I have been asked one question more than any other in the past 12 years and that is ‘what made you start a holiday lodge in The Gambia’, so here goes, The Footsteps Story.
In 1999 I was working as a Finance Consultant with BarclaysWealth. It was October and, as usual in England for that time of year, cold and wet so it was not too unusual that I was looking for warm and cheap holiday destination.
Searching the web I found The Gambia, great beaches, cold beer and hot sunshine, everything I wanted (oh, and cheap). On arriving we (my wife Amanda, her father Len, his wife Marie and myself) were taken to the Tafbel Hotel (now known as Sarges). After checking in and having a cool welcome drink we settled in very quickly into holiday mode which roughly translated means plenty of beer. We were staying for 2 weeks and the cost of the holiday was £350 B&B including transfers and flights. Bargain, or so I thought when I booked the holiday. I felt very different by the end of our stay.
At some point during that 2 weeks I began to question how I could fly 3,000 miles each way, get transferred to my hotel then stay there with breakfast provided for 2 weeks on £350??? It seemed too good to be true (and we all know when something seems too good to be true it usually is, right?). The staff at the hotel explained to me their wage structure and how they were paid. It turned out that basically most of them were working for £1,00 per day and honestly that was just not enough to feed the family, let alone pay for schooling, clothes and medical care if anyone was sick. This made me feel terrible. A light went on in my head and I knew straight away how I had bought my holiday in the sun so cheaply. Honestly it spoiled my vacation but I said to my family before leaving that I would do something about it.
As I’m sure you can imagine, each of them thought I was just talking as you do when in a foreign land but I wasn’t. After returning to England I made plans, I rang the Gambian Consulate in London, spoke with organisations that could advise about business in The Gambia and before a year had passed I had a business plan and a mission statement setting out the initiatives I intended to implement. It was around this time two important events took place. Number one: my father in law Len asked if he could join and help with the project (which he did); and two: I was given some advice from a friend who had experience working in Africa. He said to me ‘ make your business good, honest & true and you will always be ok ‘. It was exactly what I needed to hear because it summed up everything I wanted to achieve.
The name ‘Footsteps’ came about because I wanted people to experience the culture of The Gambia and it’s people on their journey but leave behind only their Footsteps. When making decisions regarding how the lodge would be built, how it would be powered, how it would be staffed and so on, I applied my friend’s advice and asked ‘would that be a good, honest & true thing to do?’. By doing this I started down a path that would at the completion of its build have created an eco-lodge.
The building was completed in 2002 and at that time I started to look for employees such as waiters, maintenance, gardeners and such, so I asked the builders I had been working side by side with if they knew suitable people to fill the vacancies. All hands shot in the air saying ‘I used to work as a waiter or cleaner or gardener’. This was easy, I knew these men and women very well and didn’t hesitate in employing them.
A lot of years have passed since then and I’m happy to say that most are still working with me at Footsteps. I’m still hands on at the lodge although these days the staff look after everything under the guidance of the general manager Dodou Touray. When you visit us, however, you will find me there, usually fishing at the local beach and if you would like to join me… you’re very welcome.