Madam Memunatu Pratt, newly appointed Minister of Tourism and Culture has blasted what she referred to as the fake classification of hotels by the National Tourist Board (NTB) under the previous regime.
The minister, who was highlighting challenges and plans to revamp the sector, said she has realized that the NTB is ill-equipped and lacks the prerequisite capacity to properly standardize and classify hotels in accordance with international standards.
She noted that according to the Board’s previous classification, few of the hotels are rated as 3 Star and one as 4 Star, adding that the wrong classification of hotels has the potential of undermining the tourism industry.
Among her plans to improve the sector, she said is: to invest in tour buses, build capacity of Tourist Board, engage hotels and guest house owners, package domestic tourism, invest in small boats and create avenue for the creation of alternative power supply (solar energy) to hotels and others in the tourism industry.
She also spoke about her 5 years strategic plan for the industry, which includes the creation of a National Commission on Entertainment Culture and Arts, completion of the Cultural Village, address issues of Lumley Beach front view, embark of public education on tourism and culture, setting up of a media, IT and community engagement departments, review the tourism and cultural laws, review previous contracts signed, develop tourist sites and to address issues affecting the well-being of the National Dance Troupe.
She also threw light on other approaches she intends using to revamp the sector including, revenue mobilization, engage partners to invest in the industry, improve on the operations of tour guards, constructive dialogue with hotel owners on the way forward, motivate staff of the ministry and to attract investors to invest in sea transportation and for the establishment of at least 20 bed rooms guest houses, especially at Bunce and Bonthe Islands receptively.
She also bemoaned what she described as the deplorable and dilapidated status of the National School of Hotel and Tourism, which she said among other things, lacks up-to-date curriculum and staffing.
In a bid to upgrade the school, the minister disclosed that she has signed a 3 year contract with a Dutch based institution to help the school with staffing, standardize curriculum and to assist with other expertise that would help to transform the hospitality industry.
She also spoke about plans to collaborate with the University of Sierra Leone for the introduction of a BA course in tourism with the aim of improving the capacity of those working in the industry.
Madam Pratt further expressed disappointment over the nonpayment of tax by some government owned hotels including Bintumani Hotel, Cape Sierra Hotel, Lungi Airport Hotel and Radison Blu, while dilating on moves to standardize the airport hotel to serve flight crew for the purpose of changing their dresses and to as well prepare food for them.
The minister similarly spoke about other challenges affecting the industry, including the difficulty in acquiring Sierra Leone visa, astronomical cost of landing flight fees, expensive cost of air tickets, lack of information about tourist attraction sites in the country and low budgetary allocation to the ministry among others.