The Gambia is a tiny strip on West Africa region and it is richly endowed especially with abundant agrarian and tourism features. For its effervescent and suffusing tourism offerings, the country, which was once ruled by one of the founding fathers of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), Sir Dawda Jawara, is widely known as the ‘smiling coast of Africa,’ which aptly is a reflection of its unique selling proposition as a tourist destination.
Over the years the country has caught the imagination of the world, ranging from European, African, American to Asian tourists, who have found the tiny enclave a truly colourful and rich destination to explore for its many offerings.
But following recent developments, culminating in the oust of its former leader, President Yahya Jammeh, the country’s once buoyant tourism industry is now at its lowest ebbs, struggling to keep its market share while many of the operators are despondent and unhappy about the downward trend of their industry, which they said was occasioned by the bad politics of Jammeh’s latter days administration.
With President Adama Barrow now in the saddle, there is hope that the industry would rebound to claim its place of glory and once again enjoy the patronage of the tourism world, which had deserted it. But this can only come to pass if the right policies are put in place.
One of the renowned operators in the country has in this piece analysed the tourism trends, highlighting the historical perspectives, the economics of tourism, factors that led to its success and the hard time that it is now facing while proffering solutions to getting it back on its winning way.
Tourism contributes a lot to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Gambia economy (directly) but the industry’s success and volume in tourist’s numbers are dictated by the big players, the tour operators who sell Gambia as a cheap package holiday.
The undocumented revenue, employment opportunities, and fringe benefits of this industry cannot be over emphasised in its importance. The statistics below will give an indication of how important tourism has become for the country, but most importantly, it will also highlight the need for urgent improvement and development of the industry.
Before we look at solutions, first let’s look at the product – Gambia as a destination
For a number of years Gambia markets itself as The Smiling Coast of Africa, which is a catchy and positive phrase, but does the rest of the world actually look at Gambia that way? A client’s perception of the country determined his or her final choice in making a decision to explore it.
Therefore, going forward, a rebranding of the country’s image should be considered. The Three S – Sun, sea, and (smile, sand or sex depending on who the client is) should come into focus in this wise.
In regards to competition, Gambia offers almost the same products as some of its competing destinations, such as Senegal, Cape Verde, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt.
The five – seven hours flight time from Europe make it a reasonable short haul destination, but unfortunately Gambia lacks most of the tourist’s attractions the other countries have to offer.
The pull – factor
Every destination offers something that is unique and attracts tourists to make a decision in a specific way. For instance, Paris offers the Eiffel Tower – a lover’s choice for holidays; Las Vegas – gambling with wild parties, sex and many more; Saudi Arabia and Italy – religious tourism.
But when it comes to The Gambia, the tourist offerings include: Juffureh (Kunta Kinteh) unfortunately there are challenges in promoting Juffureh as the pull factor for The Gambia.
The product is not well maintained or developed and leaves a sour taste in guests’ mouths after experiencing it.
Secondly, there is an element of psychology in marketing a brand; one must look into the psyche of customers in order to tap into your target market, and my humble opinion is that Juffureh must be re-branded and a partnership must be developed with either Hollywood movie industry or The Alex Hailey Foundation.
Juffureh should be a holy land for all blacks in the world. We are talking about over one billion blacks who are all affiliated with the name of Kunta Kinteh, and little Gambia is the only destination in the world blessed with such a gift from God.
In the 1970s and 1980s, ‘back to the roots’ was a very popular concept for blacks all over the world. And Juffureh would have made our economy a lot of money if marketed properly. Nowadays, the average Black holidaymaker would most definitely travel elsewhere than The Gambia to visit the home village of Kunta Kinteh, the young generation has other tastes and the black heritage tourism may not be their first choice.
A short spell in 2001 – 2003 generated good volume for the Roots Festival but from observation, it was the low-income bracket that made up the largest population of tourist received within this period.
What was really wrong with this group mix is what mainstream media or suppliers will not regard as a potential market to invest in or document – almost all were in the low-income bracket and the purchasing power was only for the two star hotels or private motels in town. Consequently, the number in tourists could not generate the much-needed income for the country then.
Let’s look at what makes a destination attractive to potential clients
Safety and flight distance are all in The Gambia’s favour and what can we do to make the destination more affordable?
Airport tax – Transfer that cost from the tour operators and chartered airlines to clients but it must not be a mandatory cost on tourists like an additional cost. This will be explained in detail later.
Excluding the airport tax, flights will now be at least 20-35 per cent cheaper for tourists
Hotel cost reduction – in partnership with income tax and NAWEC. Every hotel has to reduce accommodation rates by 5 per cent.
This will either be absorbed through monthly tax reduction or an electricity subsidy for qualified registered service providers.
The 3rd suggestion is already coming into existence, food cost – since the initiative to reduce taxation on imports of goods by the Barrow government, service providers can look into price reduction for meals.
Destinations spend millions of dollars to advertise on CNN, BBC or take bigger stands at trade fairs/hire the services of a well-known celebrity which are all not cheap to come achieve.
Since The Gambia does not have that kind of resources, we must use what we already have. An opportunity has presented itself to The Gambia that the whole world was aware of for almost two months. With free media on all major international TV networks and social media, the last year December political impasse which now viewed positively, can help create a real image for product marketing.
Kanilai offers a perfect pull factor for The Gambia that if marketed correctly can generate tourism volume, employment opportunity for Foni area, thereby creating jobs for citizens of that area who feel deprived and left out.
This brings me to how to generate funds that will replace the airport tax now in operation. Local travel agents will conduct tours to Kanilai with access to the ex – president’s mansion and zoo, this will attract the much-needed volume for the country. This will also take care of the lean summer months and cater for the European market during the winter season.
The Gambia has a large number of people in the Diaspora who are willing and able to contribute to the development of the country. A large number have the connections and access and can help in the following ways:
The movie industry
*And most important, funds to develop the product to its much deserved glory (this has to be looked at as a business venture and a guaranty that their investments will be protected and proceeds well worth the investment in the first place).
*Businesses or individuals can invest in such diverse ventures like building of bridges and re coup their investment after a certain period, being it in partnership with Gambians or international investors.
*An example will be the Zulu village in South Africa, which was recreated just for the purpose of tourism, where tourists spend a week or more to experience life in a village setting with all the natural elements in place.
The figures below are hypothetical but will direct the right authorities to look at the mathematics and compare the opportunity costs.
The WB statistics for tourist numbers to Gambia:
A fraction of the funds obviously goes to the service providers like the local travel agents but even 40% of the proceeds will net Gambia over GMD 100 million.
The attraction of visiting inside the mansion of an ex-president will surely make the packaging of The Gambia as a destination more attractive, coupled with the reduction of the air fare and hotel prices.
The tourist numbers will definitely improve for the better; as a dual benefit also for statistics purposes (undocumented guests to the country will now be recorded) by service providers who are now motivated to document the number of visitors in order to enjoy the subsidy of electricity and tax deductions.
Also of importance is the fact of employment opportunity that it provides and a sense of belonging for the people of Foni who will be part of something that they already feel ownership of.
Culled from newtelegraphonline.com.