By Tabora Bojang
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought The Gambia’s hospitality industry to a stand still with an estimated D6.7 billion reported by all establishments as forecast loss in the first quarter of 2020, according to The Gambia Bureau of Statistics GBOS.
Although high level impacts of the pandemic had prominently featured on large industrial stakeholders like hotels and tour operators, it has also caused devastating impacts on thousands of people in the creative industry.
Tourism is the second largest industry in The Gambia with over 20% contribution to the GDP.
However, with the drying up of tourist arrivals the artisans went completely out of business,
posing a negative economic impact on creative industry. These include carvers, sculptors, weavers, sand painters and tie and dye batik dealers who operate in tourist markets either as artist creators or distributors of their own material.
In March 2020 the Gambia government introduced a whooping D100 million recovery package to the industry but several players in the creative industry claimed it is not good enough.
The Vice President of the Bakau Craft Market, Alieu Njie who is also a vendor at the said market, said even though he was among the recipients of the Government’s Covid-19 relief package it was not comprehensive to the many challenges they suffered during the pandemic.
“We were faced with so many challenges during the pandemic among is the closure of our businesses during the lockdown. Moreover, the tourists that we normally sell our products to were not coming. So it was very tuff for most of us, considering we are family heads and responsible for the survival of our children and spouses,” Njie said.
He said with the recovery of global economies and hospitality industries, there are good indications of a good recovery for this year’s tourism season which was officially opened last month amid the uncertainties over the presidential election.
Abdoulie Hydara, a woodcarver at the Bakau craft market, described his experiences during the pandemic as “horrendous”.
According to him, all they encountered during the pandemic were hardship and desperation since business has not been as usual.
He reiterated the negative impact of the pandemic on tourism,
“The coronavirus pandemic has affected every sphere of our tourism industry especially most of us whose earnings even when the tourists are here get very low. Until now, we feel there will be little or no changes because the season has started and we are yet to be engaged by the authorities as to what plans and policies they put in place for an effective recovery in terms of volumes in arrivals,” Hydara added.
Also narrating her ordeal, Fatou Bitteh Cham, mother of two who has been operating a sand painting shop at the Bakau craft market with her husband since 2001, said: “We derive so many benefits from the business, because what we get from the business is what we use to support our family and other needs. But when Covid came we suffered a lot because for a person who survives on what he earns from his business, supports his children’s education from the same business to just wake up one morning and be told to close his business is very painful and hard to swallow. It was very painful and degrading but we have to cope and until now, after the relaxation of the lockdown measures, business is not going well. You will come to the shop from dawn to dusk without selling anything. Sadly, that’s the situation we are faced with.”
What support has the Govt offered?
The Director General of the National Centre for Arts and Culture said the pandemic has had diverse effects on the creative industry ranging from economic, social and psychological consequences.
“The pandemic has brought about a decline in the creative industry and as such we had to intervene and give support to the best of our ability and that was done in good faith,” Hassoum Ceesay, director at National Centre for Arts and Culture, said.
“Even the large audience that they [creative industry players] used to have has dried up. And also their inability to travel outside the Gambia. We used to take them to Venezuela and Algeria to the All Africa Arts and Culture festival where they display their crafts and also perform on stage like weaver, carver or sand painting but the pandemic has badly curtailed foreign travels.”
According to Ceesay the government relief package only covered artists who have registered with NCAC and paid their dues for 2020 and 2021.
“There was no foul play; this is government money and when it came we just went back to the register and those who paid their yearly dues were considered. Many of them contacted me and I apologised to them and urged them to register and pay their dues,” he added.
He disclosed that the relief package ranges from D15,000 to a minimum of D5000 but “large chunks of them were uncovered because they were unregistered.”