Tourism And Tourispreneurship: An Untapped Economic Power Engine of Liberia
Liberia is geographically located on the Western Coast of the African continent. It is topographically known and earmarked for its natural environment and untapped ecosystem heavens and biodiversity hotspots. It possesses the largest and the remaining rain forest in the region with approximately 42% of the Upper Guinea Rain Forest with almost 350 Km coastline. Liberia’s weather is the friendliest throughout the year.
By By Dr. Mory Sumaworo, (BA, MCL, Cert. PFM Law, Ph.D.), Contributing Writer
The country hosts species that are rarely found in any part of the World. However, its tourism sector has less to offer and contribute to the revenue basket and creating job opportunity to mitigate the alarming unemployment rate because the sector has not been highly regarded by the government and the private investment as it should be. If advantage is taken of Liberia’s vast and untouched tourism sector, it will not only create billions of dollars opportunities for the nation, but it will be a major tool to boost its international image and reposition itself among the comity of nations as the most admired tourist spot and destination.
Liberia is abandonedly rich natural capital with high touristic potentials; the natural attraction it is endowed with can make it richer and more self-reliant even without or with less Official Development Aid (ODA) from the wreathy nations.
Unfortunately, no one knows about these high touristic areas but few both in and outside Liberia; The East Nimba Natural Reserve and SAPO National Park. Both are homes to rare birds, and a high diversity of mammals such as monkeys, antelopes, elephants and the country’s national symbol, the pigmy hippopotamus. Also, GOLA Forest Park in Lofa County, Wegan waterfalls, Mount Nimba Strait Preserves, Lake Piso, Elizabeth Village in Grand Bassa Country, Libassa Ecolodge in Margibi County are some of the nation’s treasures. In addition, Liberia has also remarkable historical and cultural assets and reserve such as the Providence Island ( Dozoa) or the land of in the center of water in Gola language, it is a place where the Free Slaves from the United States landed in 1820s. The Island in addition to its historical relevance, it is also characterized by both hydrological and geophysical features. The multilingual, multicultural, and multireligious composition and chemistry of Liberia position it as well as an attractive spot for cultural tourism. Indeed, these features are great touristic assets, if the country strategically capitalize on them.
POTENTIAL SOCIOECONOMIC REWARDS OF LIBERIA’S TOURISM SECTOR:
Having said that Liberia is endowed with a very favorable tourism potential, it is, therefore, cognizant to point out some of the socioeconomic rewards and dividends that might be yielded from this viable sector if it’s considered and treated as an economic power engine. Some of the benefits are underscored and highlighted as follows:
STRENGTHENING DOMESTIC RESOURCE MOBILIZATION (DRM):
Liberia has been over the years heavily aid-dependent economy. Though, it has the potentiality to sharply reduce its reliance on foreign aid to carry out its development programs. Tourism can help and will help the nation to generate billions of dollars to sustainably keep its economy working. Encouraging and creating agreeable and decent environment for tourism will certainly make Liberia a hotspot a through-out-the-year tourist destination. And of course, tourists touch all sectors of the economy; accommodation, transportation, food, entertainment, education, research; academic tourism and cultural interaction. In other words, almost everybody and every institution both social and commercial can get their stake and share from a well-functioning tourism sector in Liberia. In the end, they have to pay their fair share to the government’s revenue basket. Therefore, encouraging, promoting and investing in what I call TOURISPRENEURSHIP will serve as a big relief for the government already-tight budget in the midst of its highly competing priorities and much- needed development programs. TOURISPRENEURSHIP is a concept that focuses on promoting software and hardware components of tourism sector. The software component is meant in this context, preparing human capital and instituting policies and laws to attract investments into the sector. On the other hands, hardware component is all about building physical infrastructures leading to natural tourist sites such as roads, bridges and other needed facilities. It is also comprising of artificial or man-made tourist sites such as modern parks, shopping centers resorts and the likes .
Besides, other African economies are doing very well in the tourism sector. According to some statistics, Kenya in 2019 attracted 5.6 percent of tourists and generated more than US$1.62 billion with 1.1 million jobs for citizens. Rwanda is targeting US$800 million from tourism between now and 2023, a sector that serves as one of the main sources of income for that East African country. The Gambia also relies on tourism, from which, this West African country gets 16 to 20 percent of its income. Meanwhile, Liberia is yet to reap from its rich tourism sector as it has do. This is due to institutional and marketing flaws; some the nation’s tourist sites are not properly marketed as it should have. So, it is recommended to the government and other relevant authorities to commerce reconsidering those flaws.
