TOURISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT: TRIBUTE TO THE “UNSUNG HEROES” CONTEXT

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Once upon a time the Gambia tourism industry was bedeviled with a range of menaces including the ever present bumster syndrome. This bumster menace caught the imagination of many a tourism stakeholder including visitors to the Smiling Coast. However, there existed a silent and conspicuous menace – indiscriminate dumping and littering of our beaches , which, though, did not make headline news as the notorious bumster menace, was equally damaging and a scar on the image of Gambia Tourism .

Series of studies conducted at the level of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, have attested to this fact, including feedback received from various visitors and tourists to the Smiling Coast, through exit surveys at the airport. This was also corroborated by the Tourism Development Master Plan study in later years and accordingly concluded that “the rating for cleanliness/environmental sanitation is clearly disappointing.” “Less than half of the sample rated it as “good “and indeed 22% rated it as ‘poor” or ‘very poor”. It went on to conclude that ‘this is an issue on which action will have to be taken by the tourism authorities”.

This was indeed a bad news, given that “over the years traditional guest concerns such as price and location have been augmented by contemporary values such as support for local communities, preference for quality services, with full commitment to  resource efficiency in terms of clean air, water and the general environment’. 

This is coupled with the fact that the beach constitute our core product, which revolves around sea, sun and sand, and consequently according to a  World Bank report coastal tourism account for more than 10 percent of GDP and sitting aside while our gorgeous beaches were being debased, was not the answer.

Environmental Challenges and the way forward

The tourism environmental challenge manifested itself in many ways, but the most visible included indiscriminate dumping around the Tourism Development Area, littering of our gorgeous beaches as well as debasing  of our beaches through sand mining and other areas frequented by our coveted guests and tourists. The need to tackle the environmental and sanitary challenges of tourism, head on, therefore became imperative.

In quest to tackle these environmental challenges once and for all, TESSU ‘Tourism Environmental Sanitation Unit” was created by the defunct National Tourist Office, with the blessing of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, shortly before the massive demolition of beach bars, as the rapid response force   and the environmental/sanitation wing of Gambia Tourism. The original function of the Unit includes, amongst others, the cleansing of the TDA on a regular basis and the clearing of the myriad of illegal dumpsites scattered across the length and breadth of the TDA  and serving as the eyes and ears of the government in its efforts to curb illegal sand mining.

The original staff complement of the Unit was very modest, due to budgetary constraints of the National Tourist Office- a hugely under resourced and understaffed office (1970 – 2001), which was set up by the Government of the day, to serve as the operational wing and liaison for tourism development and promotion even before the creation of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Augmenting the Capacity of TESSU

However, over time, the role, functions and the strength of the Unit were augmented in terms of manpower and their capacity boosted in terms of providing them with adequate tools and equipment needed to discharge their core function effectively.  This capacity strengthening intervention was undertaken by the successor to the National Tourist office- the now defunct Gambia Tourism Authority (GTA) and elevated to similar heights by the GTBOARD.

Today the unit is staffed mostly by young men and women and according to informed sources – ‘TESSU has evolved in terms of their roles’, but ‘their core function remains the upkeep of the TDA in terms of rubbish collection and clearing of unauthorized dumpsites as well as monitoring the beaches to thwart sand mining and related environmental malpractices’. 

Emerging Challenges

This role is even more crucial given the rise of the ‘back to school’/ ‘beach picnic’ syndrome - a phenomenon  by which young school going boys and girls choose the beach as a place to frolic and chill- out  especially during the long summer holidays and during weekends.

These social events attract lot of people, from diverse background, who choose the beach as their hotspot to idle away and reconnect nothing wrong with that, except the indiscriminate littering.

The task of restoring sanity in our beaches falls under the purview of the GTBoard, and invariably various measures have been put in place by the Board to control the indiscriminate littering of our beaches by the local youth folk and other users of the beach.

‘Unsung Heroes’

Despite tangible efforts to curb the menace, the problem still persists and there is still room for improvement, especially during the summer months and the peak season. As such   TESSU’s hands are full and many a times, these humble operatives under the payroll of the GTBoard could be spotted along the beaches, and the Bertl Harding Highway, collecting and managing rubbish/thrash, and ensuring the cleanliness of the environment, within and around the Tourism Development Area.  No wonder one frequent visitor to the Smiling Coast describes them as the ‘unsung heroes of the Tourism Development Area’.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that this article has been inspired by the sayings of one of the erudite scholars of tourism management- Professor Ernie Heath of the university of Pretoria, school of Tourism Management, who famously extorted us all to “remember that in tourism not one of us is as good as all of us, and every one of us can make a difference”. He went on to point out that “if we can light the small candles, the tourism flames of our respective destinations will shine brighter and brighter”.

By Lamin Saho

The author is a freelance tourism and marketing consultant and was formerly Senior Tourism Officer (National Tourist Office)-2000- 2002. Former Director of Marketing, GTA/GTBoard/ (2006-2012) and briefly served as Director of Planning, Ministry of Tourism & Culture (2012)