“It seemed like the entire world was coming to an end,” recalls Abdoulie Hydara, director general of The Gambia’s tourism board, bringing to memory the country’s recent protracted political crisis.
The Gambia, a tiny, tourism-reliant country in West Africa, typically averages about 4,000 visitors a week during its peak month of January. Yet, last month almost all foreign visitors had left within days.
The crisis began when ex-President Yahya Jammeh refused to cede power after losing a December 1 election to Adama Barrow, leading to a state of emergency and political turmoil.
As the crisis deepened, a large number of tourists left The Gambia, a popular winter destination, especially for visitors from Britain, the former colonial power.
“That was the beginning of the nightmare we went through,” Hydara said.
After weeks of pressure from regional players and the threat of arrest by West African troops, Jammeh eventually conceded defeat.
Barrow has since vowed to reform the country’s notorious intelligence agency and ensure media freedom, as well as curb the impact of the political crisis on the country’s economy, already in a fragile state.
To this day, a tourism industry that generates 20 percent of the government’s revenue is still suffering.
Banjul’s beaches are deserted, hotels are mostly vacant, and souvenir stores are empty.
However, the tourism board is still hopeful and plans to ask the new government for an increase in advertising money to help convince travellers why they should come back to The Gambia’s pristine beaches, nature reserves and wildlife tourist attractions.
“There is no country on Earth that is so peaceful,” Hydara said.