Gambian tourism minister tells Anadolu Agency country’s tourism sector boosting beyond their expectations
Tourism is one of the most important sectors for Gambia as it contributes one fourth to the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP), a minister said.
Gambian Tourism and Culture Minister Hamat Bah said his country has diversified tourism attractions and they have taken measures to improve it.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency at his office in capital Banjul, Bah said the country has recorded the highest number of foreign tourist arrival in 2018 that was “beyond our expectation.”
“The highest arrival we ever had in this country was 175,000 in 2013. But as of the end of December 2018, the country has recorded over 219,000 international tourists,” Bah said.
But in near future, the minister said, the country is looking for 350,000 to 500,000 foreign tourists.
The tiny west African nation on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean is a popular destination for international tourists specially from the U.K., EU and Scandinavian countries for its beaches, rivers, natural beauty and culture.
The tourism sector contributes 25-30 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the minister who also added that the sector employs directly and indirectly almost 150,000 to 200,000 Gambians out of its roughly 2 million population.
Eco-tourism in the country is one of the most popular attractions for tourists. The country has over 600 different types of birds, tourists come for birdwatching, he mentioned.
“We have much more to offer to tourists such as food and beverage festival, educational tourism– students come in and they are exposed to village life — village tourism,” the minister went on to say.
Tourism markets for Gambia
On market diversification, Bah stated that his country is sharing the same tourism market with Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
“So, the market is very competitive for us […] But we are working to get tourists from Russia, China, the Middle East and Nigeria,” he added.
The ministry along with Gambian tourism board and all other agencies are marketing the country abroad with its limited resources as well as branding the country, he noted.
“If you are looking for quality guest, you must have quality service and standard products. And it has become a part of government policy to improve the hotel standards,” the minister said.
Government support to tourism sector
When asked about inadequate accommodation facilities in different parts of the country, Bah said they are currently working to build five new facilities across the country.
The government is also encouraging village tourism and supporting Gambians to build three-star hotels in rural parts of the country, Bah said.
The Gambia receives most tourists during the winter months between October to February with a steady tailing off of visitors from March to May and most of the hotels remain closed after that period.
However, Bah claimed the tourism season has extended this year though many hotels in the country are preparing to close the season.
“From this month, [as it is the beginning of off-season] we are getting extra five flights in a week. In tropical season. That’s a history. We still have 20-30 percent hotel room occupancy,” he added.
He strongly rejected claims of child sex abuse in the country’s tourism sector stating that reports are “groundless.”
Relations with Turkey
Bah also expects more tourists from Turkey hailing Turkish Airlines’ flights from and to Banjul.
“We have already started working on the program to work with the Turkish government to bring Turkish tourists to this country […] Turkey is a potential market for The Gambia,” the minister said.
“Turkey also have the market for tourism products, furniture, bed and all the things we need. In fact, they are now overtaking China in terms of supply, easy access and prices. Most of the new hotels built here, their furniture is coming from Turkey,” he added.
Mentioning the Gambian President Adama Barrow’s visit to Turkey in February 2018, the minister said both countries have “extremely good relations” and commended Turkish government’s commitment to support his country’s development, security, health and other sectors.
“They [Turks] have been very helpful to this country. And we are grateful to Turkey […] Turkey is a strategic partner of The Gambia in all aspect,” he added.
He also called on the Turkish businesspeople to invest in his country’s tourism sector. “Turks are invited and welcome to The Gambia and experience this country. You will find The Gambia to be a home. And I hope they will come,” the minister said.
Story by Anadolu Agency’s Alam Sorwar