What are the Economic, Environmental and Social Co
nsequences of the Tourist Development in the Gambia?The Gambia is a small country following the River Gambia, 11000 square kilometres in size. Having a population of about one million, with a young population structure of 44 percent under fifteen years. 74 percent of the population work in agriculture; mainly growing groundnuts (peanuts), which are turned into vegetable oil and cattle cake feed in Europe, in particular Belgium and the Netherlands. This creates 90 percent of Gambias export earnings. It is difficult for a country such as the Gambia to move from the dependency of world prices for agricultural products, towards economic development. As a result he Gambia hopes that by investing in tourism it will generate foreign capital to pay for investment in the infrastructure. There are now 15000 people directly employed in tourism, employing ten percent of the countrys wage earners.
The Gambias primary resources include physical attractions such as scenery, warm climate and tropical ecosystems. It also includes historic buildings and structures found in older settlements. Secondary resources are the facilities provided by governments and without these people mass tourism cannot take place. Most hotels are grouped together on the coast between the airport and the capital Banjul in a tourist enclave. However, there are a few hotels grouped up country close to Georgetown and the safari camp of Mansa Konka. Furthermore the Yundum International Airport has been constructed providing access into the country; also the best quality roads and infrastructure are in this tourist enclave between the airport at Yundum and the capital of Banjul. Yet, the only service not catered for is entertainment, which has to be provided for and by the tourists.
There are many positive and negative economic impacts of tourism in Gambia. Positive impacts are that tourism creates a supply of foreign hard currency i.e. Dollars, Pounds, Yens and Euro. Also jobs are created directly by tourism in the formal economy, such as hotel staff, porters, kitchen staff and indirectly. Jobs such as the use of local taxis and informal economies such as in prostitution. This creates an income, which contributes to Gambias wealth, i.e. its GNP (Gross National Product), which is currently $230 per annum. This money can be spent by the government to provide schools or hospitals for local people. Infrastructure may be up-graded to serve the needs of foreign tourists, such as the instalments of telephone connections, and the building of sewers and roads. These facilities may also benefit local people, who also may produce wooden carved animals, printed cloth items to sell to tourists. Grants of money may be available from overseas organisations such as the EU (European Union) to spend on infrastructure projects. It is hoped that one will get a multiplier effect with the money re-cycling around the country.
Negative economic impacts of tourism in the Gambia are that the multiplier effect may not be as big as one expects because of leakage. Some foreign currency is lost because food (Argentine Beef), drink (French wine) is imported for use by the foreign tourists rather than using local food and drink supplies. Leakages also occurs by the tourists by buying gifts which they believe are local but may come from elsewhere in Africa, e.g. wooden animals carved in Kenya or outside Africa, wooden animals carved in Taiwan. Furthermore most jobs in tourism are seasonal. They occur in the winter, from November to March when European visitors come in search of winter sun. This leads to unemployment in the off-season. However, tourism pays workers higher wages than those they would receive in local agricultural jobs. This results in a loss of some of the labour force from agriculture so that Gambia is no longer self-sufficient in this sector and must now import food to feed itself.
There are few positive and many negative environmental impacts of tourism in Gambia. The only positive impact created by tourism is that hotel owners and tourist encourage foreign and local biologist and scientists to study the local ecosystem, e.g. the tropical rain forests or the mangrove swamps.
However, there are many negative environmental impacts of tourism for example, hotel builders destroy the coastal mangrove swamps for the hotel sites. Mangroves are a little valued coastal plant, which can tolerate being covered at times in muddy estuaries with salt water. Soil collects around the roots and the build up of large areas of mangrove swamp protect the coast from the impact of topical storms. However, when the mangroves are removed coastal erosion occurs. Palm trees are cut down for hotel sites and the beach hotels are visually polluting especially when hotels are built taller than the palm trees themselves. Though this can be overcome as done in some parts of the world, e.g. In Bali, Indonesia the Palm Tree Rule is being followed and states that it is illegal to build hotels taller than palm trees to avoid the visual pollution of tall blocks. Also pollution can be serious in many of the built up areas, for example air pollution from exhausts of cars and litter left by tourists especially on the beaches. Also if sewage is pumped untreated into the sea it may damage the fragile marine organisms, particularly coral, which requires very clean water to survive.
There are many negative social impacts of tourism in Gambia compared to positive impacts. The only positive impacts are that it allows local people to get to know people from other countries and cultures. Also the quality of life has improved because people have more money, which can be used to improve facilities such as education and health care. However, the negative social impacts are numerous for example, the moral standards change as the wealth difference between the locals and in the in-coming tourists encourage prostitution and ultimately the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as aids, which has plagued central and south African countries. Also one finds that there is a reduction in schools attendance by the locals by the young males, as they become beach boys. They provide the tourists with guiding services, selling them local goods and possibly becoming involved with prostitution. The crime rate may rise because of attacks on the tourists, especially tourists whom are relatively richer than the local Gambians, the tourists from MEDCs of UK and Germany in particular. Security police are provided to specially protect the tourists and some of these police spend most of their time within the hotel compound.
One may find a clash of cultures between the local cultures, e.g. music, dancing, little clothing tourists wear and the imported culture that the tourists bring with them. This may result in a downgrading of selected towns, which are mainly dominated by tourists, e.g. Banjul and Juffure. For instance local music may be replaced by western pop music and the disrespect of locals by some tourists wearing little clothing in towns and markets. Culture clashes may also occur because tourists want to see a typical African village in the Gambia. However, this experience may not remain and will change the authenticity after the tourist visit. Local people may wish to make money out of the tourists and this will alter the nature of the relationship between these people and their visitors.
There are many consequences of the development of tourism, which can be both beneficial and detrimental, however, these impacts must by balanced by planning for the future. Recent schemes such as encouraging women to grow vegetables for sale to local hotels and export has been successful, reducing leakage. Also building of hotels up river would balance the number of tourists around the area rather being concentrated in enclaves.