Africa: With 37 hotels, 7000 rooms generating $150million Gambia Tourism Stakeholders want more
Some major doyens of The Gambia’s tourism industry have expressed their worries and concerns on the deplorable state of the tourism industry. They argued that if Gambian authorities continue to ignore the views of the stakeholders, the industry will be doomed beyond recovery. These stakeholders of the tourism industry made their arguments at the Eleventh Graduation Ceremony of The Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia (ITTOG).
Angela Andrews-Njie, the proprietress and manager of West African Tours, has thirty-seven years’ experience in various capacities in the tourism industry. According to her, The Gambia Tourism Authorities must put their acts together to get it right if the tourism industry is to benefit in any gains from the highly competitive world tourism market.
“They say healthy developments are happening in countries such as Rwanda with all its past genocide history, and South Africa. We are been reminded that other countries are trailing above the waters but, unfortunately, The Gambia is still trailing under the waters,” Madam Andrews-Njie argues.
According to her, the world economic forum pegged annual global tourism volume at 1, 023 million visitors in 2017, noting that out of these arrivals Africa grabbed 62 million arrivals. She added that out of the sixty-two million arrivals in Africa, The Gambia continued to benefit little over 150,000 arrivals even though the nation targets to attract at least 500,000 tourists. She said that as far as matters are concerned, the country needs to do a lot of improvements to achieve its goals by 2020.
Madam Andrews-Njie further submitted that world tourism organization records highlighted that the sun and beach holidays represent 28 percent of global holiday makers. The sun and beach product, she said, are abundantly available in The Gambia but yet the country is below its targets in these niche markets. Asking the rhetorical question, she said, “what do we have in abundance in The Gambia? Sun and beach and yet we have not seen the benefits we are supposed to get from these markets.”
Madam Andrews-Njie argued that The Gambia’s tourism industry fell on its knees in 1994 when British Government issued travel advice to its citizens vacationing in The Gambia over concerns of political instability after the military overthrew the democratically elected government. She said since then, there have been very little improvement in the sector. Madam Andrews-Njie argued the authorities must manage tourism in effective and efficient ways if the country is to move the industry to its glorious peak levels.
“The government needs to give due attention to tourism as an activity generating employment, creating wealth and as capitalization of public accounts. The growth and impact of tourism needs to be properly managed,” She warns tourism authorities.
According to her, The Gambia needs not to fool herself for not improving on the gains of the industry, arguing that The Gambia has only thirty seven hotels that provide seven thousand bed capacity generating a market share of $150 millions. She said, The Gambia can gain more than these figures if tourism is better managed.
The West African tours manageress acknowledged the challenges confronting the tourism industry, noting that sex tourism, ‘Bumsterism,’ dilapidated infrastructure, unreliable communication, poor transportations and road networks, bad health facilities, among others, continued to serve as bottlenecks in the country’s tourism industry.
She calls on the government to start investing in the industry, disclosing that government investment on Atlantic, Senegambia and Kairaba hotels have never gone unnoticed as these hotels continued to serve as the images of The Gambia tourism industry. She argues that whatever amounts and resources The Gambia Government have invested in these hotels, it has recovered them in hundred folds.
“Our product quality needs improvements. Dubai, a desert country has transformed itself, Rwanda has transformed herself and why not The Gambia? Gambia! let us transform ourselves,” she cried on the need for The Gambia to transform and harness the benefits of global tourism market.
On the positive side of the story, Madam Andrews-Njie hailed the construction of the International Conference Center among others and praised the government for tapping into the regional market and for allowing Turkish Airline to operate in The Gambia. These developments, she said, will go a long way in addressing some of the challenges ailing the tourism industry.
Another speaker at the event was Adama Bah, the Chairperson of the Board of Director of ITTOG. Mr. Bah argued that if the current challenges of the tourism industry such as seasonality are not addressed, The Gambia tourism will remain in the doldrums.
“Today while the Ministry and Gtboard should be congratulated for increasing the percentage of tourists originating from the European markets, over the years the character of The Gambia’s tourism did not change. It remains an industry focused on winter sunshine and heavily dependent on package tour operators. I’ m not saying we should not have package tourism as the present bedrock of our industry is built around such an infrastructure, but my proposal is as well as package tourism, let’s develop other products that will help The Gambia the much talked about product diversification,” Mr. Bah said.
Mr. Bah said the high level of seasonality clearly prevails by the interest of the tour operators who find it less risky to sell the Mediterranean summer sun than developing businesses in The Gambia that will be whole year round tourism. He added that this situation is linked to relatively low air access placing considerable stress on The Gambia’s ability to response to growth in existing and new markets.
Mr. Bah, a winner of responsible tourism award, argued that The Gambia has all it takes to diversify its tourism products so that the industry can continue to provide more opportunities for employment and other economic possibilities for the country, stressing that for years now GIEPA continues to give priority which takes into consideration The Gambia’s National Development Priorities for tourism development in the country, but no one has taken advantage.
He argues that even if more tour operators are coming to The Gambia and continuing to pay very low tariffs with soft seasons, the result will be poor financial returns creating difficulties in financing hotels and also to finance products improvement for a better attraction.
“It is not just numbers to grow but for the value to grow, without real value for money, without real value for a better environment and sociocultural contribution to The Gambia then our tourism will not change for the better,” he noted.
Mr. Bah says he remains hopeful that one day the authorities and all stakeholders of the tourism industry will look at original Bendula concept from the point of building locally owned commercial enterprises that are respected for their qualities and be paid fairly for the values they provide. He noted that The Gambia is a mature destination that cannot afford to depend on handouts.
Despite the challenges he highlighted, Bah remains optimistic that the new government of President Adama Barrow can change the tide to a positive one.
Sheikh Tijan Nyang, the principal at The Institute for Travel and Tourism of The Gambia, said the appointment of unqualified non-Gambians in hotels and other key areas of the industry needs to be looked into, arguing that if The Gambia has enough quality human resources to export to Saudi Arabia then Gambians should be able to fill managerial positions in the country’s own tourism and hospitality industry.
According to him, the tourism sector needs a new lease on life where minimum wages would be introduced and setting the basis for better opportunities for trained staff from professional, technical and vocational educational-training schools. He also added that in order to contain the high level of attrition in the tourism industry better wages have to be provided for trained professional in the industry.
Mr. Nyang , who’s a founding member of the Association of Small Scale Enterprises for Responsible Tourism (ASSERT), warns that the concerns of the small businesses relating to the all-inclusive tourism package should be looked into for a workable resolution. He argued that the demands of the workers of the tourism industry against unfair treatment and for better working conditions cannot be ignored, but must be addressed.
Mr. Nyang said his school will continue to provide highly trained professional in for areas of the industry so as to meet the demands for qualify personnel needed in the tourism industry.
By Kebba Ansu Manneh