Djeliba Leisure Group is one of a kind. A Gambian-owned hotel group, with modern architecture and traditional style, with the water surrounding and breathing life into the lavish outlay of the most visited hotels in The Gambia. The story speaks of success. And one of the partners responsible for it is Mr Malleh Sallah, who, together with Omar Jawara, confidently builds the hotel image and follows the strong partnership's vision.
We last spoke with Mr Sallah when the pandemic took its first toll on tourism numbers in 2020. Since then, the world has adjusted, trends have changed, and hospitality needs to adapt to those changes. We were delighted to look into the present and future of Tamala, Kalimba, Balafon, and Djembe Beach Resort with Mr Sallah.
The world is slowly recovering and adjusting to life after the pandemic. What was the biggest lesson you learned through that period?
Well, the biggest lesson we learned is: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. In business, you have to be innovative, you have to be spontaneous, and just as with anything in life, when a challenge comes your way, you need to find a way to conquer that challenge and move forward. So I think our biggest lesson has been the Covid pandemic, which taught us we should not rely mainly on international tour operators. We should try to diversify our business so that we won't only attract tourists from Europe but also from the sub-region and, more importantly, the Gambian tourists because once the Gambian tourists love your product and support you, you are halfway there.
How has this pandemic affected the Gambia in good and bad ways?
Before the pandemic, we saw tourism figures coming into the country. The Gambia was on a steep climb as far as tourism numbers were concerned. What the pandemic did was put a halt to and almost made us start from ground zero again. We are starting to see a resurgence of tourism numbers in the country. It will take a few years before we fully recover, but I think we are on the right path. Most people who have come to The Gambia have had a good experience. They've enjoyed the good company of Gambian people. Our smiles, hospitality, and our Teranga. It always stays on someone's mind.
What about the level of Djeliba Leisure Group? Which are the things you do differently now?
We market differently and concentrate much of our marketing in the sub-region. We have special rates for Gambians who visit our hotels. Before covid, one of the things that we didn't do well as hoteliers were to attract Gambians to our hotels. I think we have achieved that very well now and have seen the Gambians' power.
How do you feel about sustainable and responsible tourism practices? Is this something that you would implement in your hotel chain?
We are already implementing. It is the responsibility of every Gambian to take care of The Gambia. We need to love our country, and loving our country means we need to stop littering, we need to take care of our environment, we need to make sure that the beauty that God has endowed on us in this country we protect, preserve, cherish, and be proud of it. It is what gives us the right to call ourselves Gambians.
What does, in your opinion, The Gambia have that other destinations don't?
The people. I think the main asset we have in this country is the people. The Gambia is safe because Gambians are people who respect the dignity of human beings. I think this is why the Gambia has survived so long, being one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world and the least tribalist country globally.
What do you think attracts guests most to one of the Djeliba Leisure Group hotels?
The thing that is unique about us is the architecture. The thought that goes into conceiving the hotel, but also very importantly, the human resource capital that runs this hotel, runs it smoothly and makes sure that guests who walk into the hotels are happy. We are very particular about who works for us. 99% of our staff are Gambians.
What are the plans for the Djeliba leisure group?
We are going to build a new hotel. It is our strength. It is our business, and this is what we do. It won't be a big hotel. It will be a boutique hotel with between 80 to 100 rooms. It's going to be unique, and it will express what is best again. It will be even better than the hotels we build in this country. It's going to have a lot of water. The hotel will be a product we have never seen in West Africa.
We are thinking of building hotels like Tamala in the sub-region. We also plan on bringing in solar because we want to make it the first hotel in West Africa to be 100% solar. It is part of protecting our environment and our country. Something else that we plan to do is to build a Mini City. We talked about it a few years ago, but because of Covid, it wasn't easy to envision, but now we feel the time is right.
Do you ever feel like you are in a competition with yourself because of building so many hotels?
We are businessmen. We always do the research. When we come out, we always come out with something new. Each hotel has its own nature. We are not competing with ourselves; we are creating the best products in the country. Now it is up to others to come and beat us at our game. This is how we develop our country, by pushing each other forward. There are many geniuses out there with the ability to do it better than us. And then, my challenge is to do it better than them on the next project. We have to think positively, and we, as Gambians, need to support and help each other. At the end of the day, we are building the country for our children and grandchildren. In 50 years, we want to be remembered as Gambians who set the standards to give The Gambia the best potential to move forward as the best destination in Africa. We can do it.
We invite you to watch the full video interview and get inspired by one of the most passionate businessmen in the hotelier world.