Sex tourism boomed in The Gambia after Thomas Cook launched budget travel packages, including cheap flights, to the former British colony in the 1990s.

The company went bankrupt in 2019, which drastically reduced the number of British visitors – but sex tourism continued. Covid-19 has made the situation worse, with even fewer tourists visiting for normal vacations.

As the government seeks to rebrand its image, Mr Camara said it is targeting high-end tourists and millennials – to go beyond older Britons, usually from working class backgrounds.

A delegation of tourism agents traveled to the UK in June to hold talks with British Airways and TUI to boost flights from London to Banjul.

“People are poor, they have no choice”

Expats living in The Gambia also want to steer the country’s image away from prostitution.

Annette Griffin told The Telegraph she had built a family pub called The Churchill to encourage more families to visit the country. The 65-year-old from Manchester said The Gambia’s image as a haven for older women looking for a holiday toy has kept families from coming.

“Most of the tourists who come here, come for sex tourism,” she said. “But apart from the seedy side, there is a good side to The Gambia. I came here nine years ago on vacation and have stayed ever since.”

Most Gambian men who date old ladies are motivated by the lack of jobs and low wages in this impoverished country. They can earn a monthly salary of around £200 in just a few days.

Known as ‘bumsters’, they scour the white sand beaches in search of older women who also come from Holland, Sweden and Germany to meet the younger men.

Kausu Samateh, a tour guide who runs Kausu Tours, said poverty is pushing more and more young men and women into prostitution.

“People are poor here, so they have no choice,” he said. “They think it is better to go to Europe where they will have a better life. They hope the old ladies will take them.

The government is asking for financial aid

Many Gambians blame the government for failing to develop the economy. Until 2017, the small country of around 2.5 million people was ruled by a ruthless dictator called Yahya Jammeh, himself accused of widespread sexual abuse.

Mr Camara, from the tourism board, said the new administration had taken a more proactive approach to tackling sex tourism. The government is considering introducing laws to make it easier for the police to arrest bumsters and old ladies in suspicious relationships.

Lamin Fatty, national coordinator of the Child Protection Alliance, said the UK government could also do more to prevent its nationals from exploiting young Gambian boys.

“The High Commission has shown some commitment,” he said. “But it’s not just about commitment, we also need financial and technical assistance. There could be much better collaboration between the two countries to put solutions in place.