Ninki Nanka Study Tour 2020
Three Leeds Beckett students from various countries recently started a journey to “the smiling coast of West Africa” on the the Ninki Nanka Trail – a Community Based Tourism trail linking up a selection of villages and natural and cultural heritage sites along the River Gambia.
The Ninki Nanka Trail study trip was applied learning “par excellence”. The intense programme included visits of existing and pilot tourism products throughout The Gambia. These were accompanied by guest lectures from diverse local tourism professionals, so-called “bantabas” (traditional gatherings in Gambian communities); and CBT-approved mapping methods to reflect and consult on the experiences. The insights clearly stimulated systemic thinking, group discussions and interpretation as well as shared solution finding skills.
As an alumni, I could draw a direct link to all modules of the RTM course, from tourism master plans as an essential tool in destination planning/management to developing or marketing a responsible product on an operational level. The Ninki Nanka Trail is definitely a unique and exclusive opportunity for students and alumni to apply RT in action, to dive deep into The Gambian experience and to meet like-minded people from all over the world.
Banjul was the starting point of the trip where we were welcomed on the beach by juice sellers, incredible musicians and young Gambian men (also known as “bumsters”) who all made our walk more enjoyable. During the trip, I realised that there was a huge contrast between the places we visited. After a night of sleep on the Ninki Nanka Boat, we visited Jufereh and Albreda – villages with significant heritage sites in association with the slave trade. Unfortunately, also villages where interactions with tourists and the host community have not always been well managed. In contrast, the next accommodation in Ndemban was a village homestay that gave us an excellent example of responsible community-based tourism. One of the highlights was the locals of Ndemban teaching us about Gambian culture by showing us the women’s garden, the blacksmith, Gambian cookery, weaving and salt making. We ended our journey in Footsteps Ecolodge, which is an environmentally friendly accommodation where we learned about many best-practice initiatives."
As well as the once-in-a-lifetime moments, topics like “bumstering”, hassle, poverty, litter, animal welfare and child protection are daily challenges that the community in The Gambia is facing. Subjects like environmental management, local economic development and managing culture and heritage sites all play significant roles for the ongoing development of tourism products in the country. Many of these issues were covered in class where the focus is on managing these challenges in a way that profits the host communities, stimulates empowerment and reduces poverty. Additionally, it enhanced my critical thinking on how to increase positive impacts through responsible tourism practices.
Having started the Masters in Responsible Tourism Management a couple of years ago as a distance learner, this year was the first chance I’d been able to take part in the annual study tour, and it was an incredible experience. A week crammed full (in the best possible way) of learning experiences, from piloting a new walking tour in the capital, Banjul, to informal ‘bantaba’ teaching sessions which encouraged us to think beyond what was visible, and hearing from locals in Albreda/Juffureh about the work they are doing with stakeholders to improve visitor/host interactions so that the tourism experience there is better for everyone.
So much of the Master's course content was contextualised during the tour – destination management, host/guest relations, the informal sector, community empowerment, product development, codes of conduct, marketing, economic development, environmental management and more – this was the triple-bottom-line of responsible tourism in action!
Highlights? Well, the fact that The Gambia’s nickname is the ‘Smiling Coast’ of Africa says a lot – the genuine warm welcome and friendliness of everyone we met was a real treat. It was a week of truly authentic experiences; finding a family of cake-bakers in action during a visit to a family compound in Banjul and getting to buy the cakes straight from the oven – so tasty!; listening to the stories of the fruit sellers from the women’s cooperative on the beach; travelling up the River Gambia by boat, watching the birdlife and at peace with nature; being greeted with song and dance when we arrived at Ndemban village. I could go on...instead, I will just recommend you try this study tour for yourself!