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With controversy growing over the Gambian government’s treatment of homosexuals, Pinknews.co.uk’s Adam Lake tries to book a holiday there.
Gambia is fast becoming a popular holiday destination among British holiday goers.
Log onto any large travel agency website and it won’t be long before your blitzed with offers of a ‘great deal’ on a holiday in the tiny West African country.
But with the news this week of two Spanish tourists being arrested for “gay behaviour,” is it safe for LGBT tourists to travel to the area?
Wanting to get my facts straight from the outset, my first port of call was, naturally, the Gambian High Commission in London.
After some unsuccessful attempts at PinkNews.co.uk I finally got through to somebody by pretending to be a tourist.
Posing as a gay man who wishes to spend a peaceful summer break with his partner, the representative from the Gambian high commission refused to give advice on our personal safety.
Despite being a major news story in national and international media the member of staff denied any knowledge of the Gambian President’s recent threat that gays would face “serious consequences” if they did not leave the country.
The representative instructed us to call the British High Commission in Gambia. As reported on PinkNews.co.uk earlier today, the Foreign Office has updated its advice to British citizens travelling to the Gambia.
They warn that the authorities appear to be enforcing colonial-era penal codes concerned with “carnal knowledge” that goes against the “order of nature.” As the two gay Spanish tourists accused of trying to chat up taxi drivers know all too well.
If you google the Gambia the first two addresses are for two of Britain’s biggest travel agencies:
ThomasCook.com and Lastminute.com.
What would their advice be to the would be gay couple looking to visit?
I call ThomasCook first and I am quickly put through to a member of the sales team for African holidays.
Although not committing to any particular advice he advised me to check with a trip adviser website and also to ring the Gambian High Commission.
He also added that if we were to book into a large hotel then we should experience no problem whatsoever but in smaller, more rural areas we may run into trouble.
Concerned by the idea that LGBT travellers may find trouble in rural areas, I call British holiday company ‘The Gambia Experience.’
The lady who we spoke to was also uncertain about whether or not it would be a good idea to travel:
“It’s really down to you to make that decision,” she told me.
She added that some of their main staff in the country are gay and that they haven’t reported any problems.
She went on:
“You have to be sensible about what your doing there, it would definitely be a good idea to be discreet about stuff.
“If you’re discreet then there’s no way they would know and you’re not going to get into any trouble.”
I was glad that they both advised me to check with official sources before booking.
With the Foreign and Commonwealth Office updating their website this week with a warning to LGBT travellers, the travel agents advice would hopefully lead most LGBT holidaymakers to reach the correct conclusion about visiting the country.
My final call was to internet travel agency Lastminute.com.
After a long day attempting to book a holiday to a destination that I already know I will be avoiding, my spirits are lifted when the phone is instantly picked up by a spritely northern woman:
“I’ve got no idea about that darling but I’ll put you through to Darryl- he’s like yourself.” Who could ask for anything more?
Seconds later I am put through to Darryl who is, to my delight, very much like myself.
Darryl tells me what ThomasCook.com, The Gambia Experience and even what the Gambian High Commission told me- “I’m afraid I don’t know anything about that.”
What, however, separates Darryl from the other guys, and indeed from any other travel agent I have spoken to, is the fact that he promised to call his sister who lives in the Gambia and call me back in ten minutes with some info.
While I wait for Darryl to call me back I ponder at how helpful it would be if High Commissions acted a bit more like travel agents.
Five minutes later Darryl called me back full of facts and a bit of gossip.
“There is a problem there and I definitely would not go to the Gambia, especially with your partner.
“It’s illegal and they’ve thrown a couple of guys in prison for coming on to a taxi driver, which personally I don’t believe at all.
“If you are going on holiday with your partner I would suggest Greece or the Canaries, but of course you don’t have to go to a gay destination, it just might make you feel a bit more comfortable.”
Thanking Darryl for his help, and in my opinion he went beyond the call of duty on that score, he reassures me, “feel free to call our main booking line anytime, we’ll all very open with these sorts of things here.”
If your’e wondering why I haven’t spoken to British High Commission in Gambia, as advised by the Gambian High Commission, it is because they are extremely hard to get hold of. There is however a link on there web page telling would-be LGBT tourists to be careful.
So in order to obtain current and helpful advice about travelling to the Gambia I would advise going through a travel agent’s sister.
It seems that the Gambian government has no problem is telling gays to ‘get out,’ but when rich Western tourists want to go and spend their money, they’re distinctly less strong with their language – or as we have seen here, silent.
Without doubt the Gambia is a dangerous county for LGBT travellers to visit and the vast majority of trival agencies have no knowledge of this.
With misleading descriptions such as ‘some minor construction work yet to be completed’ and ‘beach just a short walk away’ the British public are used to travel agencies only mentioning the good stuff, and of course they will, they are selling a product after all.
My fear is that LGBT holiday makers are not made aware of the dangers of travelling to the country and are drawn in by the flashy pictures and cheap deals.
When people book a holiday they consider the sun, sea and sand. They rarely look into the political situation.
The fact of the matter is, LGBT travellers who visit the Gambia they may not only find themselves having a horrid holiday, they may be putting their lives in danger.
In my opinion travel agencies have a duty educate there staff about this and warn potential customers accordingly.
Perhaps it’s about time holidays came with a health warning.