The man behind Tamala Beach Resort, Malleh Sallah

We are honoured to have had the opportunity to have an interview with the man behind Sunprime Tamala Beach Resort, Mr. Mallah Sallah.

The story of Tamala began almost four years ago. It was the latest edition of the Balafon Company Limited Group, which owns and operates five hotels. It started with Djeliba, which was the first hotel that they operated. Then they took over Djembe Beach Resort. From there, they built their first hotel, Balafon Beach Resort. After that, they made an agreement to build Tamala Beach Resort and become part of the Sunprime franchise.

Tamala became part of a club of 16 hotels all over the world. Certain qualities and requirements were necessary to be able to join the franchise and to qualify to be called Sunprime. 

Consequently, they have built another hotel, which is Kalimba Beach Resort. They were in the process of building another hotel – Kora Beach Resort which would have been their last hotel but COVID, of course, took over the situation and they decided that it was not the right time to invest money to finish the sixth hotel in the group.

Tamala is 100% Gambian-owned. The company that owns Tamala is Balafon Company Limited, which is owned by Mr. Malleh Sallah and Mr. Omar Jawara. They started this partnership eight years ago. And it has resulted in a lot of success. He believes that a trustful and hardworking partnership between two people can do better than working on your own. His advice to young Gambian businessmen is that if you find someone that is credible, complements you as a person, is honest, and as hard-working as you, you should cooperate because you can create bigger things than doing things alone.

Mr. Sallah is very proud to say that Tamala Beach Resort is a Gambian-owned hotel. Two Gambians, who decided to work together years ago and built up this partnership to the point where they are building hotels that can challenge any hotel in the world. 99% of the operations in Tamala are run by Gambians. He believes Gambians can do it.

So, basically what Tamala tries to do is to present anyone who comes into the hotel with the utmost hospitality, a friendly smile, and a clean environment. They are very proud of the housekeeping staff that keep the rooms exquisitely clean. It is really important, especially now with this pandemic. The health and safety is becoming more important than any aspect of managing a hotel. They have done quite a few trainings so that the staff understand that they have to follow some very strict guidelines and make sure that the rooms are very properly sanitized. The same thing applies to the kitchen and to all other aspects of the hotel. Their mission is to show that Gambians can do it. And to make sure that anyone who leaves Tamala leaves with a sweet taste in their mouth.

From an architectural point, Tamala is incredibly unique. Before they built Tamala, they looked at a lot of models that the architect came up with. They wanted huge open spaces, where when people come in, they see the Atlantic Ocean, feel very open and free in a hotel environment. They decided to go modern, simple, and unique.

Part of their concept is also water, so they made big investments in the pools. They feel that the pools make a big difference in the value of the hotel and the experience that the guests have when they come in because water always creates a very calming aura around you. And when you decide to stay in a hotel, you come to enjoy yourself and relax. And they believe and feel that water does that for them.

So if you look at their rooms, half of the rooms have pools where you leave your room, and you can immediately jump into a swimming pool; they call them “pool access” rooms. They also have rooms with private pools that have full access facing the beach, which he thinks are the best rooms in the country.

All the names of the hotels are connected to music, history, and culture.

The decorations in rooms are complimenting all mentioned above with African art.

“Music makes us happy. And when you come to Tamala, we want you to be happy.”

Like in every business or country as beautiful things to see and to do, but there are also challenges.

Mr. Sallah sees challenges in the skills of young people. They are in discussions within the hotel to see how they can transform one of their hotels into a hospitality Institute where people are able to learn by practice. They see that this is the new trend with hospitality institutions that a hotel decides to also become an educational centre. This would be a great opportunity where people will be able to combine theory with practical.

Now, they are also facing challenges of Covid-19. He believes that everyone needs to work harder to make sure to protect the country so that the effects will be dampened down as much as possible. In this line, he as a businessman appeals to the government to see how, as much as possible, they can assist all businesses in the country to survive. So that once COVID is out, they are positioned and ready to take the lead again and improve the numbers of tourists that come into the country.

Last year season they had been operating 5 hotels and hired 900 Gambians. Today, they are hiring only 150 Gambians and operating one hotel instead of 5 hotels. So, the effect that COVID has made on the lives of them as businessmen, and the lives of their 750 staff that are not working today is huge. This has been the most frustrating thing for them – not being able to provide jobs to people who have actually contributed to the success of the company.

He hopes that very soon, the pandemic will be over, and they will definitely call everybody back.

Their vision was to employ 2500 people by 2025 and uplift the lives of young Gambians to the point where they become valuable not only to them, but they become extremely valuable to this small nation.

Balafon Limited Group contributes to the development of the tourism industry of The Gambia by creating quality products and services. To win in this huge competition of tourist destinations all over the world you must take the Gambian hospitality industry to the next level, a level where you can compete with hotels in Spain, Greece, Turkey, etc.

Another important contribution that was done recently was introducing Tamala Beach Resort to people living in The Gambia. Domestic tourism is booming since summer and they are very proud and thankful that most of the guests are Gambians. 

Balafon Limited Group is a company that understands the potential of the country. There were approximately 250,000 tourists that were visiting the country in the high season. But he believes there is a potential to attract a million tourists.

If a million tourists flooded to The Gambia today, it is not possible to accommodate them all. So new hotels must be built with high standard rooms, which will enable operators and independent tourists to come and visit the country.

So, their vision is to keep on contributing, building, and hiring to the point where they can have 2500 Gambians employed, which means that they plan to build another six, seven, or eight hotels.

As a business, they have decided to pivot a little, so they are going to showcase a new product. It is a “mini-city” that they are going to build on the beach. 40 luxury homes, 80 townhouses and almost 200 apartments.

Mr. Sallah’s believes in The Gambia and its potentials.

“The potentials of tourism for this country are extreme, and there’s so much potential that we have not achieved yet. Tourism has the potential to bring in a lot of guests multiplying factors that tourism also add to our economy as severe, are big, extremely big. Our kitchens rely a lot on vegetables, fish, poultry, meat, lamb, beef. These are all industries that can be spurred to success. If we have the right amount of tourism coming into the country, tourists who come here spend money that affects our economy in a positive way. The amount of foreign exchange that they bring into our country helps to create our foreign exchange reserves and has stabilized our currency. So, there are so many linkages that can be created. If we strategize well and make sure that we understand that the potential of tourism and create linkages through agriculture, fisheries, our work, aquaculture, hospitality, other hospitality outlets like restaurants, like tours, etc.

There are so many things that can complement the tourism product that I feel as a country we have not achieved yet. And we need to start thinking about how we pivot ourselves and restart our country and our industry. For the future of Gambian tourism, we have to look at more ways that Gambians can benefit and can create businesses that can support the tourism industry as well. 

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