Footsteps Eco Lodge, positioned 1 kilometre back from golden sandy beaches next to the protected Kunyoong Forest park in the South of Gambia, offers authentic intelligently designed cool accommodation in relaxed and friendly surroundings. Daréll Lourens spoke to David, the owner and founder, on why this destination deserves it’s World Responsible Tourism Award and if there is a need for concern about Ebola in the area.
1. Footsteps has been long listed for the World Responsible Tourism awards in the category ‘best in engaging people and their culture’. In what ways do engage with your local community and why do you think you deserve such an award?
Footsteps and its staff deserve to win this award for their unending spirit and determination. We opened Footsteps Eco Lodge in January 2002 having built the lodge using only a local workforce, local bought building materials and methods. At the end of the building work we retained a large part of the team as lodge employees and trained them in their new roles working for a lodge. Of those staff many are still working at Footsteps with as an example Dodou Touray who was part of the ground building team now being General manager for the past 6 years. Two thirds of our employees from day 1 are still part of the team today.
Over the years we have provided continuous employment to 15 full time staff members from different households who receive above average rates of pay all year round with benefits such as up to 21 days paid leave per year , sick pay and pension benefits all of which have meant that their children have received a full time education, something I am very proud of.
Our business is a well integrated one in the local community of Gunjur enjoying the support of local businesses such as local guides, taxi’s, craftsmen and farmers.
Each year we actively work on behalf of the community to raise funds in support of the local schools, The Gunjur Museum Project, its aim to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of the local area and organisations such as AFNOW ( The Association for the Needy and Orphan Welfare ) where this year I have been given the great honour of being asked to sit on its board of directors.
In the past 12 years we have proven to be a business case as a responsible and sustainable lodge in The Gambia.
2. Talks about the Ebola virus are on everyone’s lips. Has this affected you and do you think there is a need for concern about threats in Gambia? What do you think is the impact of this on your local tourism industry?
I can say that the threat of Ebola is affecting not only AU countries which are currently fighting the virus but also AU countries which are not. For example Gambia has no reports of Ebola incident but none the less bookings are down considerably. The TV and newspaper reporting has not been helpful at all, instead of educating people about simple procedures which will help to contain and stop the virus they have reported disturbing images designed to sell more copy whilst shocking the general public into a state of panic. The effects on small countries such as Gambia when their tourist income is affected will have avery damaging effect.
Gambia has taken a pro active position with regard the prevention of spread of Ebola, working closely with the WHO and many small organisations such as AFNOW which recently held sensitisation meetings in our local village taking the view that if people are well informed they will have a much better chance of keeping Gambia safe.
At this time there is no need for concern about Ebola in Gambia and anyone thinking of visiting this small West African paradise should certainly come.