Mar 1, 2011, 1:04 PM
Please allow me space in your widely read newspaper to express my concern about recent reports in the pages of newspapers about growing operational lapses at the Banjul International Airport. This is cause for concern given that travel facilitation is a major variable in tourism development. As we are all aware the provision of supply side support systems is the responsibility of governments in destinations and while tourism products are directly consumed and experienced by visitors, these need to be complemented by a range of indirect services that are vital in facilitating an enjoyable and hassle free experience. General destination upkeep in terms of clean environment and high degree of tidiness as well as robust customer care and provision of tourism related infrastructure such as a functional airport, public transport, good road infrastructure, and signage and tourism information are key ingredients and a sine qua non for seamless tourism development in this day and age.
Over the years various developments and efforts were put in place to ensure a condusive environment and hassle free experience for the growing number of tourists to the Smiling Coast, and this is laudable. Such developments are multi faceted and touched on a broad range of areas including institutional strengthening, robust regulations, generic and niche product development, capacity building and people development initiatives, destination marketing as well as the development of quality standards in the industry to ensure guest expectations are exceeded thus leading to customer retention as evidenced by the 52% repeater rate.
However of late reports coming out of the airport are not the least satisfactory. Going by these reports the range of operational and travel facilitation challenges are mind boggling including non tourist friendly clearance procedures, extended processing time by Immigration personnel, bird strikes, nonchalant attitude of the porters and other personnel in the discharge of their duties.
Clearly there is need for more customer care and tourist friendly attitude by operatives and the need to improve travel facilitation at our one and only international airport cannot be overemphasized. Another very important critical issue is that of air access given that boosting air connectivity and easing the visa regime directly lead to growth in tourism numbers. Facilitation of tourism and travel is defined as the totality of entry and exit regulations, procedures applicable within a given territory, immigration, customs and health formalities, currency exchange facilities, luggage handling and transportation from airports to the city centers; it also includes information services, shopping facilities and reception services. The first and last impressions of a country retained by the tourist often depend on the efficiency of its facilitation services.
It is therefore imperative to improve travel facilitation and adopting tourist friendly visa policy with a view to making travel to the Smiling Coast as seamless as possible and at the same time increasing direct links in to the country and improving infrastructure and procedures and overall customer care at the airport.
However it is gratifying to point out that various efforts are being rolled out by the authorities to ensure seamless travel to destination Gambia including waiver of visa for select countries – all of which are our key source markets or most promising source markets for destination Gambia. This is a laudable and kudos to the Minister of Tourism and Culture and all relevant government agencies for coming up with this visa free policy which can only boost tourism and put destination Gambia on a more competitive footing. The need to include Russian Federation as well as Ukraine in the visa exemption package can only boost efforts at penetrating the Russian market.
The airport is also undergoing very tangible expansion to make it more functional and it is hoped that through multi- sectoral collaboration some these bottlenecks and operational challenges can be addressed. The need for capacity building in the form of tailor made training programmes for the Immigration and Customs officials on customer care and tourist friendly approaches and behavior, at the level of the airport can also go a long way to addressing these issues.