Gambian tourism is picking up again with many European tourists returning to the country after the recent political impasse which drove thousands of holiday makers away from the “smiling coast of Africa.”
Gambia is very popular as a tourist destination and tourism plays a key role in the country’s economy. It is the main foreign exchange earner and source of employment. But the political impasse resulting from the country’s former dictator, Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to leave power after his electoral defeat hit the tourism sector hard. Many tourists cut short their visits and returned home while tour operators cancelled thousands of bookings and suspended flights to the Gambia in December 2016. Jammeh was forced into exile and the impasse ended peacefully in January 2017.
Loss of over 200 millions $
During the impasse, tourists’ occupancy rate in all Gambian hotels dropped from 95% to zero and after the crises hotels struggle between 20 to 25% occupancy. The industry made revenue loss of over 200 million dollars and about 30 to 35% of the business was lost. Then one of the leading tour operators, the Gambia Experience got holidaymakers and tourists back on track to Destination Gambia coming with fully booked chattered flight which flew from Gatwick in England.
According to the Director General of the government’s tourism agency, Abdoulie Hydara, “Gambia is indeed the Smiling Coast of Africa as it was demonstrated during the political impasse when there was no casualty.” “We are very happy to witness the re-launch of Destination Gambia with the first arrival of The Gambia Experience’s fully chattered flight to the Smiling Coast. This has marked the beginning and re-launch of tourism in the country after the political standoff,” he added.
“tourism is the country’s main export”
For his part, Hassoum Ceesay, the curator at Gambia National Museum where tourists often visit said the impasse gave a big blow to this year’s season. “Visitors to our museum have dropped by half and it happened at a time when we are supposed to be at the peak of the season,’’ he said. “We depend highly on tourists visits for the heritagte sector because normally locals don’t visit. When tourists do not come we suffer in the heritagte sector.” “Tourists fees is what keep us going; in terms of upkeep of heritage sites and museum.”
Dr Matarr Njie an economist and lecturer at University of the Gambia said tourism is the country’s main export. Adding that investors do n’t like uncertainty just like tourists do not go to where there is trouble. “Anything that destroys the tourism sector is in effect destroying the Gambian economy. We should not joke with the sector that is important,’’ Njie said. He lamented the negative impact of the political impasse on the country’s supply chain as well as the effects at both macro and micro levels of the economy. “A lot was lost. Former President Jammeh should be brought and tried for economic loss. Africa has to learn how to solve political problems peacefully if we are to attract tourists,’’ he added.
Meanwhile, a famous song among tourists visiting the Gambia on vacations or other merrymaking ventures goes with three SSS: sunshine, sand and smiling faces. Gambia is only six hour flight away from many european capitals. Its low crime rate and comparative low cost of living have made the nation somewhat of a hot cake in travel markets.