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The Gambia’s tourism chief is “hopeful” about the forthcoming winter season after negative perceptions surrounding the Ebola outbreak in West Africa prompted a precipitous decline in visitor numbers.
The Gambia, which did not have any reported cases of Ebola during the outbreak, saw its UK visitor numbers fall from 58,000 in 2013 to just 36,802 last year, though this was lower than the 42% drop in worldwide visits, and the UK still remained far ahead of other European countries in terms of total visitor numbers.
Abdoulie Hydara, director general of the Gambia Tourism Board, said: “The UK is still the top source market for the Gambia, even though 2014 was a difficult year because of Ebola.
“The Gambia was never infected by Ebola, but it was affected by its position as a member of Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States, and because of the media coverage of the Ebola crisis as a West Africa problem.
“For us, Ebola is a thing of the past. We are doing everything possible to ensure that we keep abreast of the challenges, but we are hopeful that we will have a very good season.
“I think consumer confidence is almost there, so we are very hopeful that visitor numbers will continue to rise. The Gambia and the UK have some very strong ties not only in tourism but politically as well, and most visitors from the UK are repeaters so they know the Gambia well.”
The tourism board is developing an online training programme for travel agents which is expected to be available within the next six months, and will also be investing in niche markets for the coming year.
That includes new product such as luxury camp accommodation and homestay projects, plus a host of events catering to its birdwatching and fishing specialist markets, with an annual fishing competition later this month and its first international bird fair in October 2016.
There are currently nine flights a week from the UK to the Gambia, run by Thomas Cook and specialist operator The Gambia Experience from London and Manchester.
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