The Gambia abounds in tourism sites that need to be harnessed and well packaged to attract both domestic and international tourists.
Regrettably, many of the places are in a sorry state, crying for attention.
The tourism sector is one area which the country can utilise to rake in a lot of revenue from both domestic and international tourists. After all, if other countries are doing it, why can’t we also position ourselves to grab our share of the benefits?
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already bad situation, but the Ministry of Tourism and Culture was quick to pick up the pieces by crafting a recovery strategy that provides an advantage in order to position our tourism sites to attract more visitors.
Many a time, we wait for the central government to take the initiative to bring investments or put money into such places to keep them running. Local authorities must take the initiative and seek the support of relevant agencies to put the tourist sites in their jurisdictions in good shape.
The Abuko Nature Reserve and Kunta Kinteh Island (James Island) were once a household name, not only in Gambia but globally. Can we say the same of them today?
The tourism industry is potentially a gold mine for both the larger country and the local authorities. It provides an alternative and assured source of revenue for the stakeholders, so that they do not depend so much on the central government for funds for developmental projects.
There are a number of sites — including historical buildings — with unique characteristics that can be maintained, with the stories behind them appropriately recorded to keep the younger generation informed and educated on our history.
It is sad that the country is losing its folklore because we are not keeping the records nor telling the younger generation our history. What about some of the rich natural rural settlements, such as Niumi, Kiang, Jarra, Saloume, Wuli, Fulladu, McCarthy, Kombo and the list goes on, where the people live in kin groups? How are we keeping them to preserve its ambience for future generations to visit and learn from such places?
There are many such tourist sites that have been left unattended to, and Vice President Badara Joof believes that as a country, “we have to get it right”. We must up our game to keep and maintain all such places.
It also brings to mind the state in which our museums are. If we took tourism seriously, those facilities could be developed into attractive sites with impressive revenue records annually. For those who have explored the museums and historical sites in the developed world, the sale of souvenirs, among other things, is a natural complementary economic activity.
The ministries of Tourism and Culture, Local Government Authorities and relevant Agencies must collaborate to develop the untapped tourism potential of the country. Not only will such collaboration help in harnessing the tourism potential; it will also create jobs for the youth.
Such a collaboration should also see how the Gambia Tourism Authority (GTA) and the National Center for Arts and Culture (NCAC) could work together to co-ordinate the facilities for the benefit of the country.
We must work together, not only to develop and maintain our tourism sites but also market and promote such sites locally and to the international community.
It is our view that if such a collaboration ever existed between the NCAC and the GTA, some of these sites could have been maintained to attract tourists.
Vice President Joof proposes that we should “go for Eco tourism, River tourism perhaps … to get it right”. He also challenged the “Hospitality Institute to broaden its curriculum” and all stakeholders must come together to streamline their roles and help sustain our tourism industry.