When Saikou Demba started working in the hotel industry when he was young, he opened a small hotel called Leybato on the coast of the Gambia and ran a beach bar on the vast golden sands. The hotel is still there, a relaxing place where guests can lie in a hammock under a swaying palm tree and stroll along a path inlaid with shells. But the beach bar is not. At high tide, Demba estimates that it will sink about 5 or 6 meters into the sea.
“The tide rose in the first year, but it was okay,” he said. “The second year, the tide rose, but it was okay. In the third year, one day I came down and found that the bar was gone-half of it fell into the sea.”
It was in the 1980s, before most people had even heard of the greenhouse effect.
But for the 71-year-old Demba and many others like him, it is clear that things are changing. The sea is getting deeper every year, and the coastline is collapsing little by little.
Now, Leybato has not only lost its beach bar, but also lost its beach at high tide: the sea rushes to the bottom of the terrace, splashing water. The erosion of the coastline is clearly visible on the cracked paving stones and bare coconut tree roots. The seagrass that once covered the seabed has disappeared.
“The grass is protecting the ocean, but it’s gone now,” Demba said. “I also often see sea turtles, big sea turtles. Now, no. We are in a very miserable situation.”
On the 50-mile coastline of Gambia, the smallest continental country in Africa, hotels and guesthouses are facing similar pressures. In a developing country where tourism accounts for about 20% of GDP and employs tens of thousands of people, it is particularly important that they can afford these tourism industries.
“We have learned our lessons from Covid-19. Tourism is very, very important to this country,” said Alpha Saine, the front desk manager. Kairaba Hotel, One of the two most luxurious in the country.
After a prolonged absence during the pandemic, European tourists began to return to Gambia, even though the number has dropped significantly. Thain hopes that Covid will “become history” soon.
However, in the long run, the climate crisis poses a greater threat to the industry, and it seems that no one has found a solution for everyone.
On the beaches of Kairaba and Senegambia Hotels, the heart of Gambia’s “Smile Coast” tourism industry, rock barriers that extend hundreds of meters along the coastline have been laid to prevent waves from entering too far. At low tide, the beach is still very large—in the Covid era, the beach was very empty—but at high tide, it was a long, narrow sandy beach.