BANJUL, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- Gambia's tourism season is set to begin in October but fear has gripped the industry since Thomas Cook, one of the leading airlines and tour operators in the world, announced Sunday it would cease operations due to bankruptcy.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority has informed that Thomas Cook Group has ceased trading with immediate effect, with all flights and holidays cancelled around the world, including Gambia.
The tourism sector contributes about 30 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). According to Gambia's tourism ministry, the highest arrival of tourists on record was in December 2018 when it recorded over 219,000 international tourists. Over 50 percent of tourists came from the United Kingdom on Thomas Cook flights, while the rest came from other parts of Europe, including Scandinavia.
"It's really very sad, difficult and untimely news to hear that the flight agency is facing bankruptcy. It's untimely because it is only a few days away before we enter a new annual tourism season. A great number of tourists come from the United Kingdom and this always has a very positive impact on our economy directly. Undoubtedly, this is not good news for us," Isatou Jatta, a restaurant worker near Senegambia, a tourist attraction center, told Xinhua.
She said she will feel the pinch directly as a local restaurant worker because this is the time when her business flourishes as tourists admire and buy her locally prepared foods.
Ebrima Jobe is a frequent beach visitor and he enjoys interacting with tourists from different countries at this time. He told Xinhua he would miss his old friends from Europe.
"Some already told me that they will not come this year if this situation remains unchanged. Not that Thomas Cook is a UK company, according to my friends, it is the cheapest and that's why they feel convenient with it," he said.
"We are to embark on an emergency risk assessment meeting this afternoon to ascertain the damage this development will cost Gambia's tourism industry. Of course, it's a very serious issue at hand but I can only talk to you in detail once we are done with our meeting," Abdoulie Hydara, director general of Gambia's Tourism Board, told Xinhua on Tuesday.
A hotel manager and partner of Thomas Cook in Gambia, Malleh Sallah, said the collapse is not only a big blow to Gambian hotels, but to the country as well.
"Thomas Cook brings almost half of all the tourists in this country each year and phasing out from the market means a great loss to this country," Sallah said.
He added that Thomas Cook is a major player in the tourism industry that supplies guests to nearly all the hotels in the country.
"Of course, the ceasing of operations by Thomas Cook is a big blow to our tourism industry, looking at the number of employment opportunities it created for Gambians and for the mere fact that the tourism season is just around the corner," Sallah said.
The West African nation that sits on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean is a popular destination for international tourists due to the beauty of its beaches, culture and historical sites.