By Mustapha Darboe The protracted political impasse caused by the refusal of ex-president Yahya Jammeh to cede power has cost the tourism sector an estimated two hundred million dollars, the assistant chairperson of Gambia Hotel Association and general manager of one of the country’s leading hotels, Senegambia Beach, told The Torch. Bunama Njie said the huge loss started after tourists withdrew from the country between 19 to the end of January. “Since the tour operators pulled out from January 19 to the end of the month, overall, we might have incured a revenue loss of over 200 million… It could surpass this as well but this is the conservative estimate… We have lost about 30 to 35% of the business,” Njie said. He further said that after the travel advice by key tourism destination most of the hotels were very empty and even on resumption of some flights, hotels are still struggling between 20 to 25% occupancy. But despite this complicated situation, Njie said the Gambia Hotel Association’s members have engaged each and will not lay off people until at a certain time to see how businesses go. The officials of the Gambia’s tourism ministry including Minister Hamat Bah have confirmed having met with stakeholders over the situation in the sector which they admit was “seriously” affected by the impasse. On Tuesday, Minister Bah and other key stakeholders in the sector revealed their plans to the media at a press conference at Paradise Suite on how they intend to bring back tourists and even extend the season to April. Bah, who is himself a seasoned player in the country’s tourism even after he joined politics, narrated how a collaborated efforts between him, President Adama Barrow and various embassies in Gambia resulted in a quick revision of travel advices by western countries. The Director General of Gambia Tourism Board, Abdoulie Hydara, said the impact of the crisis on the sector was more than that of the 2014 Ebola impact on the sector. “Right now we are working on the impact of the political impasse on the tourism industry… What I can tell you, the impasse could be worse than the Ebola,” Hydara said. Gambia never registered a single case of Ebola but the fear of contacting the deadly disease scared the tourists away from the entire region. But Hydara said during the period of the impasse hotels had 0% occupancy rate as opposed to that of Ebola when some tourists visited the country despite the fear of Ebola. “During the impasse, it was zero arrivals… All the hotels were from 95% occupancy to zero,” Hydara said. Impact on businesses Meanwhile, the chief executive officer of Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Alieu Secka, also told The Torch that the impasse has had a devastating impact on businesses though they cannot quantify the losses as of now. Secka urged the new administration to create an “enabling environment” for businesses. “Some businesses reported that they have received queries from their suppliers, the banks were unwilling to give credit because they would not know whether this would be paid. The transit trade from Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Mali could not go because they have their own security concerns,” Secka said of the experiences during the crisis. He also revealed that the GCCI’s decision to call on Jammeh to go was in fact based on the fact that the businesses had already started complaining of losses. Gambian economy is currently struggling with higher public debt, rising poverty level and youth unemployment which is fuelling illegal migration. “Now there are very few things the government can do; they can start by freeing up the space. We have seen the former president involved in every business in the country. We feel a government should create the environment. But also there are many other constraints particularly the higher cost of energy… Sadly, cost of energy in Gambia is one of the highest in the world. Another issue to be addressed is cost of finance and overburden of taxation…,” Secka said. The GCCI has already met the new Gambian trade minister, Dr Isatou Touray, on how she could help create an enabling environment for businesses in the country. Secka said they are very optimistic that better times are ahead.]]>
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