Eight years after joining the staff of the Roraima Group of Companies as a front desk clerk, Shamaine Davis believes she has positioned herself to significantly enhance the quality of service which the company offers to the tourism sector and to raise service delivery standards in the industry as a whole.
Having started, as she puts it, “at the bottom” she has secured a broad understanding of the industry as a whole. What has helped is that she has worked with a company that offers services to the sector that range from running an urban hotel that caters for overseas visitors, to operating an interior nature resort, the Arrow Point Nature Resort. “Working with Roraima has helped immensely,” she says.
What has helped too is the fact that Shemaine had long ago set her sights on working in the tourism industry. In 2006, she completed a first degree in Tourism Management at the University of Guyana and just a few weeks ago she returned to Guyana having completed and Msc Degree in Tourism and Hospitality Studies at the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus in Jamaica. The latter course of studies included a one-year internship at the 196-room Sheraton Richmond Park Hotel in Virginia where her experience ran the full gamut of the hotel’s services, from bartending to housekeeping.
“Part of the value of the experience that I gained at Roraima had to do with the way I was able to infuse that experience into my work at university,” she says. “In hotel management, for example, I was able to bring to the classroom the knowledge that I had already gained on the job. It puts you ahead since you are actually operating in familiar territory.”
She credits one of her lecturers, Donald Sinclair, with providing an opportunity to help her think outside the box. “His knowledge of the industry and how it works helped us marry our theoretical understanding of the industry with a practical appreciation of the real world of tourism.”
Elsewhere in the UG programme she found that lecturers might have lacked the practical knowledge of the industry. “What that meant was that while we were being given a theoretical view I kept thinking to myself in some instances that that was not how it actually worked in real terms. Sometimes there were clashes that had to do with some of the papers that I submitted which, of course tended to rely on my real world experience which was sometimes absent in the classroom.”
Back home and now serving with Roraima in a management capacity she is, she says, “bursting with ideas” as to how she could help develop Guyana’s tourism product. She is resolved to give back to the company which provided her with the opportunity to set her on a path to professionalism, but her ambitions extend to offering service to the industry as a whole. She believes that the best way to accomplish this is to help train the cadre of professionals, as this is what it will take to make Guyana a preferred tourist destination.
Even as she busies herself with overseeing the arrangements for Roraima’s Fourth Annual Wedding Expo scheduled to begin in two weeks’ time Shamaine is eager to return to the university environment. She has every intention of remaining a hands-on service provider in the industry and believes that her years of service at Roraima, coupled with her academic pursuits, positions her to help better prepare students pursuing courses in tourism studies at the university to serve the industry. “Ideally, the industry needs people who have not only studied tourism as an academic discipline but who have also secured some amount of practical experience working in the sector. My own experience as a student at UG has caused me to want to help students to benefit from securing a better understanding of how the sector actually works. In a sense I want to use my own experience at Roraima to help people who find themselves at the university without, in many cases, ever having worked in the tourism sector.”
When you ask Shamaine what it would take to create a thriving tourism sector she replies without hesitation that “a national plan” is the place to start. “We need a plan which provides us with a sense of where we are and where we want to go. It has to have inputs from all of the stakeholders and by that I mean the government, the service providers in the industry and the country as a whole. It’s not just about the tours and the hotels and the hospitality. It’s about preparing the entire country for offering service in the industry.” In Guyana’s case, she says, the plan must embrace the creation of an enabling environment that ranges from “people who understand what is expected of a tourism sector to the physical aspects that comprise that sector.”
Guyana’s tourism product may be located primarily in its nature-based environment but Shamaine believes that it is the entire country that must be marketed if the product is to be saleable. “It begins with the visitor arriving here. Our airport, our roads, the state of our capital, the condition of our buildings; those are among the first images that market our tourism product so that in many respects there is really still a lot of work to be done.”
Shamaine says the sums invested in marketing Guyana abroad have not nearly matched those of other countries in the region that are more heavily dependent on tourism. She worries about the apparent lack of care about the image the visitor sees on arriving here. “When we consider the impact of flooding, for example, the ugliness of the garbage, the lack of attention to the image of important buildings like City Hall, for example, it seems, sometimes that it comes down to a matter of caring as much as anything else. Changing the culture has to be a part of the marketing effort.”
She believes that a key challenge associated with Guyana as a tourist destination, reposes in balancing the pursuits of the mining and forestry sectors against the retention of high environmental standards in the country’s interior regions. She observes that global awareness of environmental considerations like forest degradation and the impact of forestry and mining on the environment have risen to a point where balancing the two imperatives will prove a challenge for Guyana. While she acknowledges that the country’s mineral and forestry resources are important to its economic development she says that “it is a question of not losing that focus on striking a balance.” In this regard she advocates that part of the earnings from the mining sector be invested in the tourism industry. “As far as we are told there is the potential for a lot of money being earned from the mining industry. If we are serious about the environment we will not only create and enforce legislation which ensures strict adherence to environmental laws; what we will also do is to ensure that some of the earnings from the mining sector are assigned to creating both the physical and environmental infrastructure to support an attractive nature-based tourist industry. It seems the logical thing to do. Of course it would be a serious error if we allow the earnings from the mining sector not to help develop the very regions of our country from which those minerals come. That would be a travesty,” Davis says.