By Vincent Ogo
Expanding the tourism period and reducing seasonality is of paramount importance for any travel destination. Gambia has a well-developed tourism infrastructure with the country committed to expanding its tourism offerings and establishing itself as a 12-month destination. The major challenge is maintaining high arrivals in the May-October period.
Extending tourism period is not a simple process. It involves commitment and strategic planning by all stakeholders, with actions varying from infrastructure development to developing local tourism consciousness culture and brand image of new tourism products.
Commenting on the issue of seasonality, The Director-General of the Gambia Tourism Board (GTB), Abubacarr Camara stated that the GTB and the Gambia Tourism Board are bridging the gaps between the winter season and the green season.
His words: “We would have an all-year-round calendar of events that are going to be happening and we would be encouraging domestic tourists who may be Gambians and have never been to certain areas up country.
Tourism experts suggest that reducing seasonality in Destination Gambia requires a two-pronged approach: Diversifying the source market; and diversifying tourism offerings. While the latter requires aggressive marketing in China, India and Nigeria, diversifying tourism offerings requires some of the following:
- Promote Gambia as a conference/business destination for events hosting destination, awards venue etc. Bid and win a large and popular event like the IIFA Award, thereby attracting large numbers of tourists along with event participants.
- Promoting Gambia as a wedding and honeymoon destination
- Development of Golf courses just like in Dubai and other places.
Targeting the Chinese Market
The Peoples Republic of China has become a driving force in the global tourism industry as it is now the main source of tourism cash all over the world. It hosts a quarter of World population, with its outbound tourist market already the largest on the planet, recording over 100 million every year. This figure is 1.2 times the size of the US market. Forecasts state that in the next few years the number of Chinese tourist will have increased up to 200 million per year.
China has in recent years become an economic behemoth, with a vastly expanding middle class, and hundreds of millions of the rich and nouveau rich. Chinese trend to travel abroad, and are high spenders. The Asian country is a market no serious destination should ignore, and so many destinations and hotels are focusing their efforts to attract tourists from the World’s most populous country. Most importantly, The Gambia re-established diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China a few years ago, which means that the Smiling Coast of Africa can now welcome tourists from the Asian nation. Furthermore, it is quite obvious that the Peoples Republic of China has a special interest in Africa, and it will be a matter of time before Chinese tourists start coming to the continent in droves, given that it will be relatively cheaper for them.
To penetrate this niche market, understanding Chinese cultural values and how the Chinese shape their preferences and expectations is a first step in deciding on the type of marketing and product mix to develop.
- The Chinese have unique, special needs and travel habits that need to be understood and catered for.
- It should be borne in mind that the Chinese have a superstitious culture. For example among them the number four (4) is associated with death while eight (8) is a lucky number.
- Bringing Chinese tourists to Gambia will have a multifaceted impact on the Gambian economy, as research has indicated that many Chinese tourists are business-minded, and usually like to interact with local people to explore potential business opportunities. Gambia is the gateway to West Africa, and so a good point from where entrepreneur tourists will begin to explore business opportunities in the sub-region. China is the new kid in the block in corporate investment, and its business people and companies have the cash to invest in facilities and infrastructure that would help raise Gambia’s bar as a-year-round destination.
Problem of Distance and Air Access
While the Chinese market offers great hope, there is the problem of distance and availability of flights that will be transporting Chinese tourists to The Gambia.
Adama Njie, the GTB Director of Marketing, while stressing that one their marketing strategies is to diversify the source market during the 2020/2021 tourist season, said the problem with the Chinese market is air access. He however assured that the Ministry of Tourism is looking into the strategy document prepared for air access.