Tell us Mr Hobeika - what attracted you to The Gambia and its tourism industry?
When and how did this all start for you?
I was born and raised in The Gambia on the 29th of October 1964, and attended St Joseph’s primary school and St Augustin’s high school in Banjul. My grandfather and father were businessmen in the trading industry since 1924 (Grandfather) and 1959 (father). At the inception of tourism in the Gambia in 1967, my father had the transportation expertise and in the 60s he owned a fleet of Volkswagen mini vans which were carrying out public and tourism transportation. In those days he as known as “GORR YOMBOUL” which in Wollof means “MAN IS NOT EASY”. From that experience, he started Gambia Tours in 1983 which is a family business and today is proudly known as the oldest Ground Tour Operator in The Gambia representing major international tour operators from around the world. Next year Gambia Tours will celebrate 40 years of existence. At the inception of Gambia Tours, I decided to work with my father because I enjoyed the tourism and transportation business.
There’s already so much that you have accomplished in the Tourism sector...
Are you happy with what you have achieved?
I have achieved a lot. There are no limits in this industry. In tourism, one learns a great deal, especially when traveling to other destinations and to world tourism fairs, one can see what other they offer. There is a lot that can be done because when you go to destinations that are very well known in the Mediterranean, Asia and other parts of the world, one can learn a lot and bring back to The Gambia.
What remains in your vision for tourism in The Gambia to grow?
For tourism to grow in The Gambia, there should be a team work amongst stakeholders in the industry. One example is the River Gambia. There should be good quality cruises on the river, good quality accommodations on the river side good standard lodges in the country side as many clients not only like to spend holidays on the beach and enjoy the sun but also want to explore and learn about the culture of the country and enjoy travelling inland to learn more about the destination and its people. Good quality hotels are also important because people travel and want to enjoy their well-earned holidays to the maximum.
We notice that Gambia Tours has a large fleet of buses - in a country, with relatively or comparatively fewer tourists, how have you managed to keep the fleet busy and operational?
It has not been an easy two and half years of the covid pandemic. The tourism industry got the biggest blow as our businesses rely mainly on travellers and the whole world was shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. Only recently from the commencement of the year that things started to get better, however we are far from reaching the pre covid records. Yes, we do have a large fleet which has not been easy to maintain during the lockdown. Most of the fleet were parked and now we are preparing to put them back on the roads, though that costs a lot as we have to do full check-ups, maintenance, changing of tyres, batteries, etc. This is very costly but we have no choice but to do it in order to get them ready and hopefully for a better season starting November 2022.
What constraints have you faced over the years?
The covid pandemic was the biggest constraint we have faced and its not easy to face such a pandemic without support.
We see good roads and infrastructure being built. How will this impact tourism or business?
This is going to be perfect, because people will be able to travel distances in shorter times. We need more of good street lighting, pedestrian paths, walk ways around the TDA and maybe linking the hotels on the coast with a nice footpath, well planned with good lighting that people can take walks and enjoy the scenery. It will also be pleasant to have picturesque gardens around the hotels where people can enjoy sitting and appreciate nature.
How important is it to develop rural tourism?
As I mentioned earlier, tourism is not only about the sun and sea, travellers want to explore the inland and learn more about the culture of the people.
What do you feel is the balance one should develop rural infrastructure against preserving natural habitats?
There are ways of developing the rural infrastructure without touching or destroying the nature. When everything is planned in the proper way then all will be done perfectly. We need 50 years planning in advance.
What are your views on Eco tourism?
Gambia destination is rich in Eco Tourism. In tourism, we need TV and radio programs that educate the people about Ecotourism. We have to be responsible to preserve the natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the wellbeing of local people and involves interpretation and education.
Of your 3 hotels, which occupies you more, and why?
I am occupied mostly at Gambia Tours, as that is where I stay throughout the day, although I do visits to one or two hotels per day spending a couple of hours having meetings with my partner and management.
Is there a fourth planned?
Always there is something in the planning, but we just have to wait and see the situation with covid which seems to be coming to an end due to the vaccines, but also the war in Ukraine could disrupt travel and we do hope that this war and all other conflicts come to an end.
A little bird told us that you love music? Tell us more.
Yes, I love music and I started playing the guitar at the age of nine. I have not played in a long time so I am losing it, but I still love listening to music.
Your sons Roy and Edmond seem to have taken after you - how is the Car rental business in The Gambia?
Yes, both are helping with my business, and the car rental has potential but it is all up to the standards that one can keep and that is what I always advice my children as well as my staff that standards should never be compromised.
They too are interested and play music. What music does the family play together?
My three children (2 boys and a girl Maria) are into Music. Edmond plays the keyboard, Roy the Guitar and Maria the Piano. Roy and Maria participated in the Marina School band when they attended school.
How do you balance your personal life and business? We understand that your wife, Rima plays a role in the business. Is your daughter likely to hon the business?
It is not easy to balance business and personal life. I remember when my children where still very young, I had to leave them sometimes in the middle of the night with my wife for me to attend airport transfer duties of flights arriving in the late hours. Also, I had to travel on business meetings for a week or sometimes more which also caused me to leave them with their mum. This was difficult for me, but I also had to take care of the business. So, this is a sacrifice towards the family. I respected my wife’s understanding for that as she spent more time taking care of the kids. Rima is not participating in the business. My daughter is not into tourism as she decided to study medicine and follow her dreams of becoming a doctor.
What’s your favourite food? DOMODA IS THE BEST
We also hear that Chelsea football club is the family's Premier League favourite. Care to tell us your hopes and vision now that the ownership has changed?
From my childhood I supported the French national team and closely followed Michel Platini. My son Roy became a Chelsea fan at a very young age and I had no choice but to follow Chelsea FC. Since then, watching premier league football, especially Chelsea became the family’s weekend routine. Our hopes are that under the new ownership, the team will become stronger on and off the pitch, and go on to win many titles in the coming years.