Ida Jeng Njie(JollofNews)-The director of the Gambia’s Tourism Board, Ida Jeng-Njie, has described the country as the most viable value for money destinations in Africa for visitors.

In an interview with Charles Ajunwa of Nigeria’s ThisDay Newspaper, Mrs Jeng-Njie, who attended the 2015 Akwaaba Travel Market in Lagos, said tourism is being used to drive the country’s economy and promote their rich culture.
She added that the country as a tourism destination has over the years began providing exciting holiday packages for European and African visitors including Nigerians.
Below we reproduce the full interview:
The Root Festival has continued to attract tourists from all over the world. Do you market this yearly?
Yes. The Root Festival is celebrated every year in The Gambia. As you know, our president is passionate about culture. So, he is the pioneer and sponsor of the festival. The next festival will hold from May 6-13, 2016. Preparations are already in place since last year. I was in the United States of America in April, May, August and September this year all because of promoting the road show of the Root Festival. We have other agenda as well in the pipeline for the Nigerian market to attend the festival. We are planning a familiarisation trip sometime at the end of February/March 2016 for tour operators, travel media and other relevant bodies for the Pre-Root familiarisation trip.
Many black people especially those in Diaspora are retracing their roots in Africa. How many of such people are retracing their roots in Gambia and how are you managing this?

The number of people retracing their roots is increasing. Kunta Kinte, the slave boy, was taking from The Gambia to a city in America called Annapolis. When you get to that city today, they have a testing machine to know where your roots are from. We are going to work with the city of Annapolis so that the black people from that area would come and be able to trace their roots. Ida Jeng NjieThe number of people making effort at tracing their roots is increasing and some of them are promising to come to the Gambia for the forthcoming Root Festival. The Root Festival is also for the Gambians and other Africans in the Diaspora who do not know anything about their culture to come and experience it first hand in The Gambia. Embedded in the Root Festival are other mini festivals and events that are meant to encourage African Diaspora and those living abroad, especially the youths to know and embrace the African culture. We are trying to bring African youths back to show them our culture, and that will be given priority in the International Roots Festival 2016.
Gambia as a tourism destination has many holiday packages for tourists. Do you have special holiday packages for Nigerians that travel to your country?

We have many exciting holiday packages for our Nigerian market. We have honeymoon, wedding, beach resort, business among other packages because the Nigerian market is very big. Yes, it is so big that we cannot concentrate on one market. We have golfers coming to play golf in the Gambia, footballers, and also have banks coming to do their retreats in the Gambia because most of the banks that are here in Nigeria are also in The Gambia. The bankers fly over to do their retreats. We cater for all the packages. However, the most popular package for the Nigerian market is the leisure.  I think our strength as Gambians is of the people.  We are friendly with lots of smiles, the country is very relaxing, and you can feel the ambiance. Hence, Nigerians go for the leisure. Fashion also woos them because lots of Nigerians come, and they buy the traditional outfits and souvenirs. In line with that development and to encourage them, we now have fashion outlets such as Zara, United Colours among others in the Gambia. The reason was due the research we conducted and discovered that Nigerians like shopping. So, we are really prepared for our Nigerian market.
Tourists want to go where there is security of life and property. Recently, Paris was attacked by terrorists and some tourists lost their lives. How secured is the Gambia in the face of global terrorism?

The Gambia, as a destination, is very blessed. We always and truly say we are the most peaceful country in West Africa. However, we do not take chances with security. We have tight internal security and border control. We have the Tourism Security Unit (TSU), an internal security network that makes sure all tourism hotspots, especially where the hotels are localized, the beaches, the craft centres, parks, among others are firmly secured. We value every single tourist and are committed to ensuring maximum value for the money they spend. We have tight security to the extent that other countries, like Ghana are coming to understudy our tourism security unit and even some Nigerians came here about three months ago to do same.

What really attract visitors to your country. Do you have special offers for visitors?
Let me start by saying that the product development and investment sector of the Gambia Tourism Board is equal to that task. Our recent survey discovered that out of 100 per cent, 35 pertourist cent are repeat visitors. That figure is telling us different things. First, that we are doing something right, that was why we had that great number. Secondly, the increasing number of repeat visitors means we need to change our products, and add more products. Since then, we have new products, such as Coco Ocean, Ngala has also expanded, there is another project called the Nemban Home Stay. Yes we are Africans, but the Europeans want to see our culture. The Nemban Home Stay gives them another dimension of our culture, which when you visit the country, you stay where the locals are. You wake up in the morning and join the locals in their daily activities such as cooking, farming, running errands, fetching water among others. Beyond, Coco Ocean, we have new hotels. There is also fishing competition, which started about two years ago where participants can win up to £2000 for catching the biggest fish. We also have food and beverage festival and we are having the first ever Bird Festival in the Gambia next year. The hotels are upgrading; the 2-stars are trying to be 3-stars, 3-stars are trying to be 4-stars and so on. We are really up to our game.

How affordable is the hospitality industry in the Gambia?
The Gambia is one of the most viable value for money destinations in Africa and that tells why the number of visitors is steadily on the increase, especially from the European market. Some hotels are conscious of their sales for certain months because of affordability. Also, during summer there is decrease on the rate for the hotels and for the ground handlers-about 20 percent further decrease from what you would have during October, November and December. And when we as Gambians travel to other countries and see the rates of food or accommodation, we shout because it seems we are under-pricing. However, we believe that to get what you want you have to be modest. So, the Gambia is an affordable destination.
How do you handle air connectivity for your Nigerian visitors?
With Arik Air, you have a three-hour direct flight to the Gambia.  But without Arik, you can also go through Accra, Dakar, or Ivory Coast.

Courtesy of ThisDay