By Yunus S Saliu
One of the most consistent flights to the destination Gambia that operates all year round, The Gambia Experience, on Friday, 14th October 2022 landed at the Banjul International Airport (BIA) with 164 passengers.
The arrival of these tourists on board The Gambia Experience flight officially marked begins of the 2022/23 winter tourism season in the destination, and it is the maiden flight of The Gambia Experience for the season.
The airbus SP-ENR which flew direct from Gatwick to the BIA was received by Abubacarr Camara, the Director General of the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard), and was accompanied by Adama Njie, director of marketing GTBoard; Oumie Sise of Discovery Tour – agent of The Gambia Experience; Lamin Dibba PRO of the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority, officials of GCCA, GTBoard, The Gambia Experience, and Discovery Tours among others.
Shortly after receiving the maiden flight, Abubacarr Camara, the Director General of the GTBoard expressed optimism about the season which he admitted started earlier with The Gambia Experience than expected.
He quickly described it as a blessing in disguise taking into consideration the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020, and 2021 on the country and the yet-to-end Russia and Ukraine war. But “this time around we are making a big bounce back which is a great blessing in disguise to the country. So, I am impressed” he stated.
Considerably, he said the 164 tourists who arrived via The Gambia Experience is a good number for the start of the season compared to the previous years. The flights, he said will be doing three flights per week from the UK only while also expecting four flights frequency per week from TUI UK, too.
He explained that TUI is coming big time last season they were not operating from Belgium but will be doing two flights from Belgium and two flights from Holland “which is an impressive improvement.”
The Director General noted that other tour operators are coming, too, in the likes of Corendon, TAP Portugal, and Rainbow tours among others. So “we are very delighted that the season will be good. Because the number of chartered flights is about 20 compared to 16 last season and scheduled flight for this season is about 33 so we will have about 53 flights frequency weekly. This is a great achievement. And one of the other achievements is that we have one of the flights, ASKY Airline coming to the destination daily.”
However, he noted that Air France reduced its weekly flights from five to four while Brussels Airline from six to five but assured that with discourse with them they will be able to increase the number of their flights beyond the previous number of flights.
DG Camara appealed to all stakeholders to maintain the momentum saying although Covid-9 had hit the destination Gambia very hard and bad but “whatever the case might be we don’t want to see the standard going down. So, the health and safety of our guests and tourists should not be compromised.”
The Director of Marketing at the GTBoard, Adama Njie, confirmed that the flight frequency this year is fifty-three per week for both chartered and scheduled flights which he said has surpassed last year’s frequency; “though we are pushing more on the chartered flights while we are also stabilizing on the scheduled flights to the destination.”
If things go well, without any hitches, he projected a minimum of 185,000 arrivals of tourists for the year “but it can increase.”
He reiterated that one of the tour operators that seized operation from the destination before the beginning of the season “canceled its charter operation to Destination Gambia because of what they called ‘current situation.’
However, he said they are concerned about the levied at the airport but quickly added that the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the Gambia Tourism Board are working tirelessly with the government and the government had set up a task force to look into the Securiport fees and operation, “so let give them time.”
Oumie Sise Manager of Discovery Tours an agent for The Gambia Experience expressed that right now the flight is once weekly but will change later for Christmas and New Year.
As part of quality control and good service, she said they are updated and during the break, they took it upon themselves to visit different sites in the destination to check their state of preparedness regarding the need of the industry to ensure a successful season.
She noted that tourism is not only about people visiting the country to visit the sites and so on but the country needs to be a peaceful place, security conscious, friendly, a well-developed among other things that make tourists feel comfortable and safe.
She said “it is heartbreaking and shameful after some decades of tourism and being a pioneer of tourism in Africa that now all the tourism destinations in Africa are ahead of us. We need to work harder to put things right for the country to take back its position.”