Absence of local, youth participants raises eyebrows at tourism conference

Amid concerns that there are few local participants and youths at the 13th Sustainable Tourism Conference being held here, Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Hugh Riley said local economic constraints were taken into account by planners of the event and it is the first time youths were not involved.

“Cost was absolutely a factor that was taken into account [and] we made a very special effort to pay attention to local conditions,” Riley told Stabroek News.

Riley was at the time reacting to concerns by United States-based Guyanese Pro-fessor of civil and environmental engineering Maya Trotz and other delegates that  locals could not have attended unless they paid US$60 for a morning session, which would not have included lunch for the participant.

Hugh Riley

“Which Guyanese would pay, on their meagre earning, $60USD for a session without anything proper to eat? In looking at the target audience they have to take into consideration what salaries are for these people and try to accommodate accordingly,” said Trotz, who is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida.

A delegate from Trinidad and Tobago echoed Trotz’s sentiments, adding, “I thought there would have been more locals. I am not sure the reason why they aren’t here but it would have been good to see more of the people who will be directly impacted by this conference in Guyana.”

Riley explained that registration fees for the Guyana conference were “very different” compared to other conferences of a similar nature. He, however, said cost recovery was an unavoidable component of the conferences. “These conferences are not free to deliver. We have some very significant fixed costs, fixed to putting on a conference like this. We try the best way we can to meet those costs to the extent that we could put on a conference like this, we need to cover the expenses,” he explained.

Concerns were also raised by delegates that few Guyanese university students are being exposed to the conference and there were not even any high school students attending the opening session on Sunday evening.

To this, the CTO Secretary General said he did not have an answer. “I can’t even speculate,” he said, while assuring that past conferences have always involved youth rather than confine them to older persons. “We don’t ever do one of these without an attempt to involve youths… we can’t meaningfully be talking about the future and sustainable development without inviting or including youth. That is a central part of sustainability… middle-aged men aren’t the future of anything, it is for young people. It is absolutely not an oversight, there must me some good reason they are not in this room, it is not that we forgot,” he added.

An American delegate, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed concern about the absence of high school-level or University of Guyana students, even at the opening session.

“I think it’s ridiculous that I am yet to see one high school or university student at this conference, not at the opening session, where, if they did not want them otherwise, would have been a great idea to have them. No wonder the conference room is scantily filled,” the woman said.

And a “shocked” Briton queried whether the Caribbean was serious about moulding the minds of youths in fostering and promoting sustainable tourism. “They missed an opportunity to have future leaders hear of a sustainable economic plan for their country. I am quite shocked and extremely disappointed that there are no youths … How do you build capacity and not be inclusive?” she asked.

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