Budget Shortfall? Go Tourism
The wind tickled my armpits as I stretched my arms while the bike sped on the Chinese built road in the township of Caldwell. The road and Chinese imported solar street lights have resuscitated this once sleepy township from the brink of boredom. With the exception of the towering skyscrapers and bright lights, this township is bustling with people as businesses sprout up like grass from the soil.
As we sped past the bustling area of Caldwell into the quiet and picturesque township of Louisiana, the sun sets over the St. Paul River. I was overwhelmed by the scenery of this township that no one talks about or cares about. The picturesque view of the sunset over the St. Paul is captivating to the eye.
The famous St. Paul River talked about in Liberian history books which divides Louisiana from the settlement of Millsburg. On market day, people bring their goods via canoe from Millsburg to sell. The canoe is overloaded, which is quite perilous to their safety but they are apathetic and upbeat about getting their produce to the market. On a typical market day, there are delicacies such as bamboo worms. Then there is the sprawling but crumbling southern style mansion of esteemed Liberian historian, C. Abayomi Cassell which is nearly lost, thanks to the grasses as they have a field day.
And from all indications, this township seems like a gold mine, literally. Riding into Louisiana, the first thing that meets the eye, besides the St. Paul River, is the sight of the gargantuan machines used for crushing rocks to build roads in Monrovia and surrounding parts. Ironically, the road which is used to convey the rocks to parts of Monrovia is in dire straits.
As I disembarked the motorcycle, a thorough gaze tells me that this historic township and many others has the propensity to contribute immensely to government budget via tourism in the midst of a budget shortfall. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from The Gambia, a small but rapidly developing country.
According to the National Planning Commission of the Gambia, the tourism industry in The Gambia, although small, is a major contributor to that country's economy, contributing 16% of the GDP, supporting over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, earning $39 million in foreign exchange.
Unlike Liberia whose tourism office is a mere desk embedded within the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, The Gambia Tourism Authority (GTA) is an an autonomous agency with the goal to make The Gambia "a world class tourist destination and business centre." And truly, they are at it. The crocodile pool in Kachikali and the Bijilo Forest park are just some of the many touristic areas that are flagging the tourism industry in The Gambia.
Sounds untrue??? Take a trip to The Gambia and you'll probably whoa at the multitudes of foreigners as they seem to outnumber the Gambians. Matter of fact, the Gambians have created a tourism master plan to the year 2020.
Coming back to home, What does Gambia have that Liberia does not?
From the Kpatawee Falls in Bong County to the Sapo National Park in Sinoe County and the surfing beaches in Grand Cape Mount and Maryland Counties, it's obvious that tourism is beckoning to us with open arms but yet we are refusing to embrace him. By the way, a recent video by a foreign media outlet labeled Liberia as a "Surfing Mecca."
As tourism beckons to us, there are quite still a few things we need to do. There needs to be a legislation so that tourism department, which falls under the Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism, can become an autonomous agency of its own and perhaps a major revenue arm of the government. Lest we forget, if tourism is to be taken seriously, there has to be a meticulously crafted blueprint for tourism because tourism reduces poverty through earnings, employment and productivity.