Stakeholders in the tourism industry have expressed concerns over the closure of FTI Group in The Gambia, stating that apart from the vacuum created by the company, it also owes close to a million euro to partners and operators.
FTI, Europe’s fourth largest tour operator, announced a week ago that it is closing operations in the country due to coronavirus pandemic amongst other reasons.
The Chairman Gambia Hotels Association, Fatou Mass Jobe Njie says the withdrawal of FTI will impact negatively on the tourism sector and the Gambian economy at large. She said the FTI Group controls over 40% of the total market share of Gambia’s tourism industry through its six flights per week with 900 passengers from different destinations in Europe.
“Our biggest concern as an association is the unsettled invoices by Meeting Point Gambia Ltd (a subsidiary of FTI Group), amounting to over 800,000 euros. We sent a letter of demand to Mr. Khaled Jouni, Chief Executive Officer, Meeting Point International under advice to Mr. Hedi Ben Aissa, General Manager of Kairaba Beach Hotel and Labranda Coral beach Resort, who also double as the local representative of both FTI and Meeting Point International,” said Fatou Mass Jobe Njie, Chairman Gambia Hotel Association.
“To our dismay, we are yet to receive an acknowledgement nor did their local representative give us definitive timelines to settle the overdue invoices. Up until the time of their press conference, Mr. Aissa could not give us the much-awaited answer,” she said.
Sheikh Tijan Nyang, principal of Institute for Travel and Tourism of The Gambia (ITToG), and former Director of Tourism blamed the tourism ministry for the ceasing of operation of FTI Group in the country.
“The departure of FTI Group is not only limited to the Covid-19, there are many other factors related to it than said. A lot of promises have been made to them by the ministry of tourism that are yet to be fulfilled resulting in their pull out of the Gambian market,” Nyang alleged.
“The biggest worry is that they (FTI Group) owe the industry over one million euros which has left most hotels in limbo, will they pay this money and when.”
He is concerned about the vacuum created in the industry left by the German company, arguing that only government intervention can solve the woes of the industry that is on the brink of collapsing.
General Manager of Association of Small-Scale Enterprises in Responsible Tourism (ASSERT), Ebrima Ceesay also anticipated the negative gap created by the departure of the FTI Group on tourism, travels, hospitality etc.
“Certainly, the departure of FTI Group will affect all the operators in the industry with no exception to ASSERT members. It will also affect juice-pressers and fruit-sellers because these are businesses that entirely depend on the tourists,” ASSERT, Ceesay said.
He acknowledges the support of the FTI towards his association, especially the Gambia’s Good Market (GGM) which gives a platform to medium and small-scale businesses.
He urged for the government’s serious intervention to salvage the tourism industry which had been already affected by the departure of Thomas Cook Group and the Operation Three Years Jotna political impasse in the country as well as COVID-19 pandemic.