By Tabora Bojang
Nordic Travel Leisure Group, a leading tour operator bringing visitors from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, has announced it is suspending its winter operations in The Gambia until further notice.
It said the temporary suspension was informed by setbacks in the tourism industry’s recovery efforts after the Covid-19 pandemic including the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war and ‘exorbitant’ passenger levies at the Banjul airport.
In an email seen by The Standard shared with its ground operators in The Gambia, the Group said: “Due to the current situation our charter operation to Gambia for upcoming winter season 2022 has been cancelled. We all had high expectations for this winter season.
Unfortunately, the recovery for travelling after Covid-19 pandemic has not developed as we first expected, one of the main reasons is the effects of the situation in Ukraine since 24th February.
We see a big impact on the global economy with mainly higher costs resulting in a difficult situation for travelling from Scandinavia.
The above-mentioned uncertainties combined with higher costs and increase of passenger tax at Banjul airport have resulted in low demand and bookings for the destination and these are the main reasons for this decision.”
The Group added it would adopt a wait and see attitude, regarding the restart of its program for the 2023 winter season.
Reacting to these developments, the director general of the Gambia Tourism Board Abubacarr S Camara, told The Standard that his office has made efforts to dissuade the Group from cancelling its winter operations in the country with a view to addressing issues within the GT Board’s reach that may be responsible for their temporal closure.
Camara however denied suggestions that the compulsory $20 security levy at the Banjul airport plays any significant part in the suspension of The Group’s operations in the Gambia.
“The chunk of the problem is not about the passenger security tax at the airport. It has to do with their operational issues. I think it has been very difficult for them to recover well after the advent of COVID-19 and the ongoing Ukraine war. I had discussions with them but they never mentioned the issue of the $20 although I have seen them mentioned it in their email notification but that is not the main cause [of their closure]. Things have rapidly and unpredictably changed. We have seen a very much weakened demand and low bookings in combination with the increased cost of acquiring an aircraft and other costs,” the GT Board boss added.
He however lamented that the temporary closure will have “lot of implications on our tourism industry” because it would significantly reduce the number of arrivals from Scandinavia.
Mr Camara said the Board is working tirelessly to ensure the tourism industry is stabilised.
“We are just coming from an outreach mission with our minister [Hamat Bah] and we have had discussions with tour operators, PRs and marketing firms and some of them have informed us of the issues they may be encountering and they want our support in terms of joint marketing and as we speak, we are looking at those proposals,” he said.