News of the massive redundancy of staff at hotels is both heartbreaking and devastating for those affected and their families. But this is of course with the current situation globally, not unexpected.
There could never have been a year as bad as the current season in Gambian tourism. Yes, there was the infamous travel ban after the Jammeh coup in 1994, and the recent Thomas Cook crash but nothing could be as bad as the 2019-20 season that is still reeling under the battering of Covid-19. And just when one begins to think that things may pick up, another devil will emerge to mess things up.
From March 2019 to date, well over 80,000 travel plans to The Gambia must have been cancelled with rippling effects such as empty hotels, restaurants, idle taxis and deserted beach bars. All these translate to massive job losses and businesses dependent on tourism. The once lively and busy Senegambia strip, with its fabulous nightlife and beehive economic activity is now a ghost town with only an occasional cluster of locals and few tourists milling around.
Worst still, the future as some operators told this medium is not looking any better. In fact currently, the entire industry in on tenterhooks again as the Government’s Covid emergency committee brood over what to do with the newest bad news-the panic surrounding the new Covid variant discovered in the UK, the biggest supplier of Gambian tourism.
It was only recently that direct flights were due to start between Banjul and London even though Brussels Airlines regularly connects the two cites via Brussels. However, with even European countries now banning or reducing travel to UK in the wake of the new Covid type, it is almost certainly going to mean that The Gambia will have to come up with some new measures to handle this new situation. Should we stop travellers from UK, which may include our own natives, from coming or should the rules on duration of test certificates change? In any case the fundamental lesson the country should pick from this unfortunate situation is to study and recognise the fragility of the sector we called tourism on which so many lives depend. The Covid situation has taught us that tourism depends on factors and like the English weather, those factors can change without warning.
While we take this one to be a natural global disaster, all Gambians and especially Government must realise that only self-reliant ventures and home grown economies can save the nation from feeling shocks of economic turmoils around the world. Without delay, the authorities must work to put in place measures to prepare for a post Covid recovery. This would require more than slogan chanting but clear innovative ways that will bring back our regular visitors and attract new ones.