The award was in recognition of the team’s work in The Gambia. Tourism in the country faces a number of challenges which limit the extent to which local people benefit, such as seasonality, low product innovation, lack of skilled staff, low access to finance, sex tourism, and high youth unemployment, resulting in a growing number of young people seeking employment opportunities in Europe. In response, local government and other stakeholders established a more responsible approach to tourism development through the implementation of Gambia’s Tourism Development Master Plan, designed to maximise the positive impacts of tourism, while building the capacity and development of community-based cultural and ecotourism, and the hidden gem of the River Gambia – the so-called Ninki Nanka Trail.
Students and staff at Leeds Beckett have been closely involved in the development of the trail. Staff from Leeds Beckett University were appointed by the World Bank (Gambia Growth and Competitiveness Project) to conduct a feasibility study of the Ninki Nanka Trail, which involved students from The Gambia and the UK developing and piloting the route and researching the potential opportunities and threats of the trail. The working connections of our student group provided us with great insight into the issues and access to local communities, government, and the industry. Positively, this initial study found that there was fantastic local support and encouraging market demand for this Gambian idea of a new Ninki Nanka Trail.
2019 marks entry into a delivery phase for the Ninki Nanka Trail, offering a series of natural and cultural sites, experiences, and communities along the River Gambia which tell the historical and contemporary story of Gambian life, legend and spirituality. Moving forward with the aspirations for the Ninki Nanka Trail in making a difference to society for small communities in The Gambia, our network of alumni in the Gambia will continue to be invaluable through their personal commitment and working roles within the tourism industry. Their skills and knowledge will be instrumental in improving the infrastructure and building the capacity of the communities and tourism businesses along the trail to deliver a viable, responsible and high quality tourism product that can find itself a place in a very competitive global market.
Our plan for the Responsible Tourism Management MSc is to continue to work in partnership with these stakeholders to support them in implementing this innovative new product and to use our insight into the trail and its development as an opportunity for applied learning for our annual Ninki Nanka Study Tour.