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History of Tourism in Gambia
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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!

The 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.
Tour OperatorsThus, 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....."

The 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 tourism industry.

A major 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 responsible tourism practices, to help reduce the negative effects of mass tourism on such a small country.

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