until the mid-1960s the only so called 'tourists' that
visited The Gambia were rich stop-over Swedish
sightseers from cruise ships which spent the day in
people take short rides to places of interest.
It also coincided with the countries independence
and a time of great hope for the future of the tiny
country. However, this future was literally peanuts!
early tourist industry was given a momentum when a Swedish
entrepreneur by the name of Bertil
Harding was travelling to Cap Skirring
(Capskerring) in south Senegal, in 1965 when, after
some unfortunate personal incidences, he accidentally
drifted onto the shores of The Gambia. When he experienced
the country he became determined that his own country's
people should see this 'paradise' so near (by air-time)
to home and how friendly the people were.
the Gambia's tourism industry was given a boost and
put on a more formal footing when a group of about 300
tourists from Sweden landed on the shores of The Gambia
in 1965. During the 1966/67 period the figure for visitors
brought by Vingressor increased to 628 tourists. This
increased by over hundred percent indicating very clearly
that the sun and beaches had become a major tourist
attractions. This view is captured in an advertisement
issued by the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting
and Tourism in a 1975 with a publication entitled:
'The Gambia Ten Years of Nationhood'.
It reads: "A climate
that has been described as one of the best in the
world, mile upon mile of such splashed beaches,
tall coconut palms, blue tropical skies, a river that
can take you deep into the heart of Africa....."
The original trips were organised in a partnership venture
between Mr. Harding and the tour operator Vingressor
/ Club 33 (Ving) who saw that it was an ideal
opportunity for Swedes to escape the winter gloom for
a holiday in an exotic 'paradise' beach resort
during the dark northern European months of October
Vingressor / Club 33 promoted sun and beach tourism
and constituted the only company which offered package
holidays up to the 1971/72 tourist season.
[Note: The stretch of the coastal
highway from Kairaba Avenue (Fajara)
traffic lights and going some
way south has been named after Bertil Harding in recognition
of his previous efforts to promote the Gambia's tourism
A major expansion of tourist arrivals to Gambia was
experienced in the 70s. In short, tourist arrivals increased
from 300 tourists in 1965/66 to 2,601 in 1970/71. In
1971/72, the number almost quadrupled to 8,031. The
numbers reveal an increase to 20,383 visitors in 1973/74.
By 1985, 47,926 tourist arrivals were recorded. By 1993/94,
the number had increased to 89,977 tourists. The
country now (2008) receives over 100,000 visitors a
The number of beds had to increase from 162 in 1965/66
to 390 in 1970/71. This number grew to 856 in 1971/
72, 1,802 in 1974/75. The number of hotels
increased from 1 in 1954 to 2 in 1965, 13 in 1972/73
and over 40 currently. By 1993/94, there were over 6,000
bed spaces. In 2005 the total stock of hotel beds in
Gambia stood at 7,000 with 3,000 rooms (Deloitte).
However, this influx of visitors did not materialise
into direct foreign tourism investment which still left
the country relying on groundnuts as a foreign exchange
earner. The government under the then President Jawara
was eager to find alternatives to groundnuts as a foreign
exchange earner and wanted to exploit tourisms potential.
As a result, in 1970, the idea of the TDA (Tourism
Development Area) was born which designated a 1,000
metre length of beach area going inland from Kololi
to Kartong for tourist development. This meant that
no residential real estate could be built their. (This
is the reason why so many property buyers are confused
as to why they cannot buy a house on the beach). The
government soon saw the real potential of this new industry
and began to offer incentives to would-be investors
in the form of tax duty waivers and tax holidays.
Much of that earlier charm and the excitement of discovery
has now sadly faded and most tourists now come on mass-booked,
cheap package holidays organised by the large tour operators
on chartered flights. However, the country has been
careful to avoid the mistakes made by the likes of Spain
and has kept hotel heights down and emphasized an African
style exterior for buildings while allowing for European
style interiors with an African accent. Great efforts
are made by ASSET,
who are an association who promote responsible tourism
practices, to help reduce the negative effects of mass
tourism on such a small country.