By Fatou Dahaba
In the Gambia, there was literally a total shutdown in the tourism industry; which has a significant negative socio-economic impact on the tourism industry and the economy as a whole.
Given the tourism’s important contribution to both employment and GDP, Covid-19 has worsened the menace of unemployment in The Gambia. The total shutdown of the industry means most of the stakeholders in the industry risk losing their jobs or gain less income.
Actors in the tourism industry are mainly categorised into two: formal and informal businesses. The formal businesses which are usually establishments consist of hotels, bars and restaurants, beach bars, guest houses, lodges, eco lodges, ground tour operators, casinos, gaming and betting houses, equipment hirers, retail shops and services among others.
The informal businesses are usually individual businesses and consist of: tourist taxis, craft vendors and juice pressers among a host of others.
Ramatoulie Chama, a vendor at Senegambia Craft Market, said covid-19 has really affected her business as tourists are not coming, thus forcing her to close her shop for a while. However, she said she had to resume business because it’s the only place that she and her family depend for survival despite business not going as usual.
“I have to pay the electricity bill, house rent and water bill as well. Even feeding my family; if I think of these responsibilities I cannot sit home and for a year, now nothing is working for me in the market,” she said.
“As I speak to you now, I have owed some loans that I took since the beginning of the pandemic. I even owe my landlord for three months and still I cannot settle them. There is no single tourist in the craft market. Everywhere is empty.
Ramatoulie has been in the industry since childhood and this business is what she depends on for survival and as of now she has no savings in the bank. The little that she saves has gone during the lockdown and whatever she sells now is used to feed the family.
She disclosed that if she has the means and support, she would quit the industry and venture into another business. She tourists who are not coming like the previous years are the buyers of her products.
Adama Jallow, a 51-year-old disabled petty trader at the Senegambia Craft Market, expressed similar frustrations.
She recalled that sometimes in September last year during the rainy season, a win blew off her roof and her shop got flooded, destroying all her items and left her devastated.
According to her, she also took a loan to start fresh with the hope that after the season she would be able to pay her loan and continue her business as usual; but her expectation has faded away.
According to her, her sales on a daily basis could not even cover her transportation as she travels a few kilometres away from Senegambia.
The single parent and mother of three, said she started business in the tourism industry some 18 years ago and has been the breadwinner of her family.
According to her, she has no hope now than to go to the street and beg as the situation is getting unbearable for her family.
“I don’t have money to start a new business because I spent all my savings during the lockdown. Certainly I will quit industry; no one can tell when the tourism sector would be back to normalcy,” she said.
For Awa Ceesay, a fruit seller and juice presser, adjacent to Senegambia Craft Market, the narrative is different as she is determined to continue the business in the industry no matter how the situation.
“At least I make sales every day; although it is not as it used to be in the past years. The previous years, I would sometimes go home with D2000 at the end of every day as my sale, but now I don’t even sell D500 on a daily basis,” she disclosed.
“I’m used to it and it’s where I know. I will stay and continue and I am optimistic that the season will go back to normalcy someday,” she optimistically said.
Sheikh Tijan Nyang, founder and principal of Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia, said craft market and food vendors are the most vulnerable group in the tourism sector and they contribute a lot and have been affected seriously.
“Their livelihood depends on tourism, although they are not only ones affected. The Covid-19 affects the entire economy and populace. These people do not have any means of survival besides what they were doing.”
He said that he doesn’t know when the next season starts, saying in his perspective, he does not see the likelihood of tourism resuming until 2025.
In The Gambia, the tourism season usually starts in October and ends in April.
However, Nyang opined that since the country is in its election year, it’s likely that many tourists would not visit the country until 2022.
He hinted that most of the hotels would go bankrupt because they depend on overdraft and loans even though the government appeals to banks to suspend interest rates; “but yet, loans are not paid and so survival is critical at the moment.”
“Unless we appeal to the government as a key player to seek funding from international agencies and see how they can give support to the vulnerable groups.”
According to The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS) a rapid assessment of the Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism and Related Sectors indicate that during the assessment, the respondents were asked about average monthly income during the peak season. The data shows bird watchers reported the highest average monthly earnings of GMD52,102.00 followed by taxi drivers (GMD 37,508.00) and craft market vendors (GMD 37,553.00). Airport porters had the least average monthly income (GMD 9,964.00).
The decline got even worse as The Gambia registered its first case of Covid-19 in March; a period when the countries from which Gambia receives most of its visitors were grappling with increasing numbers of cases.
In March 2019, there the occupancy rate was 73.6 per cent but this declined to 64.6 per cent in March 2020. This type of decline is reflected across all establishments although it is the hotels that have accounted for the most decline which also relates to the amount of expected forecast loss.