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|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - 30 Jun 2020 : 00:20:25
Kebba Ansu Manneh on Jun 22, 2020
The Gambia is a popular tourism destination in the West African sub-region, attracting more than two hundred and nineteen thousand (219,000) tourists in the 2018 – 2019 tourists season according to authorities.
The sector also creates more than one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) jobs for the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled nationals who engage in different types of jobs in the industry.
However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the entire industry into a ghost town leaving behind empty hotels, motels, guesthouses, restaurants and tourists taxis, a situation that also creates joblessness for the thousands that work in the sector.
Shops and restaurants in Gambia’s tourism area all closed due to covid-19
The Chronicle engaged multiple stakeholders to gauge their views on the development in the sector, their recollection is of shattered expectations and a lack of government support in the industry.
Ebrima Ceesay, Acting General Manager of the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Responsible Tourism (ASSERT), disclosed that the association comprises of one hundred and eighty (180) small scale operators in the tourism industry, revealing that all these operators have been pushed out of the tourism industry without any support forthcoming from the government since the outbreak of the virus.
“The situation in the tourism industry is really devastating at the moment, all the operators are in limbo and wanting to know when will support come from the government. The situation before the COVID-19 was bad and now one can say the situation is worse because all the businesses are closed down,” Ceesay disclosed.
He added: “Unfortunately, the government hasn’t rendered any support for us, this is a general cry we have been making long before the COVID-19”.
The ASSERT Supremo described the 2019 – 2020 tourist season as the worst ever in The Gambia, revealing that the industry was first hit by the bankruptcy of the Thomas Cook Group, the political shake-off between Operation Three Years and the Gambian Government and then the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another sector of the industry adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is the tourists taxi drivers of the tourism informal sector. They are left with two choices either to park their vehicles or resort to normal taxi driving as all tourism enterprises remain closed.
Baba Ceesay, President of the Tourists Taxi Drivers Association of The Gambia, chronicled how members of his association are faring since the first case in the country was announced, disclosing that over 90 percent of the tourists taxi drivers association members are forced out of work as a result of the closure of businesses in the tourism industry.
“Right now all tourist taxi drivers in the country are out of job because of the COVID-19 due largely to the closure of hotels, motels, guesthouses and other tourism enterprises. I can tell you, out of desperation, some of our members are currently back to normal traffic where they are earning very little compared to the industry,” says Ceesay.
He added: “We were promised to be given $50 every month for a period of three months, this was disclosed to us by the tourism ministry, but up to date no support is coming from the government. I want to appeal to the government of The Gambia to waive taxes for us in the coming season, this will help us to maintain our businesses”.
Sheikh Tijan Nyang, Principal of the Institute for Travel and Tourism of The Gambia (ITTOG) and former director of tourism in The Gambia, has also added his voice to the growing frustration in sector, observing that the industry is at a critical stage as all businesses remain closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sheikh Tijan Nyang
According to him, many operators have made huge investments in the sector including loans taken from the banks with the intentions of paying back after the season, arguing that if the government fails to bailout operators there could be a disaster after COVID-19 as they may go bankrupt.
“Our expectation as an industry was for government assistance in the form of subsidy in order to salvage the industry. We also expected the government to advise or intervene with the banks to put on hold all interests on loans taken by key players of the industry, as well as for government to support all stakeholders with soft loans as done in Senegal, Ghana, Cape Verde among other countries in the subregion,” Nyang expressed.
He said, over five hundred thousand (D150,000) arrears are pending on the shoulders of students attending ITTOG, arguing that these arrears may not be recovered due to the impact of the pandemic that left many parents and guardians penniless.
Empty Senegambia, hub of Gambia’s tourism industry
Nyang calls on Gambian government to support tourism institutes with funding that will help to address the payments of teacher’s salaries, adding that licenses fees due to Gambia Tourism Board and Municipal Councils should also be waived if these tourism training institutes are to survive after COVID-19.
|1 L A T E S T R E P L I E S (Newest First)
||Posted - 18 May 2021 : 11:42:59
The Gambia, the self-styled “smiling coast of Africa,” is waiting and hoping for a return to normal from COVID-19 as the tourism industry, one of the country’s major gross domestic product contributors, has been devastated after more than one year of total halt.
With more than 150,000 workers engaged, the tourism sector is the country’s second-largest contributor to GDP after agriculture. When the coronavirus emerged in the country in March last year, the government was forced to shut down the industry and ordered people to stay at home to control the spread of the virus.
Tourism workers in the country have their earnings put on hold while others remain jobless due to the ravaging COVID-19. With most tourist workers serving as breadwinners in their households, their food, health care, education, and other necessities have been severely curtailed.
Although the government-imposed restrictions, such as the closure of the industry to enforce stay-at-home policy and no-flight landing, it has since been waived, tourism workers continue to endure the awkward realities caused by the pandemic.
“I lost a lot last year, beyond imagination. I lost my job because I was ordered to stay at home by my boss, as a waiter at a restaurant around Senegambia. I am still sitting at home because I am asked to continue the wait,” Musu Njie told Xinhua.
Musu is the eldest born in her family, and she has been a key member who shoulders responsibility at home in terms of feeding and helping her younger siblings. But according to her, nothing has been working well.
“As a waitress in the tourism area, I was not just relying on my salary. So, even though it was not relatively the most lucrative salary at the end of the month, I still have take-home cash almost every day, and this has been helping my family,” she said.
When asked if she hoped that she would be recalled back to work soon, Musu was not confident in her answer. Her response was premised on the communication she had with her boss, who explained that they are still trying to recover from the financial ruins the closure had on their business.
“I may be recalled soon, maybe later, and maybe not at all. Because who knows when this pandemic will go forever. Because it’s still around, and nothing is still working well. I don’t think we can overturn all the damages caused by the pandemic as far as I am concerned. And that means my family and I will continue to suffer.”
Lamin Touray is a tourist taxi driver who used to ply only within the tourism development areas to attract tourists. With that, his earning sometimes could hit 3,000 Gambian Dalasis (about 60 U.S. dollars). But this was severely cut as a result of lockdown last year.
“It was the best business for me. It was the best job for me because my earning was super good. Money was not my problem, and my family was enjoying it. But since the outbreak [of the pandemic], it all turned sour and messy. The saddest thing for me is it has taken too long than I expected it. I thought this pandemic would last shorter.”
Touray told Xinhua he is still living with the impact of the pandemic because it’s difficult to keep his household on regular feeding, schooling, and other household necessities.
“I pray that the coronavirus disappears now. I have since been driving within the communities as normal taxi operators and collect D40 per trip. I am not used to this because I consider it a waste of fuel. This is in no way closer to the business in the tourism area,” he lamented.
As more jobs in the tourism industry remain at risk because the employment providers struggle to revive themselves, some have called for the government’s bailout.
“As an industry, we expected the government assistance in the form of subsidy to salvage the industry. We also expect the government to advise or intervene with the banks to put on hold all interests on loans taken by key players of the industry, as well as for the government to support all stakeholders with soft loans as done in Senegal, Ghana, Cape Verde among other countries in the subregion,” said Shiekh Tijan Nyang, the former director of Gambia Tourism Board.
Nyang, who is the principal of the Institute for Travel and Tourism of The Gambia (ITTOG), said the pandemic had cost his school a heavy economic loss due to nonpayment of tuition fees by the students.
The Gambia has recorded 5,940 coronavirus cases since the first case in March 2020, with 5,674 recoveries and 175 deaths.
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