Is The Gambia Government looking at tourism development critically? The tourism sector is over dependent on investors and tour operators.
During the era of the Ebola outbreak and covid-19 pandemic, the industry felt the pain. If we had put in place proper mechanisms, we wouldn’t be going around the world with a bowl in hand looking for money to bail us out.
We have a problem. Ask how? The Gambia is becoming more and more dependent on tourism when the type of tourism we have is not under our control – it is controlled from outside and therefore, it is an issue.
The focus of any type of tourism development should mainly be to look at how people can benefit from it.
We have dilemma because The Gambia tourism industry cannot satisfy the needs and aspirations of the ordinary people.
The focus is placed heavily on looking out for investors. Of course, it is not an industry that we have to always be looking for investors. We should be thinking about how to stand on our feet. We cannot depend entirely on investors. That is unsuitable.
Typically, investors employ people but what are the ordinary Gambians driving from the industry. Do we have an engine to support the small enterprises in this sector? How about the people engaged in the industry? These are people in the sector trying to survive. They need maximum support. They are our people. We have to help them. The industry should be looked at both formal and informal sectors. It is my humble submission one sided approach to tourism development is not the answer to the problems.
During his State of the Nation Address in September 2021, President Adama Barrow said: “Overall, the estimated loss to the sector (tourism) from January to June 2020 was about 6.7 Billion Dalasis. This figure has undoubtedly increased, noting that many establishments arestill struggling to get back to full operation.”
President Barrow added: “In 2020, The Gambia Tourism Board (GTB) recorded 89,232 arrivals. The figure marks a significant decline against the NDP target. In 2021, the arrival figure further decreased to 50,000. Consequently, the loss of revenue to the GTB is high.”
What do you make up this statement by the President of the Republic? This is a concern that we should look into. He did not tell us then what his Government would do to address the problem. The solution in my view was going around the world calling for a bailout of the industry.
We depend on investors and tour operators that are on from within us.
The Gambia has been looking at beach tourism for some many decades. The focus has always been on beach tourism and this hasn't changed from day one. The concept of beach tourism has always been maintained in the Gambia. The policy focus for The Gambia has always been on beach tourism - building hotels at the beach sides.
It is indisputable that industry is thriving as expected. Obviously, many countries are doing well thanks to tourism. They reflected on their past and plan for the future. This is the reason for their success. Some countries are now looking at environmental tourism and other forms of tourism, which in my view is sustainable.
The Gambia Government is not reflecting on how to transform the tourism industry to ensure ordinary Gambians and small businesses benefit from tourism economically.
The sector has the capability of reducing the poverty of the people, employ more people and more people can sell their service in the industry. Simply, we have not been taking advantage of the opportunity the tourism industry presents to us.
It is my conviction that every Gambian desires to have a tourism industry that will use more local products. Currently, most of the things the tourists consume are imported. This is undesirable.
We have a tourism sector
Let me first start by asking what benefits are the ordinary people driving from the tourism sector? How are people benefiting economically from tourism? Is all about investors coming and taking control of the wealth, while the poverty of the people continues to rise.
We have different workers in this industry. We have craft people. Therefore, we need to build craft markets. We have taxi drivers. Therefore, we need taxi car parks. We have tour guards, bars and restaurants among others who all engage in the industry. What can we do as a country to empower them? Should they continue to struggle all by themselves without Government intervention?
The Gambia Government is bragging about the number of tourist visitations and the aspect of the foreign exchange that is driven from the industry. The intention is all on the numbers but emphasis is not placed on the value it has on the ordinary people. What value does that big number have on the life of ordinary Gambia? Is it helping to take the people out of their poverty? The money that is coming is going out. Ask how?
Almost everything that the tourists consume comes from outside The Gambia. Our tourism sector is not linked to our agricultural sector to ensure our local production is enhanced and improved. What value do you have from a big number when its impact on the ordinary Gambian is little?
People and the whole tourism sector are left at the mercy of a few people, we call investors. They are taking the wealth while the people are suffering. What is stopping the Government from investing?
I am told, which believe to be true that a good number of tourists that visit The Gambia are repeat tourists and this is what is helping the situation a bit. This means without the repeat visitors we would have a reduced number of tourists coming to this country. We need innovation in this sector. Building of hotels while the things our tourists consume come from outside. What can we do to ensure there is countrywide tourism?
100% Success for Tourist
The Gambia Government claimed that the tourism sector made 100% success. The baseline was the defunct National Development Plan (NDP). I am still astonished and couldn’t comprehend how these people reached this high figure.
I am with the view that success could only be measured on the people not the number of hotels. You target to build a certain number of hotels and you succeeded in building them. Does that mean you have made excellence when the people continue to suffer?
When the people succeed the industry could be attributed with success, but how can you talk about excellence when the people’s poverty is on the increase?
The stakeholders put focus on the number of visitations. That’s important in terms of foreign exchange. Even if they bring us billions, how much is going out? We need to do what mathematicians would call evaluation. You have big number but it’s impact on the people is little.
What development has the NDP brought us to warrant 100% success? What is clear and unambiguous is that there has not been innovations in the industry. We actually maintain the system what has been obtained here for several decades.
It is my submission that there must be diversification of tourism products – improve the products which should go hand in hand with marketing.
What has the Government done in terms of promoting and enhancing local production to ensure what the tourists consume is from us? What are the investments to ensure we have in-country tourism? Everything we do is coastal tourism. Is this desirable? What are the investments in improving the infrastructure of infrastructures like lodges to ensure they meet certain standards? The Gambia Government may confiscate people’s license but is that the way forward? You only succeed in killing the person's dream of growing big in the sector.
The infrastructure should be up to standard and where the people are struggling, the Government should come in to support. What loans is the Government providing to support the small enterprises in the industry? The bank loan charges is high and it is not a desirable place for small businesses.
What is the Government doing to promote in-country tourism? The people in pre-urban settlements should be benefiting from tourism. What is being done in this regard?
I wish to state that we dependent on a type of tourism that is dependent on a few your operators. It is obvious that the type of tourism we have is package holidays. We depend heavily on the few tour operators to bring the tourists.
The Government was talking about year round tourism. They have stopped talking about it. The reason for the complete silence is striking. The season is not under our control. In short, the industry is dependent on outsiders. When they bring tourists we clap and when they don’t we cry.
This is a sad reality.
Therefore, the 100% success claim, in my considered view, is not accurate. It is a makeup.
The people in this industry are suffering in this industry. The focus should be on what you can do and not make up success. The focus now should be on the people. What is the Government planning to do to ensure that the people benefit from tourism economically? What are the supports in the pipeline to support the small enterprises?
The Author is a young journalist and President of the Young Journalists Association of The Gambia.