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Mr. Adama Bah on Responsible Tourism in The Gambia

My Magazine 2023/09
32 min
Mr Adama Bah is the Board Chairman of the Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia(ITTOG), a Founder of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism-West Africa, and an Associate Member of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism.

His interest in responsible and community-based tourism was sparked when the British government advised travellers against coming to The Gambia in November 1994 when the tourism season had just started. This was due to the coup d'etat by the former president Yahya Jammeh, which had taken place earlier in July 1994. Unfortunately for tour operators, tourists from Britain stopped coming. The Scandinavians then adopted the same travel advice, significantly impacting tourism.

Refusing to be an onlooker, Mr. Adama Bah gathered fellow managers and senior staff of several hotels and formed an association called Gambia Tourism Concern. The association had discussions with Britain and Scandinavia's representatives, resulting in their statement being retracted and rephrased in favour of The Gambia. The season then resumed normally, and everyone returned to work happily. Then Mr. Bah registered the association to continue advocating for sustainable tourism.

At this point, Mr Bah resigned from his job as Manager of Bungalow Beach Hotel to concentrate on steering The Gambia towards responsible and sustainable tourism. His concern for his people and country led him to quit his 25-year-old job as a hotelier, where he had started as a waiter and worked his way up to the managerial level at Bungalow Beach Hotel.

According to Mr Bah, if tourism in The Gambia could come to a standstill based on another country's incorrect statement, this was something to be worried about since The Gambia relies heavily on the tourism industry.

Through the NGO, he met other European NGOs who were also campaigning for sustainable tourism. He worked with the VSO and an organization called Tear Fund as a consultant to research how much fund stays in destinations where British tourists travel. The research showed that out of every 1 pound spent, only 10 pence remains in the destination. A massive campaign was held for sustainability, which also involved the consumers(tourists). Mr Bah was then invited to London by the VSO as the voice of the South to talk about responsible and sustainable tourism. In 1999, he was invited to attend the UN Session on Sustainable Tourism Development.

Initially, he was hesitant about large projects but later realized mass tourism could benefit the country's economy if handled correctly. For example, if hotels and accommodations buy their vegetables and groceries from the locals instead of importing them, this could greatly help the local farmers and people. Fortunately, today, many tour operators are working towards responsible and sustainable tourism.

The Gambia has high potential in the development of responsible and community-based tourism. The country is famous for its warm hospitality, which brought about the idea of the Ninki Nanka trail by a German Lady, Monica King Cole. She said every destination has one unique feature, which is its culture. She said if The Gambia can develop a product that involves a place and its culture, it can be a great tourist attraction.

The Ninki Nanka creature is supposed to have created the creeks of The River Gambia and lives in the deep forest. It is a famous folklore in The Gambia which states that whoever sees the Ninki Nanka will die. One day, a hunter, looking for Ninki Nanka, placed a large mirror before him so he wouldn't see Ninki Nanka. When Ninki Nanka came out, it saw its own reflection and ran away, never to be seen again. The hunter became rich and powerful in his village. That is why it is believed that if Ninki Nanka sees you first, you become powerful.

The Ninki Nanka trail is about tourists hunting for Ninki Nanka on The Gambian River. Along the Trail, you witness many tribes, cultures and lifestyles in The Gambia. The tour has been tested and modified many times to ensure that tourists get the most out of this Trail. It is a trip with different packages, from a three-day trip to a seven-day complete trail. The tour also benefits the community and the locals directly. Villagers are educated on how to make the tourists comfortable throughout the trip. Tourists are informed of the cultures of the local communities they visit, the places, and their history.

Source: ASSET (2013) Ninki Nanka Trail feasibility study funded by World Bank Gambia Growth & Competitive Fund. Design by Art Hotel; Illustration by Nigel Kirton

The Ninki Nanka Trail is available for booking on My Gambia platform. It is being developed further to offer new experiences throughout The Gambia, contribute to responsible tourism development, and offer more places for tourists to explore within The Gambia.

 

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