By Yankuba Jallow
Gambian hoteliers and restaurateurs are lamenting the economic impact of the Coronavirus on their businesses after President Adama Barrow gave instructions for businesses offering non-essential services to temporarily close to prevent the spread of the virus.
All restaurants along the Tourism Development Area have closed while a few hotels are operating to provide services to the tourists who are stranded because of the closure of the country’s borders and airport.
The reporter went around Senegambia area and visited the greater number of hotels along the Tourism Development Area (TDA) on Friday. It was observed that almost all restaurants left notes at their gateways indicating they have closed until further notice.
Speaking to some of the restaurant owners, they said they were instructed to close their businesses until further notice. They expressed frustration of their business as they said the closure of their business does not favour them.
One Lamin Conteh said he has already paid his annual rent fee to the landowner.
“I am yet to recover the expenses I invested in my business. Our business was affected by the ‘3-Years Jotna’ problem and now we are faced with another problem. This is a bad season for my business,” he said.
He detailed that the profit they usually make is limited because of the expenses they incur including payment of rent which according to him is very expensive. He said in a few months to come the tourism season will close.
“No one knows when the problem of the Coronavirus will be solved. It is like we are closing earlier than time and this means we have to wait for several months before the next season opens,” he said.
He said restaurant business is his sole source of earning a living and the closure of his business will have negative impact on him.
Some of the security guards at several hotels that the reporter spoke to, all said the hotels are partially closed and they only have only tourists who are stranded and cannot return to their respective countries.
All attempts to speak to hotel managers weren’t successful.
Muhammed M. Touray, a tourist taxi driver said they are most affected because they don’t have customers to carry since the tourists have left the country.
“We don’t know what to do now. The impact of Coronavirus on us is very bad. We have families at home and we depend on our taxi services to earn a living. The closure of the hotels is good in the fight to prevent the spread of the virus but it equally has negative consequences on us,” he said.
Speaking with a taxi driver who said he has been in the industry for over two decades, he said he is undergoing the most difficult period of his career as a driver in the tourism industry.
“What makes the situation more unfortunate is no one knows when the virus will be tackled. With the current trend, I want to believe that the season has closed because it is only two months from the close of the season,” he said.
He added: “Myself together with my family and those under me, are all fed from the income I generate from my taxi business. I have many pee dependents ask I peak to you I don’t have any other means of survival. I don’t know any other job other than being a tourist driver,” he said.
Amadou Jallow, a tailor said his business has been paralysed because of the closure of the hotels and restaurants. He explained that his business is dependent on the tourism season.
“Only tourists buy my cloths. Here I am, I am not working and I am not taking anything home for my family to feed on. Even if the hotels and restaurants were closed, some of the tailors including myself do not always have customers. So the closure is making our situation move from bad to worse,” he said.
It was observed that all hotels have packed their sunshine beds. The majority of the restaurant owners do not fault the government for the closure of the businesses but decry that it will have negative consequence on them.
Mamasalieu Jallow said the majority of the workers at the tourism industry are youth and mainly strugglers and poor.
“What is there for the youths after the closure? Some of us are graduates and we cannot proceed to the University or further our education. We come to the beachside at least to make friends with tourists and at least have something to survive. The closure of the restaurants and hotels is like they are sending us in the street because we cannot stay at home seeing the conditions of our families,” he said.
Jallow said at the industry people live from hand to mouth. He added that some people usually get luck and get scholarship from tourists since the scholarship that the Gambia Government provides is limited.
Speaking to some tourist tour operators they said the closure of the season before the normal closing time is not favourable to them.
“The tourists that left will not come back this season. The season will close very soon. Our services are only for tourists and they have all gone back because of the fear of Coronavirus. The closure will affect us and our staff,” an anonymous senior tour operator told Foroyaa.
He said the tourism industry is a source of employment and livelihood for thousands of Gambians adding that the closure of the hotels and restaurants will have negative impact in each one of them including the tour guards.
The reporter couldn’t speak with staffs of hotels since they are all asked to stay home.
Photos Credit: Abdoulie Fatty