The Gambia, the self-styled “smiling coast of Africa,” is waiting and hoping for a return to normal from COVID-19 as the tourism industry, one of the country’s major gross domestic product contributors, has been devastated after more than one year of total halt.
With more than 150,000 workers engaged, the tourism sector is the country’s second-largest contributor to GDP after agriculture. When the coronavirus emerged in the country in March last year, the government was forced to shut down the industry and ordered people to stay at home to control the spread of the virus.
Tourism workers in the country have their earnings put on hold while others remain jobless due to the ravaging COVID-19. With most tourist workers serving as breadwinners in their households, their food, health care, education, and other necessities have been severely curtailed.
Although the government-imposed restrictions, such as the closure of the industry to enforce stay-at-home policy and no-flight landing, it has since been waived, tourism workers continue to endure the awkward realities caused by the pandemic.
“I lost a lot last year, beyond imagination. I lost my job because I was ordered to stay at home by my boss, as a waiter at a restaurant around Senegambia. I am still sitting at home because I am asked to continue the wait,” Musu Njie told Xinhua.
Musu is the eldest born in her family, and she has been a key member who shoulders responsibility at home in terms of feeding and helping her younger siblings. But according to her, nothing has been working well.
“As a waitress in the tourism area, I was not just relying on my salary. So, even though it was not relatively the most lucrative salary at the end of the month, I still have take-home cash almost every day, and this has been helping my family,” she said.
When asked if she hoped that she would be recalled back to work soon, Musu was not confident in her answer. Her response was premised on the communication she had with her boss, who explained that they are still trying to recover from the financial ruins the closure had on their business.
“I may be recalled soon, maybe later, and maybe not at all. Because who knows when this pandemic will go forever. Because it’s still around, and nothing is still working well. I don’t think we can overturn all the damages caused by the pandemic as far as I am concerned. And that means my family and I will continue to suffer.”
Lamin Touray is a tourist taxi driver who used to ply only within the tourism development areas to attract tourists. With that, his earning sometimes could hit 3,000 Gambian Dalasis (about 60 U.S. dollars). But this was severely cut as a result of lockdown last year.
“It was the best business for me. It was the best job for me because my earning was super good. Money was not my problem, and my family was enjoying it. But since the outbreak [of the pandemic], it all turned sour and messy. The saddest thing for me is it has taken too long than I expected it. I thought this pandemic would last shorter.”
Touray told Xinhua he is still living with the impact of the pandemic because it’s difficult to keep his household on regular feeding, schooling, and other household necessities.
“I pray that the coronavirus disappears now. I have since been driving within the communities as normal taxi operators and collect D40 per trip. I am not used to this because I consider it a waste of fuel. This is in no way closer to the business in the tourism area,” he lamented.
As more jobs in the tourism industry remain at risk because the employment providers struggle to revive themselves, some have called for the government’s bailout.
“As an industry, we expected the government assistance in the form of subsidy to salvage the industry. We also expect the government to advise or intervene with the banks to put on hold all interests on loans taken by key players of the industry, as well as for the government to support all stakeholders with soft loans as done in Senegal, Ghana, Cape Verde among other countries in the subregion,” said Shiekh Tijan Nyang, the former director of Gambia Tourism Board.
Nyang, who is the principal of the Institute for Travel and Tourism of The Gambia (ITTOG), said the pandemic had cost his school a heavy economic loss due to nonpayment of tuition fees by the students.
The Gambia has recorded 5,940 coronavirus cases since the first case in March 2020, with 5,674 recoveries and 175 deaths.