The first time I visited the Gambia and Senegal was as a tourist.
I had been inspired by my drumming teacher who lived in Sweden but was born in Senegal.
We were a group of women who learned to dance and how to play djembe we were not especially good at it but we had fun!
I will tell you more about my experience with dancing and drumming in Senegal some other time but now I want to speak about tourism in general.
Dear people of the Gambia, are you aware of what a wonderful country you live in and how special it feels for tourists who visit the Gambia?
I don’t think so and it is easy to understand because you are so used to what you are surrounded with so it is nothing special for you.
This is why I ask you to give me a moment to contemplate about the treasures of the Gambia.
There are a lot of people here in Sweden who love the Gambia and when I ask them what they love about the country these are some of the answers:
· The sun
· The heat
· The beaches
· The hotels
· The food
· The fresh fruit and vegetables at the markets
· The music
· The culture
· The nature
· The river Gambia
· The art and crafts
· The markets with all wonderful items for sale
· The beautiful dresses the women are wearing
Last but not least the people!
The people of the Gambia with a mix of emotions and pride, laughter and arguments, smiles and tears, weakness and strength.
When I’m here in Sweden I miss all this so much and for me personally I would love to promote the Gambia more than I am able to do now.
There is so much more to experience in the Gambia than the cheap prices in the local bars and restaurants and not all tourists are interested in drinking and partying.
There are a lot of Gambian people who live in Sweden and I came in contact with a musician called Suleyman Ceesay with whom I will collaborate at the school where I am working.
I used to teach about the slave trade and the impacts it made on the music history so when I spoke to Sulayman we decided to meet and make plans for our future collaberation.
Sulayman Ceesay has been on tour this summer on music festivals in both Sweden and Norway, later in August he is invited to the UK on another music festival.
Sulayman is promoting the Gambia a lot, he is performing the traditional music and is telling about the culture of the Gambia.
Another great promoter of the Gambia is another Ceesay, Lamin on Lamstours, who is now in Sweden and will soon go to Denmark.
Lams is arranging tours in the Gambia and abroad, he is very popular among the tourists, and he always brings a lot of tourist brochures about the Gambia to give to his friends in Sweden and Denmark to spread.
Both Ceesays don’t get one butut for all the marketing and all the goodwill they are spreading but they do it because they are passionate, they love their country and they want more people to experience what a wonderful place the Gambia is.
I find it necessary that the government in the Gambia is trying their level best to invest in the tourism.
I know that the financial status for the Gambia is hard because of Yahya Jammeh but it is like we are driving up a hill – we need more speed instead of pressing the break pedal.
I wish there was a lot to see about the Gambia on social media but even if I check it every day there is not much to see.
I wonder what the minister who is responsable of the tourism sector is doing all day.
Maybe he would need some tips from all of us foreigners who love the Gambia so he could know what to market.
Marketing is an investment in the future of the Gambia, we can’t trust the Chinese to do everything for the Gambia and I’m not sure about their agenda.
It may sound wonderful that they are prepared to invest a lot in different sectors in the Gambia but I’m afraid that it sounds too good to be true.
It is better for the Gambia to inventory its assets and do the best of what the country already has got, by that the Gambia will be independent and doesn’t have to listen to guidelines from the Chinese.
All – inclusive has been modern for some years, this means that when a guest is living at a hotel this guest will find everything he needs at the hotel area and doesn’t have to go anywhere else.
Everything is included in the price; all drinks, food, entertainment – only what they buy in the gift shop is exclusive.
This might sound convenient but what about the local shops, vendors at the markets, tour arrangers, taxi drivers, artists, craftsmen, fruit sellers and so on?
Only those who are chosen by the hotel manager or some big company are allowed to offer their services to the tourists and these will not earn a lot either.
All-inclusive can be good if you stay at a hotel far away from nearest town but otherwise it is not a fair system, especially not in a small country as the Gambia where people depend on every dalasi they can earn from the tourist sector.
Many tourists who come to the Gambia have also visited other countries where they have all-inclusive and many are actually fed up with it.
It is nice to go out from the hotel and experience something else, it is getting rather boring after a while to stay at the same place all the time.
Get rid of the bumsters, create job opportunities for the young men so they will stop harrassing tourists and more tourists will be seen on the streets, bumsters are a big problem that is hard to handle as a tourist.
If all people of the Gambia have the opportunities to support themselves and their families there is no need for anything as undignified as being a bumster.
ECO-tourism has become popular around the world.
People who are passionate about environmental matters, about the nature and the wildlife have a lot to explore in the Gambia.
A lot of birds are moving from Europe to Africa late in the autumn to avoid the cold up here, this is interesting for bird watchers to see how ”our” local birds are living in a completely different environment than where we are used to see them.
Not only birds are interesting, also butterflies, bees and bugs have their own ”fan club”.
Bees can be irritating when they are buzzing around us and threaten to sting us but without bees there will be no flowers, no fruit and actually no life.
Music-tourism could become a massive sector and a great success for the Gambia.
There are a lot of people who study music at university level around in Europe and now as the Gambia is a democracy and peaceful it would be great to arrange multicultural festivals with music and dancing.
We could collaborate with universities and arrange workshops in the Gambia where our European musicians and dancers could learn the traditional songs, music and dances.
