The idea for the Ninki Nanka Trail was formalized when it was included in Gambia’s 2006 Tourism Master Plan with the aim to disperse economic benefit to rural areas, diversify Gambia’s tourism product by providing a much-needed, new and authentic heritage excursion that builds on the untapped potential of the River Gambia, and create opportunities for tourism to continue into the ‘Green (shoulder) Season’. It is an exciting new responsible tourism product which aims to take an innovative approach to engaging the private sector in tourism development and poverty reduction in accordance with the concept of shared value and the principles of responsible tourism, creating better places to live and therefore better places to visit.

The feasibility of the trail has been explored through a long-established yet informal partnership between staff at Leeds Beckett University and the ITTOG (Institute of Travel and Tourism of The Gambia), with the support of ASSET (non-profit Association of Small-Scale Enterprises in Tourism) and the Gambia Tourism Board.

The initial work included a World Bank Funded Feasibility Study for the trail conducted in 2013 which concluded positively that the development of the Ninki Nanka Trail “could offer an authentic and relatively unique tourist experience in a destination that is hungry for a more diverse excursion range and thus is supported by a clear market demand from existing tour operators and ground tour operators… the findings show that there is scope for a wide range of community benefits to result from the Ninki Nanka Trail as long as it is implemented using a responsible tourism management approach”.

Building on the findings from this study, changes to the Ninki Nanka Trail product were made and tested in another pilot trail in January 2017. During this pilot we tested some new places and activities on the itinerary, sleeping on board the boat, and combining the trail with the Mboka Cultural Festival.

The trip in January 2018 will be the last pilot trail and concludes this ‘proof of concept’ stage. This time we will explore the feasibility of the trail from a technical/’boat’ perspective, as well as look in detail at market demand, storytelling, the tourist experience, accommodation and financial viability.

The next step will be to explore options for starting-up a Ninki Nanka Trail operating company with a clearly defined socially responsible business model. This company will then work in partnership with selected small enterprises in the communities along the trail and other stakeholders to deliver the Ninki Nanka Trail as a pioneering responsible tourism product along The River Gambia.