I love Gambia and have been there over a dozen times, sometimes with friends and other times with my family. For such a beautiful country, I am always disappointed that it struggles to attract the number of tourists that it should do. My dream job would be to attract tourism into The Gambia, as it has so much potential. Here are a few problems The Gambia should address to get started:
The prices for package holidays are too expensive, from Gambia Experience. The distance from England to The Gambia is similar to the Canaries, but the holidays to The Gambia are much more expensive. Things are much cheaper in The Gambia, so I don't understand why it is so expensive. I believe Gambia Experience needs more competition.
Stop all-inclusive holidays, or make them a maximum of half-board. Force the tourists to go outside the hotels and spend their money in local businesses. With all-inclusive, the hotels make all the money and then the money is transferred to European companies.
Stop tourists being ripped off at the airport. Several times I have arrived at Banjul and had to join a queue to give £5 as a tax. Each time, when I asked, I was informed this was a new tax. I am sure this is a scam and soneone is getting very rich from it. This leaves a very bad impression when tourists arrive.
The biggest problem with The Gambia is the ‘bumsters.’ Although I am used to this because I have visited so many times, I had several bad experiences at the Ocean Bay Hotel at Cape Point. I stayed there with my family and it was impossible to leave the hotel without being harassed. The ‘bumsters’ just refused to leave us alone even when we asked them. We wanted to visit local shops but these guys, some of them were drunk, refused to leave us alone. They sit outside the hotel entrance all day waiting for tourists to leave. In the end, I had to ask the tour operator to transfer my family to the Senegambia Hotel, where the ‘bumsters’ are more controlled. My family is now so fed up with the hassle; they are refusing to return to The Gambia.
We need to better educate people in the UK who are interested in booking a holiday. We need more adverts showing all the positive things in The Gambia. News tends to only reflect bad things like Ebola, AIDS and Sex Tourism. What about the great restaurants, the golf course, great fishing, wonderful birdlife etc.The live music is wonderful and tourists will value the lack of serious crimes against visitors.
Gambia needs more attractions/activities for children and families. We need to promote horse riding, cycling safaris through the villages, children’s clubs in hotels, ‘djembe’ classes for children. Were these are already provided, the prices are too expensive. In other countries, hotels provide children's clubs for free and these are a great attraction for families who have children.
Also, for older children who can use internet, we should set up a pen pal system so that Gambian children and European children can build long term friendships. This will encourage many tourist families to have repeat holidays in The Gambia.
I could write a lot more but it takes someone in authority to start putting improvements together. Good luck!
Vincent Benedict lives with his family in Kent, UK, and is a leading therapist in the treatment of anxiety disorders. He first visited Gambia 14 years ago and, immediately, fell in love with the place. He is now a regular visitor and has supported a school in Serrekunda, in the past. His other interests are playing the djembe (badly) and listening to Senegalese music.