Gambia's economic recovery could be hobbled by Thomas Cook collapse

British tour operator flew in 45 per cent of all tourists to the West African nation

FILE PHOTO: Women stroll along the beach at Senegambia, Banjul, Gambia January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Women stroll along the beach at Senegambia, Banjul, Gambia January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

The collapse of Thomas Cook Group is jeopardising the efforts by one of Africa’s smallest countries to revive its fortunes after the end of a dictator’s two-decade rule.

Gambia, a $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) West African economy surrounded by Senegal aside from its access to the Atlantic Ocean, depends on tourism for nearly a third of its gross domestic product. Thomas Cook typically flew in 45 per cent of tourists that visited its white-sand beaches during the six-month peak season, according to official data.

The company, which filed for liquidation in the UK on September 23, had operations in Gambia for more than two decades.

Its failure could be a blow to the government of President Adama Barrow, which has earmarked tourism, infrastructure and trade to boost economic growth that slowed to 0.4 per cent in 2016. That was the final year of former leader Yahya Jammeh’s rule, a period characterised by rising poverty, corruption and human rights abuses.

The travel operator’s demise couldn’t have come at a worst time, weeks into the holiday season that starts on October 15.

“The GDP figures may be revised downwards because of Thomas Cook’s absence,” said Nyang Njie, an economist with consultancy firm Knowledge Bank Consortium Gambia. The country “doesn’t have time to adjust because the tourism season is starting”, he said.

The International Monetary Fund previously forecast GDP growth of 5.4 per cent for this year, from 6.6 per cent in 2018.

The government formed a strategic response unit to mitigate the fallout from the travel operator’s collapse after talks with the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank. It will seek to increase the frequency of flights by other carriers, the information ministry said in a statement. “The situation is under total control and there is no need for alarm,” it said.

“Thanks to heavy donor support since the country’s transition to democracy back in 2017, Gambia’s government budget is at least a bit less reliant on revenue derived from tourist income than it normally would be,” Neil Thompson, an Africa analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an emailed response to questions.

Published: September 30, 2019 08:30 AM


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