Tourism constitutes one of the pillars on which the economy of The Gambia is based. It has over the years experienced considerable ups and downs. There have not been serious efforts to rescue the collapsed infrastructure in Juffureh, James Island, Fort Bullen, Janjanbureh and other parts of the country. The recent tour of tourism officials around the country is to be commended as it revealed the poor state of tourism sites. The first step therefore in enhancing tourism development is for the government to be resolutely committed to rebuilding tourism infrastructures throughout the country. The monies that are being expended on sending large delegations to overseas meetings and procurement of large fleet of government vehicles could be curtailed and funds to be diverted to tourism attraction sites. As I see it, the fundamental problem in The Gambia is neither political nor social but economic management. Instead of attacking growth centres such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism to excite economic growth and economic development, Government interest continues to focus on recurrent expenditures.
It is evident that the quality of tourism in the country once enjoyed is no longer the case. High spending tourists are no longer coming to The Gambia because the enabling environment is not attractive enough in addition to weak players in the industry. The need for improving competition in tourism in The Gambia cannot be overemphasised. In this regard, Government should invite all stakeholders in the industry and to present to them a blueprint based on the national interest on how the industry should operate to enhance our competitiveness. The transformation of the industry is of fundamental importance in the face of the current challenges in terms of ACCESS, PRODUCT SERVICES, COVID-19, etc.
As long as The Gambia remains peaceful, remains a sunshine country, close proximity to Europe, smiling people, remains competitive, tourists will be inclined to visit the country. A strategic plan of action with an effective marketing component is of utmost necessity and importance in the development of tourism in The Gambia.
The Gambia Hotel Association continues to be weakened by the activities of chartered operators. Perhaps, the situation might have changed but it was the case that they are the receivers of tourists who do not have influence and control over prices the hotels receive for hosting tourists. It is learnt that the chartered operators select hotels for the tourists coming to The Gambia. If this is the case then hotels could easily be blackmailed into accepting guests at unreasonable prices. How can a hotel for example be paid £5 or £10 per tourist per night and this will include breakfast. The question is how can any hotel survive with these meagre amounts taking food and other operational expenses. This situation will kill the industry if it is the accepted order of the day. Already, some hotels are burdened by power cuts in which case they are forced to run generators. The Gambia Hotel Association should play a pivotal role in protecting and enhancing maximum earnings from the industry. In the event of unforeseen circumstances such as the outbreak of Ebola, Coronavirus, Political upheaval which tend to adversely affect tourism, the Government should act to give tax relief and other incentives to hotels in the spirit of enhancing tourism development in The Gambia. It must be recognized and accepted that the tourism industry is a pillar of The Gambian economy. As such, it is in the national interest to ensure its viability and sustainability.
It is to be emphasised that our tourism promotion agenda should be revisited. It should be time-bound, diversified and targeting high spending visitors and aggressive marketing. It will be useful for marketing teams of Gambians and some expatriates to be based in London, Sweden, Moscow, Brazil, USA, Canada and Beijing to promote tourismin The Gambia. In this drive, a performance contract system can be developed by The Gambia Tourism Board to reward promotion teams for their achievements in bringing tourists to the country. Furthermore, it will be useful for tourism officials to conduct study tours in Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Dubai, China, etc. to learn how the tourism success worked out for these countries.
Enhancing tourism development in The Gambia calls for concerted efforts and involvement of all tourist market vendors, ground tour operators, chartered airlines, restaurants/night club owners, cultural entertainers, asset, etc. should be encouraged to come together to advance ideas that could be incorporated into a National Strategic Plan for tourism development. The tourism security and tourist taxi drivers are equally connected with the said plan of action.
To determine the net benefits and how these impact on The Gambian economy, tourism must be tackled head on.