Tourism realities

In recent months, observers of Guyana’s tourism industry have noted the contributions coming from both government and private sector in a number of energetic moves that translate into very hopeful signs for the industry. These include the expanding international yachting interest in the Essequibo, the start-up of Copa Airlines service to Guyana, the projected upgrading and expansion of our international airport at Timehri, and the growing interest in our adventure tourism and sport fishing potential being reflected in television programmes abroad.

In contemplating these developments, however, commendable as they are, observers of our Guyana tourism prospects are also noting that as the public and private sectors combine to pull the tourism cart uphill there are conditions in the country, beyond the remit of the Tourism Ministry, operating like millstones at the back of the cart.

First on the list is the degraded state of our environment into which we are working to attract visitors.  Undoubtedly, people outside Guyana are impressed by the various videos and articles about the country’s stunning landscape with its mountains and rivers and waterfalls, and by our unique nature environment of animals and birds.  That kind of publicity, increasingly seen on the internet, often at little cost to us, will certainly put the country on the radar of visitors as a potential destination; it constitutes a very positive pull.  However, persons using that very internet are also seeing in other online presentations, that Guyana, and Georgetown in particular, is a place of rampant litter and bad sanitation; that our roadways are unsafe; that street crime is common.   Potential visitors from North America or Europe, intrigued by the nature videos, are looking more closely and seeing, even in our daily newspapers, the shocking pictures of garbage-strewn parapets in our towns, incidents of crime and of unsafe infrastructure, and daily examples of malfunctioning facilities. For the international traveller, such a picture is simply abhorrent; that negative push cancels out the positive pull.

so it goAnother millstone is our high level of street crime; it is the most powerful deterrent in the international tourism market. Any tourism specialist anywhere in the world will tell you that in the consideration of a vacation spot the spectre of crime will cause most families to eliminate that place from their choices.  Even with cut-rate vacation packages, the international visitor, particularly with a family, will say “no thanks” to a country where he/she feels unsafe. The parallel harsh reality here is that many of our own people in the diaspora are making the same “no thanks” decision and are opting to stay put in their adopted country or to vacation somewhere other than their homeland. I hear words to that effect every time I perform outside Guyana, as well as in communications when I’m at home, and, tellingly, most of the time it is said not with anger but with sadness or regret.  Worse yet, in recent times, several diaspora Guyanese have told me, with much embarrassment, that they actually advise their American or Canadian friends against vacationing in Guyana. I have heard that lament many times.

I have great sympathy for the people in this country, seeking to increase our visitor numbers, whose efforts are severely impeded by the factors of our filthy landscape and the fears about crime, in particular.  I know without asking that it presents enormous difficulties for them, with no easy answers. When I was living in the Cayman Islands, I cannot count the number of times I encountered visitors there voluntarily saying or writing sentiments along the lines of:  “We value coming to a clean country where you can move about with your family in complete safety.”

Successful Caribbean tourism rests on other factors than clean environment and absence of crime so that white-sand beaches, efficient airline service, and good entertainment are other fundamentals in play.  In this regard, Jamaica, with its own crime problems, can still attract visitors with its spectacular beachfronts and its world-famous reggae culture, two ingredients Guyana lacks.  But even in Jamaica, any unusual spike in crime or in volatile political unrest (tyre burnings, violent protests) will immediately trigger cancellations by visitors and send shockwaves in the country’s tourism industry – the safety concern trumps everything else.  And while we are free to see the Guyana tourism allure as different from that of Jamaica or Barbados or Cayman, with our “nature” product and unique niche markets (bird watching, sport fishing, hiking), we must accept that any market, including those niches, will back off when crime and a sorely degraded environment are added to the picture.

As we contemplate widening the tourism plank in our economy, many travel professionals stress the need for Guyana to have significantly more airlift with more choices and more convenient travel times than is the case now, and more high-quality diversions for our visitors once we get them here, and these important aspects appear to be getting the attention of the people at the helm in the industry. The abiding reality, however, is that if the negative physical and social conditions in our country persist it won’t matter how significant our airlift is or how entertaining our diversions, those conditions will abort any substantial tourism flow before it starts.

I have not spent a day in either the offices of our Ministry of Tourism or those of the Tourism Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG), but I know nonetheless that they are operating at a pellucid disadvantage when they’re working to draw visitors to our shores; the impediment being this severely negative picture of Guyana, in video and in print, widely known and abiding; it is the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ that overshadows their every move.  It not only stops the visitor from Minnesota or Ontario from spending a vacation here; it also stops the Guyanese from Unity or Leonora or Soesdyke from visiting the homeland. It constitutes an embarrassment that we cannot explain away.  There are very good tourism possibilities here, but first we have to banish that elephant from the room.

More in So It Go

default placeholder

Nothing to do with cricket

Patrons of the current T20 matches in the CPL, whether at the stadiums or via television, are witnessing a non-stop array of diversions – carnival outfits; steelband music; scantily clad dancers; one-handed catches by spectators; individual mask contests; etc – that mostly begin before the first ball has been bowled and often continue long after. 

default placeholder

We must embrace all of Guyana

In a recent column I made a passing reference to a comment from Stabroek News writer Alan Fenty who had posed the question in his column whether “one could be Guyanese – spiritually and culturally – without being Indian, African, European or Chinese?” I answered Alan at the time saying the answer is “no, because we are made up of all these strands from other places, plus the Amerindian one, so to be truly Guyanese you have to see all those strands as part of you.”  However, I felt at the time that his comment called for more elaboration, hence my effort today.

default placeholder

Moving from what to how

I keep jottings of various things I come across in communications with persons or in various readings or observations.  It’s a practice from years ago, purely as a reminder of ideas, starting in my days in Canada, and it’s often fascinating to go back to those scribblings and to be vividly struck by what was in front of me then compared to now.

default placeholder

Calypso cricket keeps rolling

This week the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is back with us as the matches begin at Warner Park in St Kitts, and the second one, with Guyana’s Amazon Warriors meeting the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, was a thriller. 

default placeholder

A consultant who listens

Like most folks in the cultural field, I’m invited to various events or preludes to events, but since I’m not the most social of folks, I will generally pass.

default placeholder

It would have been nice

Guyana’s music industry remains troubling to those of us involved in it, and while the issues surrounding intellectual property rights, including the contentious copyright aspect, are a key part of it, the problems are varied and complex.


About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: