Hotel owners, neo-traditional craftsmen, and others in the tourism trade from Senegal and the Gambia convened in Senegal's capital, Dakar, this week for the first ever sub-regional tourism fair to promote responsible tourism. Participants say events like these will create connections across the region that will help them compete better with the big international tour companies. Naomi Schwarz has more from the fairground in downtown Dakar.
In a small stand as part of a tourism fair, one vendor shows off his wares.
He is selling traditional Senegalese products in a non-traditional way. Bissap juice, for instance, is made with an infusion of hibiscus flowers. In Dakar, dried flowers sell by the tomato-can full, from women with masses of them in calabash bowls. But here the flowers have been put into individual-sized tea bags, which travel better and can appeal to foreigners unfamiliar with the juice.
His colleague explains their business.
The vendor says he and his colleague help local producers make high quality products that they can sell in hotels and in the local market.
They are participating in "Mboka 2007," a tourism fair organized by a partnership between Senegal's National Organization for Indigenous Tourism and the Gambia's Association of Small-Scale Enterprises in Tourism.
Amie Puye, another participant in the fair who works for a Gambian company that makes fair-trade clothing out of local cloth, says the name, Mboka, reflects the goal of the organizers and participants. "It is Wolof, (and) it means to build family between Senegal and Gambia."
Puye says they traveled to the fair in Dakar to make contacts in the tourism business across the sub-region, which she hopes will increase their sales.
So far, she says, it has been a success. "Some tour operators (have) already passed, so we have given them our cards, explain things, so they promised to bring tourists."
Aziz Samb, president of the organizing committee, says the fair is designed to create a community for small, locally-owned tourism businesses. He says developing this side of the tourism industry will help develop the countries themselves, as well. He says all the profits made by big hotels owned by multi-national chains go out of the country.
But small hotels with local owners, like the one he runs with only 15 rooms, mean the profits stay in the community.
This, he says, it what "responsible tourism" means, especially in impoverished countries like Senegal and the Gambia. He says the tourists also stand to benefit, by coming into contact with locals and experiencing with them the culture and crafts.
Senegal and the Gambia are two of West Africa's most stable countries. Both rely on tourism as one of their top earners, after agriculture.