The high hopes of Farimang Max Manneh

December. Traditionally month of celebrations and traveling. Usually high-season for thousands of Gambian tourism workers that shows in 2020 a totally different face. The desertion wave of European travellers all across the Smiling Coast leaves hot spots empties on the beaches, in bars and restaurants. The crazy Senegambian nightlife disappeared. A harsh time for hotel owners, facing this reality since March, confronted to a kind of Shakespeare survival question: staying opened... or not? For Farimang Max Manneh, the answer is evident, even though his paradisiac Sand Beach Holiday Resort in Kotu beach sector suffers from 90% empty rooms. Vision of a resilient humanistic Gambian tourism businessman.

Since the last nine months, no major travel media has been reporting on The Gambia. So, when I arrived from Casamance – my adoption land – to Senegambia, warmly welcomed at the Sand Beach Holiday Resort, explaining my intention to demonstrate that the destination is out of any cluster danger, I’ve been welcomed like… a doctor! ‟You detected the injury, and you came with a medicine…”, claimed metaphorically Mr Manneh, hoping the president Barrow will hear his testimony through my words.

@photo credit: Star Bacary

100% Gambian directed since 2013, the Sand Beach Holiday Resort embody his authentic culture. After having worked and travel all across Europe, Mr Manneh realized that ‟there’s no place like home!” Despite the last years high competition between three stars hotels in the area, he’s proud to offer an unbeatable formula. In fact, the kind of travellers who choose his Kotu paradise are also one of a kind. They search for the African family philosophy, unique African spaces around, surrounded by full nature and fresh oxygen. ‟When people come here, they want to feel like they’re at home! But I also believe that tourists want to be in Africa when coming to The Gambia, not in Europe. That’s what our architectural concept is all about: an original African experience.” 

A winning vision that brings back faithful customers, year after year, again and again…

In this epicurean empire, 52 colourful rooms and original bungalows facing the ocean breeze. Here, spaces bright the experience. Impossible to feel trapped in such generous outer dimensions! The pool almost connected to the pearl sand of Kotu beach meet the Gambian trees and flowers gardens where birds sing their joy on the morning until the sunset. A celebration of life, in a beholding way. The Banta Bar reserves an authentic experience of gathering that really counts in the Resort philosophy. A special meaning in Gambian social culture in Mr Manneh vision. ‟Originally, people come here to sit down and discuss issues with elders. When there is an issue in a village, the elders get together in a Banta Bar. It’s a special tradition to take time in a freedom way.”

@photo credit: Star Bacary

And then, pandemic came...

Since March, only a few European travellers have been leaving Germany, Netherlands and United Kingdom, the three countries abroad in love with Gambia spirit. Some of these braved the restrictions and got prepared to reach Senegambia on the cold season. The Covid-19 pandemic forced a lot of hotels managed by Europeans to shut down. But not for Mr. Manneh who felt that closing down would be very difficult. ‟First, that would not be very good for the hotel itself, and our workers who still do their best to maintain high standards. I could not imagine them going home and sitting down, months after months, it would be very hard for them…” So, he decided to maintain scrupulously the measures and rules dicted by the virus, while keeping most of the employees active to welcome the few guests coming in. ‟For them, that is a motivation to work hard in maintaining the Sand Beach Holiday Resort alive”, proclaims the altruist touristic actor.

@photo credit: Star Bacary

Unfortunately, facing the impacts of keeping a Resort opened comes with several expenses. Bills keep on running through the highs and lows: electricity, water, salaries, cleaning fees. About the government help to keep tourism away from a fatal collapse effect on this pandemic crisis, Farimang Max still hopes for more signs. Even though he considers that ‟his Excellence” came with very good initiatives for the citizens by offering the relief package of food and oil, the funds for tourism sector were not enough and in phase with the industry reality. Apparently, some packages were given but in exchange of licenses debited from money. ‟I’m appealing to the President Barrow to try to do more for the tourism industry. Right now, for me, I may be forced to complete lockdown in one or two months. If the government can come with a special package. It doesn’t have to be money, but why not by inviting ministers to stay in our hotels on the week-end with their family? That way they can support the institution, everybody gets some money, the economy grows. That way we can pay electricity, water, salaries, food and money will go back to government. I have 80 employees waiting at home, that is terrible! Government walkers may be the key! This will add value for us…”

Before leaving me on this touching story about a man trying his best to keep tourism alive on this global travel crisis, Mr. Manneh expects that things will get better, a return to normal. He wishes to open the hall and conference room to hundreds of guests, the stadium and pavilion for artistic expression. So many activities possible to plan in the Sand Beach Holiday Resort dimension of pleasures… in a very open way.

About Author

Hélène Boucher

Lifestyle & travel experienced canadian journalist based in West Africa
Hélène handles the art of travelling to open minds since 15 years. Carpe Diem is her philosophy in each country she's honoured to be welcomed, as a gift of life: Cape Verde, Czech Republic, France, Gambia, Mali, Spain, USA, & Sénégal, her adopted land. She collaborates to Montréal newspaper Le Devoir, Sky Dakar - the Blaise-Diagne international airport mag and Air Teranga.
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