Guyana should have a Christmas market

Dear Editor,

A BBC world report a few days ago noted that several cities around the world are using the Christmas season to fuel their economies by promoting Christmas markets, and they have been met with phenomenal success as revenues generated during the short season can sustain a small business for the rest of the year. I have experienced quite a few markets over the last week in Europe teeming with revellers and spoke with vendors as well as patrons. Businessmen in Guyana should consider establishing one or more Christmas markets as I don’t think any exist in the Caribbean or South American region. I think the Guyana Christmas market will do quite well bringing in tourists and generating a lot of revenues, and the government should consider promoting the concept. The BBC report noted that the Christmas markets have been playing a very important role in the economy of Germany, the largest in Europe, and cities in the US have borrowed the idea with markets set up in South Carolina (which I visited a few years ago) and Texas. Both are doing quite well. I have also seen markets set up in Saigon, Singapore, Bangkok and Mexico City, all of which I visited multiple times in recent years during Christmas and all of which attracted large numbers of shoppers.  Several countries depend on the season to boost their GDP.

Christmas markets are essentially little (mostly) wooden stores set up in a heart of a business or major office area (downtown of a city) offering a variety of items related to the season and including a lot of fast food, drink, children rides, etc.  They are usually government encouraged, sponsored and promoted. Vendors pay a fee to the municipality to market their goods.  People are attracted to the decorations and ambience and buy a lot of items to decorate their own homes. Merchants and city governments dress up the area.

The small businesses are quite profitable based on my interviews with sellers, though they said that the last few years have not been very good in terms of revenues generated. Their incomes or profit margins have been down because of the slow economy, especially in Europe which has been experiencing difficulties.  Nevertheless, the vendors have earned enough to remain in the business to return the following year.

There are some 250 Christmas markets in Germany where the idea originated, and one has sprung up in almost every city or major town in Germany and throughout Europe. I visited one in Düsseldorf (city transformed from when I first visited some 23 years ago) that was jam packed with long lines at the little wooden shops set up for the season to peddle their goods, food and drink. Parents brought their kids for rides, gifts, clothing and other entertainment, or just for a walk to take in the scenery of the magnificent decorations and the overall ambience of the place  – very ostentatious and stupendous. I also visited the Christmas market in Amsterdam, Paris, Cannes and Nice and the shopping district (resembling a Christmas market) in Vintimiglio (Italian Riviera).  All of these cities are completely different from when I visited them some twenty years ago during the Christmas season.

At that time, they were dull and one did not have a feeling it was Christmas, but now they have come to life. They are bustling with people at the Christmas markets. People come from all over the globe and one is likely to bounce up with Guyanese and other West Indians in virtually every city visiting from England or Holland. Paris offers the best scenery with the largest Christmas market and attracts the biggest crowds with hundreds of thousands visitors from every corner of the globe.

I was in Paris for Christmas some twenty years ago; it was dull and boring and not crowded and I had no desire to revisit. But the Christmas market has changed the city making it even more attractive and crowded with visitors than Rockefeller Center in NY. I always thought New York had the best decorations and ambience for the Christmas season, unrivalled in its brilliant illuminations, and I enjoyed spending time among Guyanese and others who visited my home in the Big Apple. But Paris is something else. I can spend every Christmas in Paris now. It is so beautiful, and is unrivalled in its lights and decorations. It is far brighter than Bangkok, Singapore, Saigon, Mexico City and NY, and the Christmas Market in Paris is different with its unique blend of cultures. Singapore was my best Christmas city, but I think Paris has beaten it.

Paris is the envy of the world and one can see why, besides the Christmas market that sprung up to lure hundreds of thousands daily. The Eiffel Tower lights up the night sky and every half hour there is a sparkling display of additional blinking lights with long lines to for a ride – like a spectacular firework. The city is light-filled with appropriate music providing a festive backdrop for a romantic vacation or an enchanting holiday. It is fitting for a family vacation or just to get away from one’s annual holiday routine or the monotony of the same Christmas every year. The heart of the city in the Champs Élysées recreates the outdoor ‘village’ of the Christmas market (new from when I was last here) of the wooden booths offering many gourmet treats like cake, butter bread, all types of candy, gingerbread, gifts, decorations, hot wine, pizza, cheese, spices (cinnamon and cloves are very expensive) and so many other delights. There is a cornucopia of hand-made products and so many decorations.

The Christmas market is one that could also do quite well in Guyana attracting visitors from around the region, or even from North America.  It would fuel our GDP.

Earnings during the Christmas season can sustain business for the rest of the year as is the case in Germany and Paris. A smart businessman in Guyana should think about starting one; it would make a killing as it would be a new concept in our homeland. Guyanese do like to imitate activities from the developed world — this is a positive one to copycat to help drive our economy, create jobs and earn a living.  And ours in Guyana will be different in that ours will offer the unique masquerade bands, music, dancing, delicious ethnic dishes, other entertainment, etc. Someone should jump at the opportunity to start the Guyanese Christmas market.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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