Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Gambia's tourism "bumbster" problem is misplaced

Twenty-two unemployed youth who hang around tourists and tourism development area (TDA) locally known as "bumsters" have been arrested recently and paraded before the public.

The sweep was conducted by the Tourism Security Unit of the Tourism Development Board in an attempt to stem the tide of what the authorities see as harassment of the tourist visitors.

Authorities cite a recently conducted survey which shows that 75% of respondents say harassment by "bumsters" is a major problem. In addition to harassing the tourists, the Director General of the Tourism Board cite the use of drug by the youngsters as a major problem that threatens Gambian tourism.

The consumer satisfaction survey may have revealed only part of the problem facing the sector.  But before we mention the larger problem facing the sector, let us look at the harassment issue further.  It is well document that tourists have long complained about the numerous military checkpoints that have littered the TDA landscape.  These checkpoints do not only impede the movement of both tourists and the local population, they also serve as extortion and harassment points where security personnel demand money and cell phones from passengers.

The regime would rather scapegoat the 'bumsters" rather than address the more important and broad question of differentiating by improving the product which has remained the same since the introduction of the All-Inclusive package tours over twenty years ago.  It is true that eco-tourism has been introduced but it constitutes a small proportion of the sector.  Senegal, Cabo Verde and other destinations have been competing effectively, resulting in increasing their market share probably at the expense of Gambian tourism because product development - including marketing - has lagged behind other destinations.

As long as investment in the sector lags behind the competition, Gambian tourism will continue to fail to reach its growth potential in the long run.  As the second foreign exchange earner behind agriculture, and the second biggest employer behind agriculture and government, developing the job creation capacity through investment in product development is imperative.

Last season, the EBOLA epidemic had severely impacted the sector resulting in 60% decline in visitors and with such a steep decline, the recovery period will extend beyond a couple of seasons for reasons cited above. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in the sector will continue to remain high resulting in youth unemployment that the regime appears to have no solutions for.  Arresting "bumsters" is not the solution.  Job creation is.