Up until the mid-1960s the only so called 'tourists' that visited The
Gambia were rich stop-over Swedish sightseers from cruise ships which spent the day
in Banjul allowing people take short
rides to places of interest. It also coincided with the countries
independence and a time of great hope for the future of the tiny
country. However, this future was literally peanuts!
early tourist industry was given a momentum when a Swedish
entrepreneur by the name of Bertil Harding
was travelling to Cap Skirring (Capskerring) in south Senegal,
in 1965 when, after some unfortunate personal incidences,
he accidentally drifted onto the shores of The Gambia. When
he experienced the country he became determined that his own
country's people should see this 'paradise' so near (by air-time)
to home and how friendly the people were.
the Gambia's tourism industry was given a boost and put on
a more formal footing when a group of about 300 tourists from
Sweden landed on the shores of The Gambia in 1965. During
the 1966/67 period the figure for visitors brought by Vingressor
increased to 628 tourists. This increased by over hundred
percent indicating very clearly that the sun and beaches
had become a major tourist attractions.
This view is captured in an advertisement issued by the Ministry
of Information, Broadcasting and Tourism in a 1975 with
a publication entitled:
'The Gambia Ten Years of Nationhood'.
It reads: "A climate
that has been described as one of the best in the world,
mile upon mile of such splashed beaches,
tall coconut palms, blue tropical skies, a river
that can take you deep into the heart of Africa....."
original trips were organised in a partnership venture between
Mr. Harding and the tour operator Vingressor
/ Club 33 (Ving) who saw that it was an ideal opportunity
for Swedes to escape the winter gloom for a holiday in an
exotic 'paradise' beach resort
during the dark northern European months of October to April.
Vingressor / Club 33 promoted sun
and beach tourism and constituted the only company which
offered package holidays up to the 1971/72 tourist season.
The stretch of the coastal highway
from Kairaba Avenue (Fajara)
traffic lights and going some way south has been named after Bertil Harding
in recognition of his previous efforts to promote the Gambia's
expansion of tourist arrivals to Gambia was experienced in the 70s. In
short, tourist arrivals increased from 300 tourists in 1965/66 to 2,601
in 1970/71. In 1971/72, the number almost quadrupled to 8,031. The
numbers reveal an increase to 20,383 visitors in 1973/74. By 1985,
47,926 tourist arrivals were recorded. By 1993/94, the number had
increased to 89,977 tourists. The country now (2008) receives
over 100,000 visitors a year.
The number of beds had to increase from
162 in 1965/66 to 390 in 1970/71.
This number grew to 856
in 1971/ 72, 1,802 in 1974/75. The number of
hotels increased from
1 in 1954 to 2 in 1965, 13 in 1972/73 and over 40 currently. By 1993/94, there were over 6,000
bed spaces. In 2005 the total stock of hotel beds in Gambia stood at 7,000 with
3,000 rooms (Deloitte).
However, this influx of visitors did not materialise
into direct foreign tourism investment which still
left the country relying on groundnuts as a foreign
exchange earner. The government
under the then President Jawara was eager to find
alternatives to groundnuts as a foreign exchange
earner and wanted to exploit tourisms potential.
As a result, in 1970, the idea of the TDA
(Tourism Development Area) was born which designated
a 1,000 metre length of beach area going inland
from Kololi to Kartong
for tourist development. This meant that no residential
real estate could be built their. (This is the reason
why so many property buyers are confused as to why
they cannot buy a house on the beach). The government
soon saw the real potential of this new industry
and began to offer incentives to would-be investors
in the form of tax duty waivers and tax holidays.
Much of that earlier charm and
the excitement of discovery has now sadly faded and most tourists now come on mass-booked,
cheap package holidays organised by the large
tour operators on
chartered flights. However, the country has been careful to avoid the
mistakes made by the likes of Spain and has kept hotel heights down
and emphasized an African style exterior for buildings while allowing
for European style interiors with an African accent. Great efforts are
made by ASSET, who are an association who promote
practices, to help reduce the negative effects of mass tourism on such
a small country.