main Ecotourism attraction in the Northern Province is Outamba-kilimi National Park. A mixture of Savannah and jungle, the Park is found in the northeast of Kamakwie in the Bombali District. It is a magical place embedded between two rivers, the Great Scarcies, and the Mongo Rivers. It is home to elephants, hippos, leopards and other primates.

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary: This outfit is locally owned and operated as a home for rescued chimps before they are released into the wild.

Tiwai Island Wildlife Resort: Tiwai is a unique rainforest island where visitors can camp in prepared tents surrounded by an evergreen forest and the sounds of horn-bills and monkeys calling from the canopies woke you up in the early hours of the morning.  With 11 species of primates, over 135 different bird species, and it is   home to the rare pygmy hippo.

Shebro Islands: This is one of the premier locations for Sport fishing of Tarpons and other exotic sea animals.

Gola Forest: It is known as Sierra Leone’s green diamond. Some 40km east of Kenema is the Gola Rainforest National Park, officially opened in 2010 and only Sierra Leone’s second national park.  This park can boast of exotic flora and fauna and wildlife and is one of the few protected parks in the sub-region.

Wonderful Beaches

River No 2 Beach: A stunning white sand beach that feeds into river is one of the most beautiful sites in Sierra Leone.  Development and use of the beach facility is currently being run by   the community.

Lakka Beach:  This beach is very close to Freetown and it is great location for business retreats and conferences.

Tokeh Beach:  This is an ideal location for beach resorts given its picturesque sea front views and accessibility for development.

Cultural Tourism

Bunce Island: This is the location of the slave castle built in the 17th century that was used as a collection point for slaves going to Europe and the Americas. Many African Americans can trace their roots to this site.

Freetown: Home of the freed slaves, it was founded in 1789.   Freetown today has an interesting mix of different heritages from across West Africa and Sierra Leone itself.  Some of its monuments that can be  trace back many years such as Old Fourah Bay College ( the  first University in Sub-Saharan Africa) and  Old Warf Steps also known as Freedom steps which is where the first freed slaves  stepped foot on Sierra Leonean soil. Further, there is a vibrant night life that many visitors enjoy mostly located around the beach areas.

Investment Opportunities 

Existing Opportunities

Tokeh Sand Beach Resort

This project is an existing resort on over 2-acres of land. They are building about 50 bungalows with full amenities such as a spa and gym for high end tourists. There are opportunities for investment partners to expand the project to feed growing demand.

Eden Park Resort

This facility is already operational and sits on 5 acres of prime beach front property in Mamah Beach.  The investors are looking to expand the facilities through a joint partnership to meet international standards and growing demand and it is expected to cost approximately US $1 1.7 million.

New Opportunities

Business Hotels

There is a growing demand for business class hotels. Currently, the demand is not being met and in 2014 alone, there was an unmet demand by corporate visitors to the tune of 180,000 room nights or 493 rooms.

Recreational Hotels and Resorts

Projections indicate that the tourism sector is expected to boom in Sierra Leone and  its contribution to the GDP which was about  6%  in 2012 is expected to  remain at this high  based on the increased  amount of visitors coming to Sierra Leone and their   spending  capacity. In an effort to pre-empt the boom and ensure market positioning,   this is a   good period to invest in non-business recreational facilities especially for group tourism.

Middle level Hotels and Motels

With the growth of the mining sector in Sierra Leone there is an increased need for accommodation for expatriates coming into the country on short term assignments.  These types of accommodations will serve the market outside of Freetown which is where most of the mining activities are taking place.

Tour Package Operations

This concept will allow for investors to take the hassle out of travelling which is a major hindrance for Sierra Leone as a tourist destination by integrating airline travel, inland transportation, accommodation, activities and insurance in one package. There are local partners trying to operate in this space and are looking for strategic international partners with the financial and technical capacity to break open this market. Furthermore, these packages could feature ‘roots’ tourism deals which is a major pull factor in Sierra Leone and a unique experience given that many of the heritage sites have been well preserved.

Golfing Facilities

There are opportunities based on preliminary market feasibility studies in operating golfing facilities in Sierra Leone. The studies showed that 6,000 travellers from Scandinavian countries would be willing to golf in Sierra Leone due to complementary sunlight.  Furthermore, there are opportunities for hosting regional golf competitions that can be coincide with National cultural events such as the Lantern Parade in April.

Water Sports Facilities

A beautiful coastline provides the opportunity for a host of water sports during the dry season such as boating, jet skiing, fishing, etc.

Investment Incentives

The following investment incentives listed below apply to investments that involve construction, extension, restoration or renovation of a hotel or tourist facility; with a minimum of 50 en-suite bedrooms in the Western Area or 10   en-suite bedrooms in any other part of the country.

  1. 5 years exemption from corporate tax, limited to 150 percent of eligible expenditures of the original capital invested
  2. Duty free for new construction, extension or renovation of existing tourism related facilities ; applicable to building materials, machinery, or equipment that is not easily available in Sierra Leone
  3. Exemption from payroll taxes for 3 years for up to six non-citizen employees with skills not available in the country.
  4. 125% deduction on  tourism promotion expense internationally
  5. Business may import competent expatriates