The Coronavirus pandemic continues to cause havoc in every sector of The Gambian economy. One of the hardest hit is the tourism industry, due to the restriction in the movement of people globally, with hotels, restaurants, and a range of businesses put to ice. According to the Gambian Tourism Board, the tourism industry has lost $108 million in 2020. Tourism contributes one-fourth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and creates direct and indirect jobs.
There was a total meltdown in the tourism industry. In April 2020, the Gambia received a Covid relief package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to uplift the affected industries. The tourism industry came at the top of the list of sectors to bail out. But the damage caused by Covid was already enormous. It caused a negative socio-economic impact on all actors in the industry and the economy, given tourism’s significant contribution to employment and GDP.
Hotels heavily burdened by the shock.
Undoubtedly, Covid-19 further compounded the menace of unemployment the Gambia has been grappling with as the total shutdown of the industry meant all stakeholders in the industry risk losing their jobs and income. The closure of business operations invariably caused most notably economic losses.
Babucarr Dampha, the financial Director of Tamala (DJELIBA LEISURE GROUP), says some Hotel establishments made counter-reactions such as reduction of staff, reduction of pay, disposal of stock, etc., to sustain themselves and their operations. Unable to meet up the expenses on salaries and other remuneration, Tamala hotel laid off a massive chunk of its staff due to the Pandemic.
“Before Covid, we used to have about 704 staff working with us, but due to Covid, we laid off 600 staff. Right now, we are just working with 104 staff, ” the Financial director said.
According to Dampha, the hotel reduced all salaries to service domestic tourism. He added that currently, all the hotel’s rates are reduced to attract local customers.
Tamala Hotel was not alone in opting for the radical response of laying staff off. According to a 2021 Gambia Bureau of Statistics’ rapid assessment of Covid on tourism, out of 266 establishments, 167 had to reduce the working staff to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, while 65 have reduced the payment of their retained personnel. Thirty out of thirty-two hotels visited reduced their working staff, with three of them reducing staff payment.
Carol Blell, the Director-General of African Princess Beach Hotel, reveals that they only work with about 46 % of the staff.
According to madam Blell, the staff termination was based on the nature of the contracts and that the hotel gave prior notice.
She urges the government to help with the status of their staff
“The status of our staff, not only my staff but other staffs in other hotels, is a grave area of concern. We should look at how we can create something for them to do while they are away. The hotel is going through financial difficulties, we can’t retain all staff right now, but if the situation becomes normal, we will surely take them back“, she said.
The mixed faith of Restaurant owners
According to the Gambia Bureau of Statistics, restaurants reported a loss of GMD33.8 million in 2020. Beach Bars reported a forecast loss of GMD27.6 million, while Ground Tours have reported GMD58.4 million as their revenue loss. Establishments that have not been classified under any category have a combined forecast loss of GMD160 million.
Some establishments in the Tourism industry have managed to keep their staff, although they are also facing a similar plight. Clotilde Jensen, the Office Manager of Luigi’s Restaurant, reveals that its staff receives the usual salary even with its financial constraints.
When the Gambia government announced a relief package for the restaurants in the hotel industry, Samba Trawally, the managing director of Sambas Kitchen, thought that part of his ordeal was over. To his utter surprise, the relief package Samba received for his restaurant was heavily taxed.
“We received 50,000 dalasis from the government. But the tourism Board asked for its tourism tax from that money. These were sums equivalent to 29,700 dalasis. We were left with almost nothing,” Samba told us bitterly.
Acute vulnerability for laid-off staff
The damage Covid19 has caused to the Tourism business establishments exposes all their employees. But it specifically increases the vulnerability of women who have, for a very long time, been vulnerable before the advent of Covid.
Jarra Jatta, a staff at the African Princess Hotel, says that the covid-19 affected her, as she is the breadwinner of her family. Moreover, she pleads that those staff who were laid off be put on rotation.
“I wish they could help the staff who are at home and doing nothing. This is achievable by exchanging work shifts on staff that is currently working. Because it seems unfair to me that some people work for six months, while others are at home”, Jarra Jatta said.
Fatou Busso, a laid-off staff from Tamala hotel, discloses that lack of a job can lead to frustration and increase the crime rate. “When you look at the bumsters right now, they are not working. They depend on hotels, and since the hotels are not working, the bumsters can do anything to sustain themselves,” she concludes.
Almost all of the hotels and restaurants are currently in a bad state. As the need for survival grows bigger for the people who lost their jobs while their workplaces remain closed, exposure to exploitation naturally becomes more prevalent unless substantive stimulus packages are made available to them.