STIMULATING INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT:
Talking about positive economic impacts of tourism without considering prerequisites to the effective tourism sector is a daylight dreams and a failure in planning that inevitably leads a failure. Infrastructural development is a key component of the package to boost tourism in any country, and Liberia is not exceptional to this rule. Meanwhile, the infrastructure in this context has a broader connotation; it includes building and preparing human capital, especially in hospitality, customer service, historical explanation, special security force for the sector and so on. It also includes, of course physical construction of facilities such as road connectivity, building and upgrading airports, recreation centres, shopping centres, electricity, good healthcare facilities and so on. If the nation’s tourism sector is put into work, it will directly or indirectly contribute and stimulate the relevant authorities from both the private and public sectors to invest in infrastructural development. Hence, a gradual sustainable development will be noticed in Liberia and its derelict infrastructures will commerce to improve and standardize.
Liberia struggles with high rate of unemployment, especially among its youthful demography. It is also claiming our attention that because of the weak private sector that includes the tourism also plays a major role in job-scarcity. It is worth noting that the nation’s already-tight budget is being mainly consumed by recrement expenditure (RE) leaving the capital or public sector investments (PSIs) in a very disadvantaged condition. That is, over 85% of the annual budget has been allotted to RE for the last several years or decades. However, if the tourism sector is economically activated and invested in, it will create thousands of job opportunities for Liberians and reduce the burden on the central government. Thus, the budgetary allotment would be fairly and transparently distributed between RE and PSIs. At the end of day, the country would start witnessing massive investments in education, healthcare, road infrastructures, agricultures and others, because these are main and prime areas for PSIs.
DECENTRALIZATION OF THE ECONOMY:
Promoting tourism can open up the heavily centralized economy of Liberia. Almost, 90% of commercial and non-commercial activities are being MONROVIANIZED or Monrovia-based. This has persuaded urban migration and led to abandonment of other resource-rich counties from contributing to the economy as they should. The prime victim of the said heavily centralized economy structure in Liberia is the agricultural sector; everything good is the only available in Monrovia, the Capital City of Liberia as a result of that majority of Liberians have migrated to the cities and disliked farming and agriculture because it has never been made attractive due to under-development of rural areas. To connect the argument with the discussion, if tourism is invested in and prioritized, other cities and rural areas will start sensing their economic relevance in terms of having basic infrastructures, hotels, recreation centers, commercial hubs among others; these facilities are paramount to vibrant tourist-friendly cities and destinations. Eventually, the economy would start to expand and decentralize which is the best form of the economic structure of nations.
DIRECT ECONOMIC BENEFIT FOR THE LOCAL PEOPLE:
Liberia is not only nature-rich country, but it is also a culturally rich. Multiculturalism, ethnic diversity and religious pluralism serve as a social capital for the local people to reap and earn incomes from the tourism sector; getting a direct economic return from these diversities. The cultural sites, practices and exhibitions are in abundance in country. And people traveling from all over the World to visit such historical areas and eye cultural heritage is assured to put money into the pocket of the local people. The same can be done in Liberia.
Having underscored the economic relevance of the tourism sector for Liberia’s development growth, it is pertinent to effectuate, activate and realize the above-mentioned socioeconomic rewards and returns from the nation’s tourism sector. In addition, it is highly commended to legislate laws and introduce policies with the purpose to promote and encourage investment in and exploring the tourism sector. In the light of this, the recent Bi-Partisan tourism bill, sponsored by Montserrado County District #8 Representative Acarous Moses Gray, and Bomi County District #1 Representative Edwin Melvin Snow has been received applaud and appreciation by tourism activists, economic stimulation optimists and TOURISPRENEURSHIP futurists. The bill seeks to give an autonomous status to the sector so that it can be concentratedly managed and independently budgeted. It is, however, unbelievable for a country like Liberia with a great tourism potential to have only US4000 allotment according to 2019/2020 fiscal budget. Such a vibrant economic sector does not deserve this. Something has to be done to resuscitate and revivify the sector.