FREETOWN (AFP) - Sierra Leone on Friday launched a $3 million (2.5 million euro) project funded by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to help develop its tourism sector, officials said.
The head of the National Tourism Board, Cecil Williams said: "The fund will be used to formulate an eco-tourism policy and action plan for Sierra Leone and review the Development of Tourism Act."
"The board will work closely with the tourism ministry in designing and developing policies that will guide the tourism sector."
Eleven years after the end of a civil war which made the country synonymous with machete-wielding rebels and "blood diamonds", Sierra Leone is trying to lure tourists back.
With its rich history as a re-settled slave colony, unique wildlife and bone-white sand beaches, the country attracted up to 100,000 tourists a year before the war began in 1991.
In 2011 this figure was 52,000, only 20 percent of whom were real tourists and not in the country on business, according to the tourism board.
The government plans to focus on upmarket, eco-tourism and drawing keen interest from investors and big hotel groups.
The WTO fund will be used to develop the wildlife-rich Tiwai Island, golden River Number 2 beach and Banana Island to the west of the capital as well as the Tacuguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the heart of lush Freetown.
"We appreciate the financial support which will boost the tourism sector to make Sierra Leone an attractive destination," Tourism Minister Victoria Saidu Kamara told journalists.
The funds come from the WTO's Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), a donor programme to help the world's least developed countries play a greater role in the global trading system and promote sustainable development.