By Lamin Saho
Gambia Tourism has emerged as one of the greatest success stories of our time and recently the GTBoard Director General was on TV to proudly announce that the 200,000 threshold has been reached and that Gambia tourism has been able to with stand all shocks such as the Ebola pandemic and also pointed out to the fact that negative publicity and not merely the absence of wars and other upheavals also impact on the growth of tourism. I could not agree more. Tourism as a global industry is very volatile and susceptible to certain shocks not to mention bad publicity which most often impacts negatively on arrival numbers as visitors are less likely to visit a troubled or volatile destination.
Therefore it is incumbent on us all to nurture the peace at our disposal and ensure that our destination attracts the right type of tourists and this is only possible if certain variables such as peace, stability and genuine friendliness of the people are upheld at all times,
This is true for all destinations, but the Smiling Coast has every reason to uphold hold these virtues given that our unique selling point remains the charm and friendliness of the Gambian people and these constitute our unique selling point. In the absence of certain demand side products such as the big five as in Kenya it is only prudent to project these unique qualities as encapsulated in the Smiling Coast slogan to keep attracting the type of holiday maker that is best suited to our products and environment. This is critical given that the lion share of tourist to the Smiling Coast are on leisure and by virtue of the pull factors (why tourist decide to visit a particular destination or resort) would want to engage in to activities that are leisurely in nature,
However it is also true that destinations no longer rely or boast about these generic attractions and endowments, given that the dynamics of tourism has evolved due to changes in life style impact of globalization, rapid technological developments and other variables. Suffice to say, packaging of the tourism product is increasingly having a new orientation, moving away from the traditional product focus to one that sells the experience. Since consumers are primarily in search of experiences, thus the need to come up with products that amplify various experiences such as wellness tourism, bird watching, boat fishing/sea fishing, dolphin watching, forest trails for nature lovers, park and wildlife tourism for eco-tourists, nature tourists and a range of heritage experiences such as home stays, heritage trails for ethnic tourists and community festivals for the history buffs, youth tourism etc.
As such for destination Gambia to continue to make gains in tourism certain measures will have to be undertaken in a deliberate fashion to reengineer Gambia Tourism
Firstly the demand side products such as national parks, museums, river products will have to be developed to suit the needs of our various guests such as bird watchers, nature lovers’ history buffs, heritage tourists and recreational tourists. These are key leisure segments currently being attracted to the Smiling Coast from our new emerging markets such as Russia and other East European markets as well as niche markets in our traditional source markets.
The number of attractions dotting our landscape is countless but means nothing in modern tourism, unless they are crafted in to products that engender experiences that are interesting and memorable to the satisfaction of our myriad of guests. The various products of the smiling coast need to be revisited and products developed and branded along regional lines such as bird watching in Kiang National Park, Kosee Cultural festivals in Jarra, Kankurang festival in Janjan bureh, River excursions in CRR for dolphin watching, Kumpo festival in Foni, hunting in NBR etc.
Our hospitality outfits need to be improved to focus on quality service delivery and to meet the needs of the discerning guests by incorporating new ideas in hospitality focusing on wellness and quality services in terms of beds and other functional and technical aspects including variety and presentation of culinary delights.
Furthermore, our excursions and tours need to be revisited to take due cognizance of the needs of the modern holiday maker. The city tour, lazy cruise and birds and breakfast including south Gambia excursions need to be revamped and excursions that emphasize various experiences revolving around culture, nature and environment launched.
Besides, The Gambia boasts a myriad of national parks, but these are in their natural state, and to evolve in to tourism products deliberate efforts will have to be deployed to transform these in to real products that culminate in to experiences by developing what to see, what to do, product highlights and where to stay.
In conclusion it is prudent to mention that destination Gambia has what it takes to develop products that suit the taste of our myriad of guests and to meet the needs of the modern discerning leisure tourists. This is critical given that most of our tourism products are tired and boring to say the least. The need to rejuvenate them cannot be overemphasized.
The author was formerly Director of Marketing, defunct GTA and also served as Director of Planning, Ministry of Tourism & Culture. Currently on sick leave.