By Amadou Jadama
Officials of the Gambia Tourism Board last week received the first batch of tourists who landed at the Yundum International airport.
Their arrival marks the beginning of the 2019 – 2020 tourism seasons.
The tourists are from Holland, UK and Scandinavian countries such as Belgium and Sweden.
Speaking to journalists at the airport shortly after these arrivals, director of marketing, GT Board, Adama Njie, welcomed the new arrivals. However, he expressed his dissatisfaction with immigration officials at the airport after tourists were made to spend about an hour at the airport going through immigration security checks.
“We are very frustrated because what we saw today should not have happened,” he stressed.
He said he understands that security is quite important and that the immigration officials need to do their jobs, but complaint that the process should never have taken that long.
He called for immediate action to expedite the process of security checks at the airport.
“When tourists arrive here, they are often tired after what has been a long flight,” he said.
Thomas Cook is the largest bringer of tourists to The Gambia but it collapsed after last-minute negotiations aimed at saving the 178-year-old holiday firm failed. Tourism observers believe this will have an impact on both direct and indirect revenue from tourism in the country since up to 30 percent of tourists who visit The Gambia are from the UK.
But Mr Njie said there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are very optimistic [about the tourist season]. As we speak now we have a team from the GT Board and other stakeholders who have gone overseas to see what we can do to conceptualise and cement our relationship with some operators including Thomas Cook in UK.” he said.
Mr Njie accepts that the collapse of Thomas Cook could mean trouble for the country’s tourism industry but said it could also be seen as an opportunity for the country to reposition itself to boom the industry even further.
Charbel Chebeika, managing director of Gambia Tours also weighs in on the issue of delays at the airport involving tourists, calling on authorities to immediately proffer solutions.
Speaking further on the down fall of Thomas Cook, he said: “It has created a big impact not only on Gambia Tours, but the whole destinations. Thomas Cook has been a very big partner to The Gambia. So everybody is affected. We lost a lot of passengers. We hope for next season things will get better. We hope that we will get a replacement for the UK market.”
The tourism industry is an important sector in The Gambia, and contributes 20 percent to GDP annually. It is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings.