For several years, the tourism sector has remained the third foreign exchange earner for the country after remittances and export of goods and services and contributing about 25 percent of GDP.
While tourism’s steady position is a testimony to its potential, the abundance of tourist sites in the country is an open secret. Apart from the many tourist sites along the North Bank Region – Kunta Kinteh Island, Berending Sacred Pond and Niumi National Park, as well as the Fort Bullen in Barra, which is now a military installation, there are other sites and forts across the country begging for recognition.
There are many ecotourism sites (about a dozen wildlife-protected areas), such as the River Gambia National Park, Niumi and Kiang West National parks; resource reserves; wildlife sanctuaries such as the Tanji Bird Reserve, Abuko Nature Reserve, Baobolong Wetland, Monkey Park and Monkey Forest; as well as Baboon Island sanctuaries.
What is left, however, is the development of all the sites to modern standards to attract more visitors than they are currently receiving.
Each of the seven regions of The Gambia is replete with tourist and historic sites, some of which very little is known, and which require some attention to bring them to the fore.
The body mandated to do that is the Gambia Tourism Board (GTB), which oversees all The Gambia’s tourist sites across the country.
So far, the GTB is doing reasonably well to roll out programmes targeted at drawing more foreigners to the country each year.
Programmes such as the International Homecoming Roots Festival, Banjul Demba Cultural Festival, Banjul Fine Arts Festival, Abene Festival, Miss Gambia Beauty Pageant as well as popular traditional and cultural festivals across the country, among many others, come to attention.
But while showcasing the rich culture of The Gambia to the outside world through festivals and special activities every year is good, the Vice President believes that we are rather overlooking the citizenry. “We should not be trapped in inactive logic; it should be proactive logic”.
Though the year has gone halfway, we still want to hold the GTB to their recent promise that key tourist sites in the country would receive a facelift within the short to medium term this year.
We also want to remind GTB of the ranking of The Gambia as the one of the top destinations in the world to visit in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
It is only natural therefore that we take tourism to another level after the Covid-19 pandemic and I urge the GTB to ride on the widely projected image of The Gambia as a place to visit, to speed up the improvement and development of infrastructure at our tourist sites, to draw not only foreign guests to The Gambia, but also encourage full local participation.
In my view, for tourism to peak and most probably overtake the other sectors considered Gambia’s biggest earners, we think that the GTB, in collaboration with other stakeholders including the the Ministry of Education, National Centre for Arts and Culture, must deliberately fashion programmes to attract Gambians, including students and pupils to our numerous attractions at a token fee to shore up earnings in the tourism sector.
For instance, making it mandatory for pupils to, as part of their studies, visit museums, historic sites, forts and other monuments in our regions is definitely going to swell up the numbers in domestic tourism.
In other jurisdictions, the locals themselves make tourism a delight, as they are always visiting places of interest in droves and thus keeping the industry alive all year round. Well-trained locals also receive guests and are able to relay the history of the facilities visited.
Vice President Badara Joof is of the view that the difference between The Gambia and those other countries like Senegal and Indonesia is the fact that visiting their tourist sites is not a herculean task because access routes are well developed.
There are also numerous attractions that make patrons want to come back again and again because it affords them the relaxation and adventure they need while providing families and friends the opportunity to bond and have fun.
“How do we diversify our tourist products in terms of what they would be buying”?