By Kebba Ansu Manneh
Sidi Sanneh, a former Foreign Affairs Minister cum seasoned Gambian Diplomat has called the government to effect corrective measures at the Banjul International Airport to convince tour operators to stay in the country.
He said the present situation should have not reached this level where tour operators are threatening the government to do its job to allow the free flow of tourists in the country for the 2022/2023 winter tourism season.
Sanneh, one of the leading Gambian Economists disclosed this to The Voice Newspaper in an exclusive interview saying the cancellation of rotational Tourists flights to the country will cause huge economic damage to the country. He emphasised that the situation that befalls the Banjul International Airport (BIA) could have been avoided if the institution had been managed effectively by dedicated civil servants working with passion and commitment to national development.
The leading Gambian Economist comments come on the heels of the cancellation of four rotation tourist flights by Titan Tour Operating Company as well as the concerns raised by other tour operating companies threatening further cancellation of flights to The Gambia if Banjul International Airport fails to address the issues of waste management, provide firefighter vehicles and the $20 so-called airport security fees levied on incoming and outgoing passengers at the airport by 29th, October 2022.
“It’s very unfortunate to learn that tour operators represented by two companies viz The Gambia Experience and Titan submitted the operators’ queries regarding what they consider to be deficiencies at the BIA that have serious safety issues if urgent remedial measures are not taken to address them. It’s also unfortunate that only one fire truck at the Airport has a faulty brake system to industry standards where at least three fire trucks are required” Sidi Sanneh disclosed.
He added: “the second issue is overgrown grass and scrubs around the vicinity of the runways which attract birds that can cause bird strikes that can result in serious accidents. Equally, Passenger safety and passenger convenience should not have been an issue at the BIA, especially when tourists arrive and produce their credit cards to pay the $20 border security tax, the collectors claim their credit card readers are dysfunctional.”
According to him, visiting tourists usually find it so inconvenient and frustrating when they cannot make payments through their credit cards at the airport on arrival, arguing that such a situation shouldn’t have happened knowing that most incoming tourists are already exhausted by the time of arrival and going forth and back could make their visit boring and distressful.
When asked to explain the economic implication of the current situation of the BIA and threats of cancellation of flights by tour operators, Sidi Sanneh disclosed that the impact of such issues on the industry and the Gambian economy are enormous. He noted that the tourism industry contributes 25% to the country’s GDP and, therefore, is crucial to its economy and citizens’ livelihoods.
The renowned Diplomat cum Economist continued that tourism also provides thousands of jobs to Gambians, and provides the needed foreign exchange for the balance of payments among other benefits derived from the industry.
“The solutions are simple, resolve the issue of the fire trucks, cutting off the tall grasses should never have been a problem in the first place, equally Credit Card readers should also never have been a problem. I think the fundamental problem is government officials are not dedicated civil servants, they are not interested in serving the people, which is what civil/ public service means – you serve the public” Sidi Sanneh added.