When I arrived in Sierra Leone six weeks ago and encountered its friendly people, spectacular beaches, lively nightlife and mysterious traditions, I wondered why the country has so few tourists (in our six weeks we have met a total of three, with three or four other possible but unconfirmed sightings).
It didn’t take long to find out. A nation that should be eager to attract tourists seems to be making systematic efforts to keep them out. If you were trying to make it as difficult as possible for foreigners to visit your country, I could recommend the following measures, which all work brilliantly for Sierra Leone:
- Charge an exorbitant sum for visas (£50 for a month, compared to, say, £10 for three months in Turkey, a much more tourist-friendly destination)
- Make obtaining the visa more complicated than for any of your neighbours by forcing applicants to produce a letter of invitation from a Sierra Leone national
- Encourage customs officials in the airport to be as surly as possible, and fail to punish them for extracting bribes from new arrivals for performing the simplest of procedures
- Build your airport thirty miles away from the capital city, on the opposite side of a giant river mouth, forcing visitors to cross either by helicopter, which regularly crashes, or ferry, which often breaks down or sinks. Make sure, too, that the ferry departure times do not coincide with incoming flights, so that your visitors will have to wait for hours in the burning sun (you will of course already have ensured there is no shade at the dock)
- Allow dozens of hustlers to converge on new arrivals as they exit the airport, giving preference to pickpockets and con merchants
- Refuse to harness the torrential rain in the rainy season to provide water and electricity to visitors at any time of year. This will ensure they cannot take respite from the heat with the help of fans, cold drinks, air-conditioning or showers. It will also mean restaurants and food stores will be unable to refrigerate food, thereby increasing the risk that your visitor will fall sick
- In the event that he does fall sick, make sure you spend none of the billiions of pounds of aid you receive on building effective hospitals or recruiting competent doctors to treat him
- Make your public transport system as slow and uncomfortable as possible, by failing to maintain vehicles so that they break down often, waiting until they are full before departing hours behind schedule, and packing two people into seats designed for one
- Enhance the effect of the above by allowing roads paid for by foreign donors to deteriorate and then failing to fill in the hundreds of resultant potholes
- Should a tourist somehow manage to shrug off these obstacles and apply for a visa extension (you have no psychiatric hospitals to house him, of course), redouble your efforts to force him out. To do this, hire the least friendly, most corrupt people to work in your immigration department. Extort money from your visitor for a visa extension that is officially free, then smile smugly at his distress
- As a final punishment for having the cheek to visit your country despite all your efforts to stop him, charge the departing, browbeaten tourist a £50 airport tax
NB: For foreign investors, multiply your efforts tenfold.