In an effort to revitalise Gambia’s flagging tourism sector, which has been decimated during the Covid-19 pandemic, the West African country is looking closer to home, and even at its own, to bolster the once-vibrant industry. Beaches normally teeming with British and Dutch sunseekers are nearly empty, hawkers of fresh juice and souvenirs standing idle at Lemon Creek beach in Bijali.
The downturn has affected the informal sector as well, including beach bars, says Hassan Ndow, president of the Gambia Beach Bar Association.
“The beach bars were paralysed, they couldn’t move, he tells RFI, adding that the recession in the country made life even worse. We’re seriously suffering because of Covid-19, and we’ve had no emergency funding,” he adds.
Gambia’s dependence on tourism has forced the industry to take a closer look at how to prevent this from happening again, as 15 percent of the country’s GDP (2019) is tourism based. “We have lost billions of dalassis in revenue, and over 200,000 jobs, directly and indirectly in the sector,” says Tourism Minister Hamat Bah.
The International Monetary Fund estimates nearly 20 percent of all businesses folded during the pandemic downturn. Bah says the government has already pumped 100 million dalassis, or 1.7 million euros, back into the industry for the 2021-22 high season that runs from late December until April.
Although international tourism has virtually collapsed, the down time during the Covid period has pushed the tourism industry to redesign how to attract Gambians themselves, as well as African tourists from neighboring countries.
“We want to decentralise tourism so people go upriver, and local people can be supported,” she adds. If locals take control of the tourism in their area, they can create employment as well. Minister Bah says that they looked abroad to see how they could apply it at home.
“Throughout the world, including France, the only countries that restarted tourism quickly were those with a very strong domestic market, and Kenya is the leading country in Africa,” he says.
“We also want to try and develop a very strong domestic market – it will help to move the tourism sector forward,” he adds.
By luring African tourists from neighboring countries, where travel restrictions are less invasive, the country hopes to bolster the industry. The Hotel “Gambia is safe to travel to and our doors are open.