A week away from the experimental first ever Guyana Festival, the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) appears to be brimming with confidence that the event will be a considerable success.
When Stabroek Business spoke with the GTA’s Communications Officer Chevon Singh earlier in the week she was unequivocal in her view that the Festival would accomplish its objectives.
The focus of the event is on upping the visitor arrival numbers. That is where the GTA’s Communications Officer expects the event to shine. She says that enough overseas marketing has been done through the various communications channels including the country’s diplomatic missions abroad.
Perhaps oddly enough and despite the organizers’ promises of various pre-event activities here in Guyana there appeared to be no significant evidence of a great of local marketing for the Festival. It raises the familiar issue of the failure on the parts of both the government and the mostly privately-run tourism industry to effectively market the tourist product.
If local patronage of the Festival is to match what appears to be the organizers’ high expectations then they might well have to depend on the voracious appetite among locals for these types of event, particularly when some measure of entertainment is thrown in.
The GTA’s concept paper on the Festival which it shared with this newspaper makes no secret of the fact that it is seeking to create an event that will bring visitors to Guyana every year around this time. As an inaugural event it has gone for the full support of the private sector, its concept Paper listing most if not all of the country’s major business houses as either sponsors or exhibitors. Interestingly, though, the Guyana Festival comes just months after an awkward ‘passage of play’ between the government and the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG), the assessment of the latter being that government has tended towards addressing the tourism industry in fits and starts rather than seeking to roll out a sustained and well-financed programme for the development and more particularly, for the international marketing of the sector.
Indeed, this is precisely the point that was made to this newspaper by the President of THAG, Christopher Nascimento during a recent interview with this newspaper. THAG openly questioned government’s commitment to the tourism sector and challenged it to spend far more money marketing the country’s tourism product abroad.
The GTA has not disclosed the extent of its spending on marketing the Festival, though it is unlikely that the numbers will get even remotely close to the US$5 million annually, mooted by a former THAG Head and Chief Executive Officer of Roraima Airways Gerry Gouveia earlier this year.
Publicly at least the local tourist industry has had little to say about its expectations of The Guyana Festival. No doubt, the sector will, however, seek to make its presence felt at the event. More than that, the enterprises in the tourism sector will doubtless seek to position themselves to draw the attention of visitors to their various resorts and tour packages. If the responses are good, all of that will help to justify the optimism of the GTA and what we are told are the expectations of Acting Tourism Minister Irfaan Ali, One will also have to wait and see what the various hotels and guest houses report in terms of occupancy rates during the event before making a profound pronouncement on the success or otherwise of the Guyana Festival.
What the Ministry of Tourism appears to have done is to put a considerable number of its eggs in the Guyana Festival basket and while its desire to increase visitor arrival numbers may not be in question, it runs the risk of causing the event to be judged mostly if not entirely on the basis of visitor arrivals, which, given the fact that it is a first-time event with a relatively short lead time for marketing, appears somewhat risky.
While the hoteliers with whom this newspaper have spoken are clearly not about to poke their heads down the throat of a gift horse should one come along, they are clearly not holding their breath on the Festival’s account.
If the GTA’s Concept Paper is anything to go by, much of the three-day event resembles a more-of-the-same approach – display stalls with art, craft and clothing and food with modest entertainment distractions thrown in for good measure. This time around and having set aside the Building Expo this year, the organizers appear to have poured greater variety into the Festival. Novelty items like the cookout, the celebrity tent and the featured Guyanese artistes are clearly attempts to add different dimensions to the programme in order to ensure that it not bear too close a resemblance to GuyExpo. Regular visitors to GuyExpo and The Building Expo now speak openly about what they call the ‘sameness’ of these events.
If what would appear to have been the successful recruitment of a number of Guyanese entertainers to contribute to the Festival adds an interesting ‘local’ touch to the programme, there is perhaps the need to be mindful that what our ‘creative legends’ have to offer is in tune with the demands of the contemporary market. Still, local talent, even if in many instances, from earlier generations, could add a dimension of nostalgia to the event that might go down well with those Guyanese from the diaspora who come home for the Festival.
On the whole – and this may well be key to the success or otherwise of the event – the organizers will have to ensure that the overseas visitors whose attendance they appear to be banking on as a barometer of the event’s success – benefit from a high level of organization. This week the GTA sought to provide assurances that it was ready to deliver a product that could be a sort of annual signpost for visitor arrivals. For the sake of a tourist industry that is still a considerable distance away from finding its feet, one hopes that they are right.