Gambia’s biggest Tour Operator Ceases Operation Due to Covid-19 Pandemic
By Bakary Ceesay
Futurist Touristik International (FTI) Group, the Europe’s fourth largest tour operator based in Germany has announced on Monday that the company will shut down in The Gambia due to the coronavirus pandemic which grinds tourism business to a halt.
In a press conference, the authorities told journalists that it will hand over the hotel keys of some local hotels by 15th of July including Kairaba Beach Hotel and Coral Beach Hotel to M.A Kharafi & Sons.
Based in Munich, the company is operating in 120 destinations with 4.1 billion Euros as turnover, the information obtained from company’s website indicates that it manages over 70 hotels with 8 million guests annually across its destinations as per their 2018/19 business year. It’s said to be the biggest tour operator in The Gambia.
Hedi Ben Aissa, FTI representative in Gambia told journalists that the decision has been reached largely due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as losses incurred at The Gambian market.
“As a result of the impact of coronavirus on the tourism industry in The Gambia, FTI invokes a force majeure at the end of April, 2020, six months before the end of the contract with M. A Kharafi & sons. The third-party mediation concluded that FTI has rights to invoke force majeure at the end of April,” he explained.
This is the second time the company closes its operation in The Gambia, the first was in 2002 when it got into a deadlock with the then president Yahya Jammeh’s regime. It returned to operation in Banjul again in 2017 following the change of the government.
He added that said the company has no choice but to end the existing contract between them and M.A Kharafi & Sons before its actual ending of October of this year.
According to him, the company will continue to maintain its offices in the country up to a time when it finishes settling out all liabilities, debt and other overheads it owes to suppliers before facing out from the country.
He added that the company’s six hundred (600) staff have also been settled with salaries and benefits up to the end of June. He said the situation leading to the decision is beyond coronavirus but also as a result of losses incurred during their operations in the country. but according to him, since the coronavirus started, the company has not been gaining any support and has been footing all the bills on their own at an unsustainable cost.
Hedi states that since their operation, FTI has paid twenty seven million, four hundred and thirty six thousand, three hundred and eighty two dalasi to its six hundred staff, adding that two-hundred and sixty-one million, four-hundred and fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and sixteen dalasi was to local suppliers as well as seventy million seven hundred forty-two thousand, two hundred and sixteen was paid to local tour operators and a total of one hundred and fifty six million, five hundred and fifty-seven thousand, nine hundred and eighty-two dalasi was paid to hotels and lodges during their 30 months operations in The Gambia.
Hedi concluded that during the company’s two and half year’s operation in the country it has paid an amount of one hundred and sixteen million, three hundred and ninety-eight thousand, one hundred and eight dalasi (D116, 398, 108.00) to Gambia government as taxes and VAT settlements.