By Tabora Bojang
The CEO of Gambia Tours, Charbel Hobeika, who is also a partner in the prestigious Senegambia Beach and Sunset hotels, has disclosed that tourist bookings in hotels are less than 50 percent for the first quarter of the 2022-2023 tourist season.
Mr Hobeika called on the Gambia Tourism Board and all relevant stakeholders to do more work to bring back tourism to pre-pandemic levels after three years of absence.
“As we speak, hotels are booked between 30 and 40 percent for November, December and January. So, we have a long way to go to reach the pre-Covid levels. We have to do a lot of work, a lot of marketing for the destination. It is starting now but we have to really push hard to bring it back to the level where it was pre-Covid,” Charbel told journalists at the airport following the arrival of 184 tourists by TUI UK.
“There is a lot of competition now, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. So many destinations are competing. And it is a cake that everybody wants to have a piece of, so we really have to stand up, push hard and make sure we bring the tourists,” he added.
Mr Charbel warned that the country risks trailing other destinations if robust marketing, information sharing and softening of Covid restrictions are not put in place.
“The GT Board is the driver of the industry; they lead and we follow. It is team work and everybody has to join forces to make sure that this happens. We have been affected for three years. We have not attended biggest fairs in Europe missing out on a good opportunity for us to invite the press, tour operators and travel agents and talk about the Gambia so that operators in the world know about The Gambia. So, we have to a lot of marketing, so that hopefully by the end of the season, hotels can reach 60 percent”, he said.
The tour operator said he is pleased by the steps taken by authorities of the Banjul airport to address concerns raised by Titan Airlines which saw them rescind the cancellation of their flights to the country.
“I see a lot of improvement at the airport today. It was worrying for us because if that happens, it could also affect other airlines and all our preparations for the season would have collapsed. TUI will have four flights a week from Gatwick and Manchester and two flights from Belgium and the Netherlands. We also hope that the Covid restrictions may be softened because other destinations are opening up and tourists have been flying to other destinations without a PCR or a vaccination. This is something that makes the flow of passengers easy,” he said.