President Bharrat Jagdeo encouraged youths at the launching of Tourism Awareness Month yesterday to set a target of contacting one million persons through social networking sites like hi5 and Facebook and spread positive news about Guyana.
This tourism month, November 1-30 is being celebrated under the theme, “Tourism: A Window of Opportunities for Youth,” and was launched at the Umana Yana.
President Jagdeo said in his remarks to declare tourism month open that, “we have to find unorthodox approaches,” because the nation’s tourism budget is not as large as say Barbados or Jamaica. He highlighted the internet and ‘word of mouth’ as approaches that can be utilized.
He declared that young people through their circle of friends on social networking websites can make contact with people locally and abroad and through this means can send a positive message about Guyana.
The president noted that the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) budget comes largely from the treasury and may not be adequate to market Guyana in the same way as other parts of the Caribbean.
He also emphasized that Guyanese should learn to see opportunities in mundane experiences, adding that before we seek to make foreigners aware of what we have to offer we need to make ourselves aware of our tourism products, for example our mountains, waterfalls and rich biodiversity.
Similarly the president said that it sometimes requires Guyanese to see Guyana through the eyes of foreigners to know how beautiful the country is. “We have this beautiful patrimony that we can share with the rest of the world,” said the president, noting that we have to appreciate our tourism before we are able to market it to the rest of the world.
“This sector is here to stay,” said President Jagdeo, commenting that although the country is expecting much money from oil in the next five years, the country has to guard against other sectors becoming uncompetitive.
Meanwhile, Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) Chairperson Renata Chuck-a-Sang called for regulations for the industry to govern issuance of licences to operators and to govern safety. The Value Added Tax (VAT) was also cited as a great concern and Chuck-a-Sang said she was disappointed that THAG’s concerns on this matter were largely ignored. She explained that the pricing in the industry has a two-year lead time, so before VAT was implemented their prices were already set and operators have continued to absorb the increased charges as a result of VAT. She appealed to the president and Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh to re-evaluate VAT in relation to the tourism industry because the current rates make the local offerings uncompetitive in an increasingly global marketplace. In addition, she noted that the industry is growing and as such is suffering from growing pains like lack of trained professionals. She called on the young people to take up careers in tourism.
Tourism, Industry and Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad in the feature address affirmed that the government is committed to expanding and promoting the industry and will be looking at product development, regulations, marketing, statistics and research. In addition to designing ways to highlight the industry and to encourage more persons to travel within Guyana, he called tourism a catalyst for wide growth and economic advancement.
GTA Chairman Brian James called 2007 a very good year for tourism with the Rio Group Summit, the ICC Cricket World Cup and the recently concluded Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Meeting (CFMM). The country this weekend will be hosting a major motor race event and nine large birding tours operators from overseas are in Guyana to explore the possibilities of this market.
In 2008 the GTA will be focusing on niche tourism markets, upgrading its websites, and as the industry grows, to look at standards and regulations as well. The president also commented that Minister Prashad and James should see that the website is made more attractive.
During this month there will be special promotions by various tour operators at reduced rates for locals, youth tourism forums and essay competitions for schools and participation by the University of Guyana as well. (Nicosia Smith)