By Yankuba Jallow
Hamat N.K. Bah, the Minister of Tourism and Culture has told the press at a Press Conference on Friday May 10th 2019, that there is mass bribery at the Banjul International Airport by officers.
Minister Bah alleged that there is major corruption at the airport by officials working there including Immigration and Customs officers. He said these workers always ask for bribes from immigrants.
“This is frustrating. The guard to the Prince of Wales told me that he was asked for money by the immigration,” Bah said. He said the airport administration should adjust in terms of their work. He said Gambians and foreigners coming into the country all face the same harassment; adding the number of flights that land at the airport weekly is now eight, when it was previously five.
The press conference which took place at the Gambia Tourism and Hotel Institute or former Hotel School, highlighted the progress made by the Ministry of Tourism.
Bah told the press that his ministry targets the arrival of 500,000 tourists before end of 2021, whereas the National Development Plan (NDP), targets 350,000 tourists.
“One of the major hurdles we face as a Ministry is the issue of hotels. There are many people willing to build hotels but ex-president Yahya Jammeh has leased all the lands in the Tourism Development Areas (TDA) under his name, and this poses difficulty in land allocation,” the Minister said. Bah added the time he took over, the quality of services was below international standard.
“In this world today, standard and quality cannot be compromised,” Bah said, adding that the tourism and culture sector can guarantee the country sustainable economy.
He said the tourism sector lacks middle-level managers especially the hotel industry; that this is as a result of the former government’s failure to invest in the area. He promised that in the coming decade and a half, this problem will be solved.
Bah spoke of a public outcry that since the coming of the FTI into the country, fifteen middle-level managers have been dismissed from their work; that there are four five-star hotels constructed whilst others are under construction, and others awaiting approval.
“We have banned the construction of five-star hotels in the urban areas,” Bah stated adding that this is to promote the construction of hotels in rural areas. He said a few Airline agencies are planning to build hotels in The Gambia; that the ‘Thomas Cook’ Airline has already a hotel named ‘Tamala’. In addition, he said the African Princess Hotel is owned by Gambians; that ‘Metzy’, ‘Badala’ and ‘Colona’ Town are all owned by Gambians. He indicated that the GT-Board is reviewing the applications of many investors desiring to build hotels in the country.
Bah said his Ministry wants to build five Eco-lodges upcountry.
On the Gambia Tourism Hospitality Institute (GTHI), Bah said the Institution is doing well particularly in promoting quality and services; that the curriculum of the Institute has been revised to meet international standard.
In collaboration with the YEP, Minister Bah said the GTHI trained 400 youth including returnees, in areas of food services and beverages; that those trained are now actively working in the tourism industry. He said his Ministry has created a new training centre in Janjanbureh and another training centre annex in Farafenni; adding his Ministry has invested heavily in the promotion of Gambian dishes, in particular the promotion of locally made food, in pursuit of discouraging imported food contents; that in partnership with their Senegalese counterparts, GTHI has trained Gambians in pastry.
On the challenges of the GTHI, Minister Bah said the Institution face logistic and equipment challenges among a few others. “We plan to build a fifty-bedroom hotel where GTHI will train their own staff,” he said.
On the Gambia Tourism Board, Minister Bah said they are in charge of the marketing and development of the tourism sector; that previously, the number of tourists who visit The Gambia was between 150,000 to 160,000 visitors annually; but that now this figure has risen to 209,000 tourists, last year alone; that when he took over as Minister, there was a contract between the government of the Gambia and some PR-Companies to sell out the Gambia internationally; that those contracts were detrimental to the Gambia because they were paying thousands of foreign currency per month to those Companies. “When we came into office, we ensured that we terminate those contracts. Gambians are now doing the work,” he said.
He said for the first quarter of the year 2019, Gambia received over 75,000 tourists which means the country has 97% increment compared to last year’s; that the GT-Board has built roads, electricity poles and improved hotel structures among other activities, as their own initiative.
Bah said his Ministry has disbursed money to the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) to support ten festivals. He explained that the Council is working tirelessly in ensuring the enforcement of copyright laws; that they have appointed a copyright officer at the Council.
“We want to ensure that every artist benefit from their works. We want to eliminate the culture of poverty in the sector,” he said; that the Ministry has instructed the Council to increase the fee on foreign bands coming into The Gambia, and that a new cultural policy has been validated as well.