This would give a lot of job opportunities to our low paid musicians in the Gambia, it would give an enormous impact on the tourism sector with more possibilities for smaller hotels to rent out their rooms, more guests to the restaurants, more passengers for our taxi drivers and more shopping which will benefit our vendors at the markets and in the shops.
Believe me, I’m a musician myself and it was thanks to the music I fell in love with the Gambia.
Many years from now I studied music at the university and I will never forget when we got the opportunity to learn some dances from dancers and musicians who came from the Gambia.
This made such an impact on us all in my class.
African fashion has become very popular in Europe and that is a sector that can become larger and larger, why not compete with Dakar?
Arranging tours in the Gambia with a focus on art, crafts and fashion would help our tailors, artists and the fabric industry.
Teachers around the world could come and visit the Gambia, inspire the teachers and support local schools in the diaspora.
People who are studying environmental matters could come to the Gambia to help locals with different kind of matters and problems.
There is so much to do about the environment and there are a lot of innovative people in the Gambia who could solve a lot of problems if they only get some encouragement.
When you are poor you are forced to become innovative to survive, I know that from my own experience and I have seen that both in the Gambia and Senegal.
Imagine to have workshops and a competition with foreign and local inventors, decide a theme, let them use the material they are surrounded with and the competition can begin!
As you see; there is so much that can be done if we look a little further, if we allow ourselves and others to use the imagination and say YES to ideas instead of NO.
Let us have a brain-storming, let us meet and come up with a lot of ideas.
Some of the ideas can’t be used, others are useful but can wait and then there are also a lot of ideas that are brilliant and can be used immediately.
Please don’t always rely on our politicians to solve everything for us, trust your own capacity because you can do a lot more to benefit tourism and business than you believe.
Make a gathering at your compound, spread the word that you wish people to come with ideas how to make your village interesting for tourists.
Once I visited a village in Casamance that is famous for being very clean and beautiful.
This village doesn’t have a lot of arrangements for the tourists; there is a restaurant, some small shops and that is about all but the streets are clean, the houses along the main street are painted, the gardens are tidied and there are a lot of flowers everywhere.
Believe it or not but tourists actually visit this village because of its beauty and that beauty doesn’t cost a lot to maintain, only some effort and passion.
It is easy to be a bit blind for what is surrounding us, we are used to seeing it and for us it is nothing special.
This goes both for beauty but also for ugliness.
As you are having this meeting at your compound you could also discuss what could be done to the areas you are used to seeing but you also know are ugly?
Look at your village or neighbourhood with the eyes of a stranger for a little while; what would make a negative impact on you?
It’s like if you invite guests to your home; you tidy the house, throw the trashes, wash yourself and put on clean clothes.
Change this image to your village instead and see what could be done there to make people feel welcomed, you might not have an invasion of visitors but you would feel a great pride of what you have accomplished together.
Right now you are in the middle of the raining season and I have seen photos and videos on internet of flooded streets and destroyed homes.
As winter seems to come as a surprise here in Sweden every year, with train engines that are too frozen to function and slippery streets so cars are crashing, the raining season seems to have the same effect in the Gambia.
When new roads are made or the existing roads are repaired there must also be a thought not only for the moment but on what will happen to that road in heavy rain therefore pipes for drainage must be dug down on the sides of the roads.
Waste is used as road fill – maybe not the best solution when it is not sorted and you must know that all toxic materia and liquid will pour down in to the ground water.
Handling of waste from both homes, factories and other kind must be taken care of wisely.
There is a lot that can be reused and what is toxic should never be allowed to come out in the nature.
You have read about the fishing factory in Gunjur, the Golden Lead factory, and the consequences it has had on the nature and also on people living near by.
The waste dump in Bakoteh where waste is burnt so near the population is making a lot of damage on both human lives and on the nature.
Waste can and should be burnt but the smoke must be purified and the heat can be used for power.
A waste dump should never be allowed to be placed near population and though more people have built houses closer to it a waste dump must be placed far from a town and there must also be rules for where it is allowed to build houses.
As the Gambia is a small country there is not a lot of land to use for this but nevertheless this problem must be solved.
It is a matter of the environment, health issues but also what impact we want to give visitors, it doesn’t look nice to have an unprotected stinky waste dump near population.
As the Gambia has two large industries, groundnuts and tourism, there need to be investments in these areas.
Taking good care of the environment, drain the roads will help industries to develop and will also make life easier for all people in the Gambia.
If the tourist season would be lengthened it would give people more income and it would be easier for us in Sweden for example to visit the Gambia because our longer vacation is always in the summer time, somewhere between middle of June to the middle of August.
We are not afraid of the rain, we have a lot of that here and the advantage in the Gambia is that the air is still warm when it’s raining.
If the roads would be drained and the waste taken care of so it wouldn’t fill ditches with the smell, flies and worms it would be easy for everyone to travel around in the Gambia – no matter if you are on your way to your local market or if you are a tourist interested in the changes in the nature when everything is green and in bloom.
The last thing on my mind concerning tourism is the landing fees for the planes.
The fees are very high and that is causing problems for tourist companies because all costs are included in arranged travels and it is rather expensive to travel to the Gambia.
Many of us prefer to go by Brussels Airlines because it is more comfortable and we can also bring a lot more luggage with us than with Ving, for example, but it is costly.
If there would be lower landing fees there would become a larger competition between the airline companies and that would lower the costs for travellers.
So, Mr Bah, minister of the tourism sector, are you interested in tips from foreigners who love the Gambia or do you believe you already have all the answers?