A United States tour group, the National Geographic Explorer of one hundred and fifty (150) tourists that is on a 33-night cultural voyage from South Africa to Morocco, on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, ended a two-day visit to Liberia; the largest tourist group to visit the country since the late 1970s, according to records from the Freeport of Monrovia and the Ministry of Information, Culture & Tourism. The tourists, including historians, scientists, naturalists and cultural experts, arrived Monday, April 16, 2012, on board the prestigious National Geographic Explorer Cruise liner at the Freeport of Monrovia.
The tourists were met on arrival by Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, who, on behalf of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, welcomed the international guests.
Before their next leg of journey to Sierra Leone Tuesday, April 17, 2012, the tourists were taken to some historical areas in Monrovia by local guides of host company, Barefoot Safari. Some areas the tourists visited included: the Ducor Hotel, National Museum, Obaa Girls School and the Executive Pavilion, among others.
Barefoot Safari is a local tour company specialized in Liberian travel experiences, from which the tourists purchased Liberian artifacts and other cultural materials at the Freeport.
Speaking to journalists at the Freeport following the tour, two of the tourists, Madam Denise Stafford, an American, and a US-based 77 years old Swiss, Madam Reina van Messel, expressed excitement of being in Liberia, because they said it was their first time in the country. They said while Liberia was picking up in rebuilding having gone through civil conflict, the country has tourism potential; something they said will be their main message back home. “We will tell others to come and see for themselves the tourism potentials in Liberia,” they maintained.
Mr. Sven-Olof Lindblad, Founder of the Expeditions told journalists that during their planning, they deemed it necessary to include Liberia due to several reasons including the long-standing connection between Liberia and the United States; to learn about Liberia’s history; to meet Liberians, and to see how Liberians are working to recover from the years of war, among others.
The Founder of Barefoot Safari, Seanan Denizot, who has organized the tourists’ visit said, since she began working in the Liberian tourism, her aim has always been to share with the world the beauty, culture and history of Liberia, working at changing negative perceptions and encouraging travelers to come to and experience the country for themselves. She added: “This is a huge step for Liberia, to further prove the readiness and the ability of the Liberian economy to share with the world all that Liberia has to offer. We’re excited to be part of the moment to change Liberia’s image and its future, following the footsteps of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”
According to Seanan, Barefoot Safari tours help visitors to see the hard work Liberians have put into shaking off the past image of Liberia’s violent and drawn out civil war. While tourism is still a fresh concept in Liberia, she intoned that “Barefoot Safari is making a real impact that could help bring more tourist dollars into the country and they hope that the National Geographic’s visit will encourage more travelers to visit this extraordinary country.”
Cellcom Liberia is the official sponsor of Barefoot Safari’s work in Liberia, as part of its strong and continuous support to culture and arts in the country.
In the past, the National Geographic cruise has travelled the Indian Ocean and the East Coast of Africa on its off-season but increasing threats of piracy have led the Expeditions Director to search out new attractions and West Africa diversity, wildlife and culture offer an epic alternative.
Moreover, as terrorism drives tourists away from other traditional African destinations such as Mali and Kenya, travel agents and pioneer tourists are turning to new and unexplored sites; and the second round of peaceful elections, coupled with the winning of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize by President Sirleaf and Activist Leymah Gbowee has given Liberia a limelight, which tourists are keen to explore.