The Gambia’s Tourism Minister Hamat N.K. Bah, told Lawmakers that the COVID-19 Pandemic seriously devastated the 2020 tourist season.
Minister Bah disclosed this information to Deputies of the Gambia’s Parliament, in response to a question asked by the Member for Bakau Ousman Touray, on how the pandemic has affected the sector, as well as on the steps taken by the Ministry to localize tourism and strengthen the all-inclusive cultural tourism, instead of extensively depending on external tourism.
“Without doubt, the 2020 tourist season was economically devastated by the COVID-19 Pandemic and that although localized tourism will still not be sufficient to cover the expected arrivals and economic benefits, it will help reduce the gap,” Minister Bah replied; that in cognisance of this fact, his Ministry has been looking at ways of encouraging regional and domestic tourism in the country, since the start of the outbreak of the pandemic; that the construction of five eco-lodges in each of the regions across the country as per the national development plan, is indeed a clear indication of his Ministry; that he is happy to report that work on three of these lodges in Barra in NBR, Kunkiling forest in CRR and Sotuma Samba Sireh in URR, are already in high gear.
According to Bah, these community based ecologies will help in providing sources of income for both the economy and the people; that the expected high standards in terms of service delivery, will encourage regional and domestic tourism, which will further trigger the promotion and creation of local micro-economic businesses in the regions as a tourism development area.
When asked what local activity his Ministry has taken to ensure tourism local tourism is promoted not being limited to the building of eco-lodges by the Member for Badibbu Central Sulayman Saho, Minister Bah replied that culture based tourism is combine together as reason for the promotion of cultural festivals nationwide; that they have invested huge amounts of money last year in support of cultural events in the country; that at the moment, the Sport Ministry is being supported by the EU to build wrestling arenas attached to these eco-lodges, with a view to attract spectators and participants for such events and as accommodation during these events. He said this is also part of their efforts to blend culture and tourism together.
Halifa Salla, the Member for Serre Kunda on his part, told the Minister that tourism should link three elements to develop and these are: the consumer, facilities and products. Halifa further asked Minister Bah if his Ministry has done any comprehensive study to create a properly computed database for domestic tourism with the right products and facilities for consumers and how such a development could take place.
In response to Halifa, Minister Bah said such an initiative started about two years ago; that the idea was conceived because they expected something like this to happen whether by way of COVID-19 or through natural disaster; that they felt they cannot rely on internationally sourced markets to maintain and sustain the industry.
He however pointed out some of the challenges within the sector, such as getting people employed. According to Bah, people must be trained in tourism hospitality before they can be employable; that the Hospitality Institute has taken up a program and has inter-alia, commenced training in Farafenni and Janjangbureh, in order to serve at these facilities.