The tiny West African nation of The Gambia has become a haven for middle aged and older women seeking a saucy dalliance with readily available toy boys.
But the country now wants to overhaul its reputation as a sex hotspot for mature women from Britain and Europe to attract less amorous travellers instead.
‘What we want is quality tourists,’ Abubacarr Camara, director of the Gambia Tourism Board, said.
‘Tourists that come to enjoy the country and the culture, but not tourists that come just for sex.’
Officials have sought to shift the conversation away from the sex trade to focus on the Gambia’s wildlife and cultural attractions – the country has over 300 species of tropical bird and two Unesco World Heritage sites.
Sex tourism took off in the 1990s with budget package tours to the former British colony.
And the country has developed a reputation as a place where young black men are willing to go all the way with older white British women willing to pick up the tab.
Some relationships between the toy boys and women are reportedly arranged online prior to arrival – the toy boys then meet the women from Banjul International, The Gambia’s only airport.
A lack of jobs and low wages in The Gambia, which has a population of 2.5million, means the financial perks from developing a relationship with a tourist are a strong incentive.
Known as ‘bumsters’, the young men scour the white-sand beaches looking for older women who also come from Holland, Sweden and Germany to meet them. The ‘Senegambia strip’ near the capital city, Banjul, has become a Benidorm-type hotspot for lonely British pensioners.
But the pitfalls of the industry have led to stories of love cheats, visa scams and polygamy.
And efforts have increased recently to attract younger and wealthier tourists who are looking for a higher class of winter holiday.
Tourist officials have visited the UK this summer and met with British Airways and tour operators in a bid to increase flights between London and Banjul.
The government in the African nation is said to be backing the move to clean up its tourist trade by considering laws to crack down on bumsters and officials have called on the UK government to stop British ‘grannies’ exploiting young Gambian boys.
Lamin Fatty, national coordinator at the Child Protection Alliance, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The High Commission has shown some engagement. But it’s not only about engagement, we also need financial and technical assistance.
‘There could be much better collaboration between both countries to put solutions in place.’ The seedy liaisons were featured two years ago in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary called Sex on the Beach. One woman told the programme the country was ‘paradise’ because ‘you can have a different man every night’. Tourism is the fastest growing sector in the Gambian economy and accounts for around 20 per cent of GDP.
It is a major foreign exchange earner and a significant source of employment. The Gambia gained independence in 1965 and is known around the world as ‘The Smiling Coast’ thanks in part to its welcoming population but also thanks to its position on the map, which looks like a smiling mouth.
Most tourists visit during the winter on package deals.
Writing by Chris Brooke for the Daily Mail