By Lamin SM Jaiteh
Tourism and culture minister, Hamat Bah, has denied the existence of organised groups involved in sex tourism in The Gambia.
Minister Bah was speaking at the 2018 WTM (World Travel Market) taking place at the Excel Exhibition Centre in London, UK from 5-7 November.
Responding to questions concerning challenges and opportunities in The Gambia tourism sector, Bah denied there is sex tourism in The Gambia.
He said: ” There is no sex tourism in The Gambia. There is prostitution anywhere [you go] in the world.”
“It exists of course, but I can tell you that sex tourism – when sex is organised and run by organisations recognised by the state – doesn’t exist in The Gambia.”
Minister Bah assured visitors to The Gambia that they are free to go anywhere in the country and enjoy their holidays but said they must do so ‘responsibly’.
He said: ” People are free to go to wherever they want but we believe our laws and they are to protect our people.”
” Nobody below the age of 18 is allowed to enter a hotel without a parent. The law is very strict about that.”
On the issue of ‘Bumsters’ – the phenomenon of youths frequenting tourist sites soliciting unwanted friendship from tourists – he admitted is still a problem but understands the reason for it, and he said: “government is engaging the youth to minimise its harmful impact.”
” Bumsting is a social issue. It’s not about what you may think it is; this is a problem of poverty. When the youths are unemployed, they have to look for other means of surviving. And therefore some of them use tourism. Government has put in measures to stop that.”
” We are not prosecuting them but we are convincing them not to do it. And last year we had very little problem. I can tell you, this year we’re discussing with them; engaging them, ” he said.
Minister Bah is heading a team of Gambia travel and tourist industry experts at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London. The forum brings together travel industry professionals around the world to network, learn and do business.
Since the advent of New Gambia – after the fall of dictatorial regime of Yahya Jammeh – travel and tourism experts in The Gambia have been pushing to turn around fortunes in tourism in the country. Government aims to promote an inclusive and culture-centred tourism to deliver growth and benefits to the nation.
In addition to attracting sun-seekers Gambia tourism ministry is also seeking to attract tourists interested in festivals, sports events, meeting and conferences; and students.