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Sierra Leone is not often associated with tourism, let alone Responsible Tourism , however I have found, in the past four months being on the field, working actively on tourism development projects, that the tourism industry here is on the verge of an explosion in development, and the potential for developing responsible tourism within the industry is immense.
To illustrate this, I thought I would share with you some of the activities I have been involved in over the past few months.
The first two months of being here, I worked with an international tour operator specialised in expedition products () to recce the Moa River to find out whether it was possible to navigate the whole stretch, from the Guinea Border to the Atlantic Ocean, by foot and dugout canoe. This was successful, and led to me being the “cultural attaché” and “Expedition leader assistant” to the official expedition. I took the opportunity to make sure that responsible tourism ethics were part-and-parcel of the experience. We were visiting communities that had for the most part had very little contact with Westerners, let alone received tourists as guests.
I then concentrated on the main purpose for me being here. To work, on a voluntary basis, with a Wildlife Sanctuary as an “ecotourism product development and marketing consultant”. This has been a great opportunity to put into practice the knowledge and skills I am gaining from the Responsible Tourism Management MSc I am currently studying on a part-time, long distance basis. The Local Economic Development module I am currently undertaking has been an eye opener to the possibilities of involving local communities in tourism activities to produce meaningful social and net economic benefits with a long-term goal of sustainable additional livelihood generation.
I have just had a friend over whose job is to creatively design spaces with communities in mind and she is putting forward a proposal to upgrade facilities in the visitors centre with an emphasis on community involvement in the construction and maintenance, to provide regular benefits to local communities.
I have just finished my second community consultation meetings recently and am now firmly committed to producing an ecotourism management plan for the local communities so that they can manage the project’s tourism activities, but with local NGOs acting in a consultancy capacity for marketing, capacity building and management purposes.
I am also working with the National Tourism Board of Sierra Leone to develop a tour involving local communities surrounding Tiwai to generate additional income and opportunities for them as part of Sierra Leone's drive to develop ecotourism products. This, luckily, coincides with the LED MSc assignment I will be handing in at the end of April.
On top of this, I have been asked by various NGOs to carry out ecotourism product development feasibility studies around the country, but unfortunately I do not have time to commit to these activities until I have fulfilled by current responsibilities and commitments.
This is why I am trying to create linkages between ICRT and NJALA University to start an ICRT Sierra Leone, to inspire more of the younger generations to become RT practitioners in their own country.
The opportunities are such, that I am even considering creating a tour company that focusses on introducing the large expat and NGO worker communities to the country they work in through outdoor activities (camping, bush-walking, river excursions, fishing, community visits) with RT principles deeply engrained in the company’s ethos. Watch this space!
Thomas Armitt is a current student on the MSc in Responsible Tourism Management