Tourism is undoubtedly the fasting growing sector in the Gambian economy. It is the biggest foreign exchange earner and is a major source of employment. Tourism accounts for about 16 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. There are great opportunities that can be exploited in the Tourism Sector. The number of hotels has increased from a couple when the industry began in 1960’s to nearly three dozen which are mostly dotted along our palm-fringed beaches. There is still considerable room for expansion. There are vast stretches of beautiful coastline available for the building of hotels and other tourism facilities in the Tourism Development Area. In this area, hotels of 4 and 5 star class will be given preference. The River Gambia is also open for the development cruising, sport fishing and eco-tourism resorts. The tourism industry is at present mainly reliant on the charter market with the vast majority of tourists on a package. While charter traffic will always be welcome, there is also a need to develop cultural tourism and the conference and incentive market. Future Government Policy will therefore continue to promote tourism activities and encourage greater private sector investment. The measures that are planned include the consolidation of the existing Tourism Development Area and the expansion into new sites, where land will be allocated (at no cost and with minimum bureaucracy) to investors engage in the development of 4 and 5 star hotels, and high class complementary facilities such as congress and convention centers, sports and recreational facilities, eco-tourism, river cruising, professional game fishing and water-sporting facilities.
Setting Up a Business in The Tourism Sector
Government has always felt that a private sector oriented institution can best provide the impetus that the tourism industry requires to grow and compete with other destinations. The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBOARD) and the GIEPA are working closely to encourage both local and foreign investment in the tourism sector. Investors will receive all the necessary support. In addition to the procedure to apply for the Special Investment Certificate as outlined in the GIEPA Requirements, one is required to apply for the necessary license and clearance from GTBOARD. The GTBOARD was set up by an Act of the National Assembly in July 2001 as a statutory body to develop, regulate and promote the tourism industry in The Gambia. As the executing arm of the Department of State for Tourism and Culture, the GTBOARD is responsible for licensing and regulation of the tourism enterprises which are classified in the following categories:
- Accommodation (hotels, motels, camps and lodges)
- Catering (bars, restaurants and other eating places)
- Entertainment (nightclubs and discos)
- Transportation (ground operators, equipment hirers, car rentals, etc)
To initiate investment activities, Application forms should be obtained from the Gambia Tourism Authority. The forms, which are brought for a nominal fee, clearly outline the requirements for each type of business. The completed application forms must be accompanied by all relevant documents listed on the form. The investor is usually asked to provide a project description, a business plan or a fully fledged feasibility study. In the case of applications for land, the project document is submitted with a processing fee of D20, 000. After evaluating the documents and upon assurance that the proposed projects conforms to the authority’s requirements and the relevant laws, the GTBOARD will give the necessary approval. In the case of hotels and other physical structures, the operational license is issued after the project is completed and seen to meet the licensing criteria of the GTBOARD. There is also a follow-up inspection on an annual basis to assess facilities and standards. Licenses are renewed annually. Landed properties within the Tourism Development Area are available for a 50 year lease which is renewable. The Authority has set itself the task of considerably increasing tourist arrivals in the next few years. This is a lofty goal, which cannot be achieved without a corresponding increase in hotels and other infrastructure.
In addition to the incentives provided by the GIEPA, The Gambia is offering an additional set of very attractive measures to tour operators, airlines, hotels and ground handlers specifically designed to increase tourism traffic during the low season. The incentives will apply during the summer months of May to October:
- A 25% discount on aircraft handling charges for all tourist charter flights,
- A 25% discount on aircraft landing and parking fees for all tourist charter flights,
- A 50% discount on sales tax for hotels and ground operators.
- In addition, all hotels offer a special discounted rate to tour operators during this period.