The Kombo Beach Hotel in The Gambia is located along the Kotu beach strip in a very touristic location with the Senegambia night life just up the street and taxi ranks lined up along the doorstep. Our main reason for booking the hotel was because it worked out cheaper to have a package holiday which included return flights and bed and breakfast.
It was my first time staying at The Kombo Hotel, and whilst Thomas Cook offers package deals with a wide range of hotels along the strip, we had chosen to stay in particular at this hotel because my mum had previously worked in the hotel on the entertainment team in the late 80s– known at the time as Kombo Beach Novotel. It was therefore interesting for her to see the changes that the resort has undergone over the years.
Having previously stayed at Senegambia, I was expecting a similar quality in terms of accommodation and internal decor. Our twin room however was basic and showed its fair share of tear and wear– leakages, lingering sewage odours in the bathroom, and worn-out furniture. Although the room was equipped with a TV and room service was available, I would say that it was more of a place to crash than to hangout. In addition to this, we found that there were not many amenities in or around the hotel besides a small supermarket and a handful of restaurants internal to the hotel itself.
The entertainment that the hotel had to offer was very limited in comparison to the Senegambia hotel, with a few activities during the day such as water polo, water aerobics, beach volleyball and table tennis. There was also a couple of game stations, such as live size chess, foosball, and an outdoor gym facility. During the night there are a few live bands which are repeated every week.
This is such a shame given that when the hotel was first open in the 80s there was a variety of activities, including recreated West End shows, Classical musicals reproduced in song and dance, and circuses– just to name a few. Previously, there had been a lot of interaction between the guests, the entertainment team, and the local community, with activities set up to encourage tourists to venture outside the hotel complex and see and experience firsthand the real Gambia. Now it seems however that the hotel has become nothing more than a spa and natural tanning centre. I would say if you’re merely looking for a relaxing/beach holiday in a hot climate, and are not that interested in immersing yourself in the culture then the lazy feel of the hotel will definitely be well-suited for you. I personally was a little disheartened to see that the majority of the guests (who spent the day within the hotel complex) didn’t participate in even the few activities provided by the hotel, and in fact a large majority ate at the restaurants internal to the resort rather than perhaps sampling local foods and supporting the local community.
Speaking to the juice sellers along the beachfront, the increasing enclosed community that the hotel fosters encourages guests to stay within the hotel compound instead of venturing out, therefore creating a closed-circuit of tourism in which a large bulk of tourist income is only spent in hotels. This creates a negative effect on the local community as the revenue from tourism stays with the tour operators and doesn’t benefit the country as a whole. Although statically tourism contributes to 30% of The Gambia’s GDP, it could be argued that most of the foreign exchange that leaks into The Gambia is sent by the Gambian diaspora, who send money from abroad to support their family; undoubtedly this reaches the Gambians much more directly than tourism does.
During my stay at the Kombo Beach Hotel, I felt that the smoking policy was inconsistent, as it was prohibited to smoke within the hotel rooms, yet it was allowed to smoke within the interior of the hotel reception. Given that in the UK we cannot smoke indoors, I was very disappointed that when I asked a fellowed British guest to kindly move to a table closer to the outdoors, on the account that I am asthmatic and the smoke was also disturbing others, greatly lacking consideration for those around him, he refused. I’m hoping that the hotel will review its smoking policy, or at the very least have some kind of consistency so that guests are aware of where they stand.
That said, the members of staff were amazing and so welcoming. They went out of their way to make sure their guests felt welcomed and comfortable, greeting us with a wet flannel to help us cool down in the sweltering sun, and doing their best to make us feel comfortable.
If you do choose to stay at the Kombo Beach Hotel, you can rest assured that the members of staff will provide you with an excellent service, even if the accommodation itself is not up to scratch. A special shoutout to Lamin at the housekeeping team, Happy Haddy at the entertainment team and Abdullah Jatta at breakfast who made our stay both enjoyable and comfortable.