By Tabora Bojang
After the first flight landed marking the beginning of the new tourist season, stakeholders of the country’s second highest employing industry on Monday converged at the Banjul International Airport to highlight and discuss issues that challenge tourists at the terminal.
The annual consultative meeting organised by the Gambia Tourism Board is aimed at reflecting on in-depth issues and challenges tourist and travelers encounter coming to the country as well as generating ideas and strategies for applying sound hospitality practices towards a more sustainable tourism.
The event also coincided with the arrival of the first tourist flight of the new season with Corendon Airline from Holland carrying 134 passengers.
Speaking at the forum, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Culture Mrs. Cordu Jabang- Senghore, said Tourism is a priority area for the new Government as the country ushered in a new era of hope and optimism leaving behind a period of groom isolation and excruciating uncertainty.
She said the goal of her Ministry and the GTB is to reposition tourism to generate higher growth rates in both arrivals and earnings and to create economic opportunities for tourism and investment and transform into a year-round destination.
“Our targets are to secure 1 million visitors by 2022, over US$100 million tourism earnings, make available 5,000 new bed capacity in our market and to increase the total direct jobs to 125,000. If we are to achieve these goals, we have to work together with urgency as we take tourism to a whole new level,” she said.
According to PS Jabang- Senghore, tourists continue to raise concerns on the challenges they face at the airport which include the availability of one scanning machine for checking, the presence of too many security staff both at the arrival hall and at the foot of the aircraft, incessant confrontation with tourists on issues dealing with drugs by law enforcement and phytosanitary officials and the intrusion of bird strikes which pose risks for aircraft operators.
For her part, the deputy director general of the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority, Catherine Nying the Authority is committed in the development of aviation and tourism businesses in the Gambia and beyond, saying tourism and aviation are strong “catalysts for economic growth” and need to be given all the support from the government.
She informed that the airport improvement project is currently finalizing arrangements to continue refurbishment of the terminal building including a new cooling system, replacement of the floor tiles, expansion of the check-in facilities amongst others.
“Concerns with recent incidents of bird strikes are an important subject of discussion, as GCAA we are deploying strong efforts to address this problem within the airport,” she stated.
Lamin B Dibba, the environment minister reminded the gathering that the anti-littering law is still in existence and warned that people living around the airport should be cautious in handling litters as that is among the key reasons responsible for the incidents of bird strikes at the airport.
The event was graced by the VP and Women’s Affairs Minister, senior government officials including the ministers of works, foreign Affairs and tourism as well as the private sector and other development partners of the tourism industry.
Stakeholders are upbeat about this year’s season with more than 40 flights expected to offer services including new providers amongst which is FTI.