Bumsters are part of the socio-cultural, human capital of Destination Gambia

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By Yaya Drammeh
Gothenburg, Sweden

So far, where there has been a reduction in tourist arrival figures in the country since 1965, it has always been associated with political or health warnings from tour operators and Foreign ministries of tourist generating regions. Therefore, this ‘bumster’ scenario can sometimes be overblown by industrialists as problematic to their operations, but seldom without reference to the source of the real problem.
‘Bumsterism’ can be partly a structural creation of all-inclusive tourism.

The Gambia has no known important mineral or other natural resources, with a limited agricultural base, on which probably, more than 65% of the population depend for their livelihood. Small-scale manufacturing activity features the processing of peanuts, vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry and animal hides. To support the poverty alleviation ambitions of government, there is this idea that the base and backbone for economic development in the country – agriculture and other local production factors such as horticulture, and fisheries – must be linked with the hospitality and tourism sector in the country.

To understand the existence of ‘bumsters’ in our industry, it is essential to make reference to linkages that are made to the economic set-up above. It is important to understand the tourism economy, where the bulk of the benefits can come from the multiplier effects and employment potentials. There are obvious structural barriers due to the all-inclusive package tours of operators bringing tourists to The Gambia.

Apparently, we do not own the planes and packages that bring tourists to The Gambia nor the main hotels along the TDA where the majority of tourists coming to The Gambia stay in enclave resorts well away from the local communities. With the advent of tourism in the country, local communities around the coastal areas lost a large part of their lands to tourism development activities, with the promise of being better off from business activities of investors in the hotel industry.

This kind of control mechanism tends to exclude locals from the collaboration process and can mean their inability to influence the tourism business environment activities. Such business strategies of tour operators tend to be the strongest barrier for locals from meaningful participation in tourism development in the country.
The Gambia has a high unemployment rate and no welfare system, so for school dropouts it is not easy to make ends meet, and being a ‘bumster’ could therefore be an obvious temptation (Moxon, 2002). And there is the mass migration of youths from farming communities to seemingly more glamorous jobs in the urban areas. Most of these people are said to be unskilled with little connection to the industry. The tourism facilities could not provide adequate employment for the host communities.

This seems to have spawned the advent of ‘bumsing’ in The Gambia. The assumption is that, tourists are rich, and it sure beats having to work the peanut fields for a living. Staying and roaming the tourism facilities could earn them a friend whose handouts would be far better than toiling in the fields. Consequently, it could be argued that the activities created around ‘bumsing’ seem to symbolise the nature of the unequal exchange which takes place in tourism trade. Bumsters are thus partly a product of the negative impact of all-inclusive tourism.

The concept of co-existence of power and collaboration in the context of tourism development will thus suggest that collaboration between autonomous stakeholders in this shared domain should be an interactive processes, using shared rules, norms and structures to act or decide on issues related to that domain, and not create constraints. However, being a stakeholder here does not really imply participation in the collaboration process. It seems that when locals are technically excluded from the formal structure of tourism trade, they resort to informal ways of providing products and services that are undesired by the tour operators.

 

Problems of all-inclusive tourism
The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of economic resources with a very youthful population. Poverty is a concern among the growing youth population. The socio-economic environment of The Gambia (low levels of education, low status of women, school dropouts sand poverty) has left the youth with a number of livelihood challenges. Young people below the age of 25 years continue to constitute about 64% and those aged 10-24 years constitute 31.1% of the entire Gambian population (2003 Census).
Tourism development was thus seen as a blessing, and a strategy for poverty alleviation, but it is yet to address its promises to the poor. There seem to be faults with the type of tourism, namely, all-inclusive tourism that is adopted by the country. There is however, little room here to adequately address the negative impact of this type of tourism development. The focus is purposely in the context of ‘bumsing’ that youths resort to, to make ends meet.

Tourism has contributed to the uplifting of local communities in The Gambia that come in contact with tourists; nevertheless, it is also accused of negative economic, socio-cultural, and environmental impacts on the destination (Drammeh, 2014). Many of such issues around tourism development are often associated with the all-inclusive mainstream tourism.

There is great concern that even local businesses who are the major facilitators of opportunities for the poor are not encouraged by tour operators to operate their businesses around their facilities much more the ‘bumsters’! Even local guides were excluded from information meetings of tour operators in The Gambia. Their fears over health and safety liabilities, may mean that they do not recommend fresh fruit juice sold on the beach, despite the high standards set by the juice sellers association in The Gambia (Bah and Goodwin, 2003). Local SMEs, who are supposed to be part of tourism development are very often undermined and characterised by weak bargaining position in business transactions; particularly with dominant tourist suppliers from the most important originating tourist markets with their all-inclusive package winter tours that are earning the international tour operators huge profits at the expense of the tourist host destination.

There is empirical evidence that for every US$100 spent on a vacation by a tourist from a developed country, only about US$5 actually stays in a developing country destination’s economy (Henkens et al, 2007). This is because operators that are engaged in all-inclusive package tours are able to make profit, whereas the tourist receiving destination with urgent needs for income, employment and general rise of the living standards through tourism (direct and indirect effects) are unable to realise these benefits.

