While travelling from Banjul airport recently, Tourism Minister Hamat Bah, said he counted what could be likened to 23 human-vultures at the foot of the aircraft, who were waiting on disembarking passengers.
"The last time I returned to the country, again I counted 27 of them. I wondered what they were doing there," Bah said.
"If you come close to the tarmac, you see people waiting, pushing each other over guests like vultures, running everywhere around guests. These are not even tourist arrivals, but regular Gambian visitors," he told a forum on the operations of the Banjul International Airport as tourism season kicked-off on Monday.
Bah said Gambians are also considered and treated like "criminals" in their own airport. "Gambians are happy landing in Dakar than landing in their own airport, because when they come here, they get treated like criminals. You go to Dakar Airport, Lagos or Abidjan airports, you are merely checked if you are carrying arms or drugs and allowed to pass without delay," he lamented.
He added: "If you go to Senegal, no matter how much bags you bring, you are treated without delay; you come here, and they will search your luggage and take everything you are bringing into the country not even for the state but for their personal interests at the expense of the state."
The minister added that "Gambians cannot continue to be treated as foreigners in their homeland, that's unacceptable. It is not just about tourism, it is about how Gambians are treated in this airport. It has to stop."
The tourism officials are also concerned that there still exists a "dark room" at the airport...
"A dark room... ? Those dark days are over since the December 1st last year. We are out of that chapter. That NIA room, whatever you call it, must be closed down. Lock it up and allow Gambians to walk out of here without delay or ill treatments," the minister told airport administrators.
Hamat also said if there are criminals on the flight,the security officers can put them under control before they even disembark from the flight. But he lamented the delay, caused to passengers with long queues and unnecessary searches on their belongings.
"Passengers will queue for a half kilometer just to go through a scanner. Why operate a single scanner when there are two? Why will it take you three hours to go through checks in this airport when you flew only two hours between continents to get here?" he asked.
Commenting on the issue, a representative of the customs and excise department, who spoke on behalf of the Gambia Revenue Authority, said they often control all incoming and outgoing passengers at the airport; and profile each passenger to enable them have safe and smooth travelling.
He said the concerns have been noted and assured that tourists will not have any hurdles with the customs, as they are treated as priorities among other arriving passengers at the airport.
"When it comes to revenue collection, we are not looking to tourists... Out of our own research, we found that out of every tourist flight that comes to Banjul here, only five will carry something that is valuable and subject to custom duty," he said.
"Customs has an important role in tourism because the security of the tourist and that of the nation are all watched by the customs. We control dangerous weapons, illicit drugs, money laundering and collect revenue for the state," he said, noting that this year's season will be exceptional.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ousainou Darboe, said the Diaspora Gambians and other travelers bringing gifts as presents to families, such as cell phones, as little as five, are required to pay customs duties on these items.
"We have not yet detach ourselves completely of the attitude of the previous administration," Mr. Darboe said, noting that public officials still use their uniforms and our offices to harass visitors, especially Gambians based abroad, by subjecting them to interrogations, detention or question seeking to find out about their purpose of the visit. "Those need to stop," he said.
Immigration officials also announced they are waiving visa for all tourist arrivals and promised to have speedy and hassle-free processing of tourists at desks as they come in.