There is a new buzz in the communities of the Guyana diaspora these days; stretching from Guyanese watering holes in Paramaribo, Bridgetown, Philipsburg and St. Johns up north to Atlanta, Richmond Hill, Brooklyn and farther north to Scarborough and east across the Atlantic to south London. The default term is Guyana as a tourism destination, offering an experience little known to many generations of Guyanese migrants who began taking up residency overseas as early as the fifties and sixties.
The old country
Many early migrants may be familiar with the efforts of the old GAC to connect coastland dwellers with especially Kaieteur and Orinduik. They may have been conditioned to think that tourism was for others, for our Caribbean neighbours to the north, blessed with white sandy beaches and blue waters, but not for the black water country. That perception of the older migrants may even have been strengthened by the famous quip of President Burnham about the undesirability of Guyana’s becoming ‘a nation of waiters, pimps and sycophants.’ Dr. Jagan himself thought that with the economic trinity of sugar, rice and bauxite being so formidable in the sixties, there was little need or incentive to develop a tourism sector in Guyana.
The jungle strikes back
A.J. Seymour expresses it elegantly and prophetically in his poem ‘There runs a dream.’ Then history moved down river, leaving the forest to creep back Foot by quiet foot, and overhang dark waters to the sea While Seymour gracefully captures the historical process whereby the ‘bush’ would subsume the lands cleared for plantations up river, he may not have envisaged the triumphant return and the ascendancy of the forests and green spaces in this climate-sensitive, tree-hugging, eco-oriented 21st century. It is in this milieu that Guyana is proudly proclaiming itself as an ‘Amazon destination’ and ‘South America un-Discovered.’ The jungle has struck back; green speaks, and environmentally aware tourists in Europe and North America are listening, and booking travel. What a previous generation felt ashamed about and kept hidden from the travelling public – dark waters, intriguing wildlife, forest dwellings and remote cultures – are now the currency in the new tourism market. Travel magazines published by the Guyana tourism sector proudly display jungle creatures on the covers. Sighting the jaguar, fearsome creature of the jungle as he is, is bragging rights for the modern visitor to Guyana.
As every tourism developer knows, developing a tourism sector is not a matter for romanticism but for careful planning and decision-making. The tourist is free to indulge and chase a dream, but the destination developer needs to offer a solid visitor experience that embraces a good and appealing product that offers pleasing moments in a safe environment. Nothing can be left to chance; what occurs between the arrival hall and the departure lounge has to be an experience of sustained quality that offers good value for money. What is Guyana doing to ensure this takeoff? What are the decisions reached, plans and initiatives elaborated to take tourism to the next level in Guyana?
Three main entities bear responsibility for driving the march of tourism in Guyana. These are the Department of Tourism in the Ministry of Business, which has the mandate for Policy and Strategic direction. The Department is headed by a Director General who reports to the Minister of Business. The Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) is the semi-autonomous body that discharges the mandate for marketing, product development, research and data collection. That body is located in Sophia and is governed by a Board of Directors. Currently the GTA is being re-structured to enable the body to fulfil the objective of attracting 500,000 arrivals to Guyana by 2025.
The Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana is the umbrella private sector body for the tourism industry. It comprises the owners and providers of tourism properties and services and seeks to advance the interests of that constituency. Several Administrative Regions have also formed, or have intentions to form, Regional Tourism Associations. The aim of these entities would be to plan for tourism development within each region.
Marketing the destination
This is principally the responsibility of the Guyana Tourism Authority. While the sums allocated for marketing of Destination Guyana have increased substantially over the years, the increasingly competitive nature of tourism in Guyana makes those sums appear inadequate to the marketing challenges, forcing the authorities to devise innovative and more cost-effective methods of reaching the appropriate markets. Our essential strategies for marketing include:
- Attendance at relevant international trade fairs (including international bird fairs)
- Road shows in key markets to stimulate business to business contacts
- Advertisements in selected local and international publications
- Increase in digital marketing
- Distribution of collateral material at local and foreign events and through overseas missions and other diasporic entities
- Production and support for the production of videos that highlight the tourism product
- Support for filming ventures likely to place Guyana’s attractions before a large international viewership
Those are the principal strategies being employed to market Destination Guyana.
Developing the product
Recognising that Guyana’s tourism product has certain comparative advantages, efforts are being made to ensure that the strengths of that product are developed to a quality level. Special areas of emphasis will include the following:
- Community-based tourism that strengthens hinterland village economies
- A new national register of tourism hotspots across the 10 Administrative regions of Guyana
- A calendar of cultural and heritage events aimed at boosting diasporic and other travel to communities, towns and village locations in Guyana
- Birding and wildlife itineraries that would be of special interest to those enthusiasts
- An annual calendar of Sports Tourism events capable of attracting increasing numbers of sporting travelers
- Elaboration of a Plan of Action to develop and manage Sports Fishing in Guyana
Managing the Destination
With marketing and product development initiatives in place, some Destination management strategies become important. Principal among these are the following:
- Providing attractive incentives for persons wishing to invest in tourism
- Strengthening the tourism security apparatus so as to provide adequate security and safety for visitors
- Reviewing border entry arrangements to reduce arrivals related hassle for visitors
- Supporting the establishment of institutions that will provide relevant hospitality training for persons employed in the sector.
In 2016 Guyana recorded the highest volume of visitor arrivals since records were being kept. The aim of the Ministry of Business is that by 2025 Guyana must be welcoming half a million arrivals. Authorities are targeting both diasporic and non-diasporic visitors to Guyana. The firm belief of the Ministry is that the medium of the diaspora can be a strategic hook for attracting non-diasporic visitors, due to the relationships and networks established by diasporic residents in their new place of residence. Diasporic Guyanese are in a unique selling position to interest other nationalities in visiting and exploring the home that still has a special place in their hearts.
Department of Tourism
Ministry of Business