Research has confirmed, as expected, that little of the actual package cost directly reaches the poor, and between 20% and 35% (varying by season) of the package costs accrues to hoteliers (a substantial percentage by international comparison) and the rest to ground handlers, tour operators, airlines etc. (Ashley, 2006). A survey of local people who are dependent on the tourism industry in The Gambia found 99% opposed to all-inclusive because local restaurants, bars, guides and taxi-drivers were losing business to the resorts, which are mainly controlled by foreign companies (Bah of Tourism Concern). A significant percentage of the revenues, common estimates state that approximately 60 to 75%, leaks away from developing countries because of foreign ownership of the industry, imported resources, foreign tour operators and airlines and other reasons (Sinclair 1991; Kersten 1997; Wheat 1998).

From a study on tourism value chains conducted in The Gambia, the great achievement of Gambian tourism is the scale of the pro-poor benefits derived from the relatively high levels of out-of-pocket, or discretionary, expenditure by tourists (Mitchell and Fall, 2007). Most of these expenditure items relate to Gambians who sell goods and services directly to tourists, such as craft market stall holders, fruit and juice sellers, taxi drivers and local tourist guides. Mitchell and Fall suggested that 7% of total spending, and 14% of expenditure in The Gambia, accrues directly to the poor. Such a development is not mainly through tour operators, but through other informal settings, and mostly through bumsters.

 

Likely benefits of ‘bumsters’ in the industry
Although, The Gambia is well known for its winter all-inclusive package tourism centred on sea, sun and sand. It is also essential to stress here that there are many other destinations with a similar product. Thus the uniqueness of the destination from the competition must be well understood. For indigenous people this development creates new challenges by facilitating new sources of income as service workers in the tourism industry as well as the opportunity of becoming tourism exhibits themselves, selling souvenirs, being photographed, opening their camps and villages to visitors, putting on shows of dances, ceremonies, traditional food, art, and customs (Azarya, 2001).

As part of the sustainability debate, local SMEs are largely encouraged to concentrate on the provision of the local experience found within the environmental, socio-cultural and human capitals on the tourism destination. Thus, providing the local experience is what is unique about local SMEs with indigenous knowledge of the destination. Governing myths, family and community organisation, values, concerning work, play, sexual roles and relations, are among the many matters where different indigenous groups exhibit striking differences (Peredo and Anderson, 2006). This is the local knowledge held by people; land-based, practical knowledge of resources and beliefs regarding human interaction with the ecosystem (Butler and Menzies, 2007). Cultural assets in the form of the built environment (monuments, old cities), living heritages expressed in distinctive local customs and songs, dance, art and handicrafts, etc., and museums that reflect the local cultural heritage are also important attractions used by tourists. It puts emphases on indigenous knowledge of the destination by the people who shares social, economic and cultural patterns of a community. .

This reminds of Bah and Goodwin (2003), suggesting that, while ‘bumsters’ can be an annoyance for many tourists, others enjoy the opportunities to engage with Gambians and to make a difference. Consequently, as we can observe some positive effects around the practice, it is essential to be cautious. Local skills and knowledge of the destination seem to be an important source of tourism development. This might not necessarily be based on only indigenous knowledge, but also on knowledge of the needs, preferences, and priorities of indigenous people (Butler and Menzies, 2007).

Human beings are inhabitants of language-carried patterns of meanings which are conjoined with practical actions and can be taken to be inhabitants of culture (Preston, 1996). Preston went further to suggest that the cognitive resources of a culture will made available to the inhabitants of that culture in practical action, explanation and tradition, and conclude that one use to which these resources will be put is business of making sense of the culture or way of life of the people. Tourism industry in LDCs seems to rely heavily on such knowledge found within the local population which is important for both product development and preservation of resources that are crucial for tourism.

Indigenous local knowledge thus seems to be important and to be collaborative with foreign businesses in all aspects of tourism activities to achieve sustainable tourism development in the least developed countries. This sort of knowledge is unique to a given culture or society thus tends to be an important element of sustainable tourism development (Flavier, 1995). Unfortunately the stakeholders with command of such knowledge are sometimes also seen as ‘bumsters’. Despite this understanding, tourism is said to be facing barriers and obstacles to skills and knowledge (Moscardo, 1989; Aref, Redzuan and Gill, 2009). In the context of The Gambia, this problem could be extended to ‘bumsterism’.

The assumption here is that, the hospitality and tourism industry includes a broad range of small businesses varying considerably in size and scale which partly encouraged and impelled locals to develop a variety of tourism ventures, including eco-tourism camps or community-based tourism facilities in the countryside, and by extension even fruit and roasted nuts selling. Most ‘bumsters’ would be grateful to be given the skills and training to be part of such establishments. It could thus be argued that, if the current monopoly around tourism activities is minimised, there would be fewer ‘bumsters’ around the hotels.

 

The author, a Gambian works and lives in Sweden