According to Mr.Ebrima Ceesay a tourist taxi driver at the SeneGambia Car Park, there is no business for them even though they are approaching the middle of the tourist season.
The problems highlighted range from lack of proper demarcation were local taxis and tourist taxis should operate to pick tourists and lack of consultation before decisions affecting them are taken by authorities.
Mr Ceesay said they paid D1500 (one thousand five hundred dalasi) for taxi headlights, D100 for vehicle testing by the licensing office, another Dl00 (one hundred dalasi) for another test by the Gambia Tourism Board and additional fee of D500 (five hundred dalasi) for an operational license.
He also dilated that the GTB has informed them that they are working towards the reduction of the number of tourist taxis present at the Senegambia car park from 2000 (two thousand) vehicles to 700 vehicles and is not sure whether the Government is aware of these issues or not.
Mr. Ceesay also went further to deal with the issue of "all inclusive" tourism, that is to say, everything that the tourists need is provided by either the hotel or the tour operators. He said the taxi drivers' only get tourists who visit the Gambia on a regular basis. He said now things are difficult because even when two or three tourists are heading for supper they are carried by the buses which prevent them from getting anything.
He indicated that they used to transport tourists from the Gambia to Fatahla in Senegal which costs two thousand one hundred and fifty dalasi but said they do not get such contracts anymore.
Mr. Lamin Conteh also a tourist taxi driver at Senegambia, echoed similar sentiments and added that they are subjected to a testing process twice during the season while the local taxis are not, which he said is biasness, because the local taxis even park at the entrance of the Quality Control Programme of the GTB. Mr. Conteh further expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision to ask them to pay for the taxi headlights within six months,
He lamented their sitting down the whole day without getting anything. He opined that before imposing conditions on them there should have been proper consultations and negotiations, further noting that the GTB should live something for them to enable them to earn a decent living.
THE REACTION OF THE GAMBIA TOURISM BOARD
The Director General of the Gambia Tourism Board, Mr. Benjamin Roberts was contacted to shed light on the issues raised. He said the all-inclusive tourism package is a global phenomenon and it is dictated by the foreign tour operators who take tourists to different destinations. He also went on to say that initially they rejected the all inclusive package and it led to the loss of some very popular German tour operators called the FTI operators, which he said is why it has been reintroduced. He added if any country rejects the all-inclusive package the tour operators would take their tourists to other destinations. He also added that the all-inclusive package means the provision of accommodation and feeding only to the tourists by the hotels. He said even though this is the agreement some tourists do pay for it and yet go for other services outside the hotel.
When quizzed about the taxi drivers not allowed to park at many hotels and the Taxi Headlight, Mr. Roberts stated that when the GTB management assumed office, they organized consultations and meetings with all the stakeholders in the tourism industry and even the tourist taxi drivers were present at all these meetings. He further added that all were given the chance to narrate their challenges. He said the drivers said they were not allowed by many hotels for them to park within their premises. He said when the GTB asked the hotel proprietors they stated that the drivers were not organized. He said the Board asked them whether if they were organized, they would be allowed at the hotels and the answer was positive. This, he said is how the lights came about he stated. Mr. Roberts also went on to say then the Board decided to come up with the taxi headlights to differentiate between the green taxis and the tourist taxis and even the yellow taxis as well. He posited that when the drivers were shown the lights all of them expressed their appreciation of the lights but asked the Board to reduce the price from D1650 (one thousand six hundred and fifty dalasi) to D1500 (one thousand five hundred) which was agreed by both the drivers and the Board. He said they were also asked to pay D250 (two hundred and fifty dalasi) per month to enable them to get it without difficulty. He however said it was never imposed on them.
When asked to throw light on the issue of the reduction of taxi drivers from two thousand to seven hundred, he said according to the registered tourist taxi drivers list they have, only one thousand three hundred drivers registered with them . He also added that the Board is not trying to reduce the drivers, but that what the board is doing is that they have to undergo vehicle tests by the Gambia Police force and the GTB test to be qualified to be issued with licenses and those whose vehicles are too old would not pass the test and would not be issued with the lights and license to operate as tourist taxi drivers. He also added that all the stakeholders and those who wish to work at the tourism industry should try and improve the quality of their services, because the GTB is here to provide standards. Mr. Roberts summed up by saying that they have toured the length and breadth of the Gambia and have discovered attractive tourist sites and they are also coming up with new festivals like the food and beer.