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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Looking forward to the tourism season, anyone?

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With Aisha Jallow

Tourism is one of the two largest sources of income for The Gambia and therefore a matter that needs to be handled with the greatest concern.

According to an article in The Standard Newspaper in August 18, the Gambian tourist officials have told the British grandmothers to find their toyboys elsewhere. The Gambia has become, in recent years, a magnet for British women of certain age to come looking for young men to have ”adult fun” with. I don’t approve to this behaviour, but at the same time – we are speaking about adults. As long as the Gambian Government and society doesn’t give our young men hope for their future, they will look for any opportunity to make some money.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and I feel sad for all the young men who have seen no other option but to sell their bodies to needy elderly women. There is no dignity in this business, for either part, but if we ignore the moral aspect of it, we still can understand the needs. Instead of blaming the elderly women, we should begin with some introspection and look at the situation for all the young men who have been roaming around the touristic areas in The Gambia. What other opportunities do they have when they have no higher education and no jobs? We still have a lot of boys, mainly, who flee poverty through the back way. What is done to prevent that?

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Is it only the mothers and fathers of those who flee The Gambia crying because of the loss of these young lives? I say the loss, because too many lose their lives on the dangerous journey. If they manage to get somewhere, the life there is not a good life. The ones who get to Libya end up in camps that are more like prison camps than anything else. They don’t get enough food, no healthcare at all. Women get raped and sold to trafficker, men are sold as slaves and work so hard that they many times lose their lives. Is this what we wish for our young men and women?

Mr Abubacarr S. Camara, the director of the Gambia Tourism Board told in an interview that he wants quality tourists. Tourists that come to enjoy the country and the culture, but not tourists that come just for sex.

All that sounds good, but what are you offering instead? The Gambia is a lovely country in many ways, but except from the party life on the Senegambia strip, it is a boring country. There are not many attractions that could tempt new tourists to The Gambia, and the 300 species of birds Hamat Bah, minister of tourism, is referring to is not enough.

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There is a lot that could be offered to attract tourists, but not enough is done. It is not enough to be a minister and travel to the UK to complain about elderly ladies who wants sex. You are insulting people and you rip away the plaster on the wound without offering any healing. I am not justifying sex tourism, but I understand the needs for both the young men and the elderly women. The ladies are many times sad and lonely, which is sad indeed but the responsibility for their happiness doesn’t lay in The Gambia. What does involve The Gambia is the situation of so many young men who see no other option than to sell themselves. Instead of the director of the tourism board and the minister of tourism whining about the sex tourism, they should have done something to evolve the tourism business.

This could give jobs for so many people, male and female, and an income for both their families and the country. The country needs to be upgraded, and that is not only a matter of building more all-inclusive hotels. These kind of hotels are not sought for by everyone, and they limit the opportunities for local artists, musicians and tour operators to get an income. Tourists who stay at all-inclusive hotels tend not to leave the premises. If they go anywhere, these journeys are arranged by the hotels and independent tourist operators are not allowed to take part in the offering.

In an attempt to make The Gambia more attractive for tourists, we need to make The Gambia more attractive. All of you know that The Gambia has lovely areas, but too many areas look more like a dumpsite than anything else. This is not attractive for Gambians, it is not healthy for either body or mind, but walking around a lot of garbage is not what makes people want to come to The Gambia. This matter needs attention, the environmental issues in The Gambia are too large, but we can’t solve them by ignoring them. The roads are too bad, for Gambians as well as anyone else who wishes to travel around in the country. It is dangerous and it takes too long to get from point A to point B.

Kunta Kinteh Island is a place that attracts plenty of tourists, but it is a terrible journey to get there. Do something about that and do it now! The fort on the island must be maintained , otherwise all of it will be washed into the sea. Kunta Kinteh Island is on the UNESCO list of world heritage and it is our obligation to maintain its history for the future generations. Many times it feels like people are so ”home blind” as we call it in Sweden. That means that you are so used to what you have, so you don’t notice it and don’t valuate it. The problem with that is that a lot of your cultural heritage gets destroyed because you don’t take care of it.

In September 2020, The Gambia introduced the so-called $20 immigration and security system levy on all arriving and departing passengers. A fee that has caused an outrage among many Gambians and foreign travelers. This is a matter of D1000 at arrival per passenger and the same amount at departure. D2000 per passenger for what and why? We have had no explanation, only in the beginning a sign telling that this levy has to be paid otherwise we will not be let in to the country. Every time I have asked why I have to pay this fee and for what reason, but I have never had any proper explanation. I’m not even sure that those who sit in their boxes, and receive the money, are able to explain. This is a matter of a lot of money, and all passengers deserve to be informed of it in advance and also be told the reason for it.

Finally some members of the National Assembly will look into the matter, but this has already been going on for 2 years! According to Hamat Bah, his ministry had not been involved in the establishment of the levy. Are we supposed to trust him on his words? I certainly don’t ! Hamat Bah, as the minister of tourism, should be in check on matters like these, and if not, he should quit his job and go back to the hotel where he worked before. There he would at least do something worth his salary. So many Gambians are depending on the tourism, and both the Gambian Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism have pulled away the rug under their feet. How will they now make a living when Nordic travel agencies have stopped selling journeys for The Gambia? Could you give us some answers on that, Hamat Bah?

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