The government’s stated emphasis on growing the country’s tourism sector has not been matched by evidence of a preparedness to do “what it takes” to market the country abroad in order to attract visitors here, Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Captain Gerry Gouveia has told Stabroek Business.
According to Gouveia it will not be “altogether surprising” if businesses in the tourism sector were “particularly disappointed” over the fact that the government’s 2013 budget proposals pay little attention to the need to allocate significant funding to marketing Guyana abroad.
“Marketing Guyana abroad is key to visitor arrivals but it is about much more than that. It’s also about cultivating a positive image abroad so that foreign investors would be attracted to the country and our goods and services could have a high profile on the global market.
In his budget presentation in the National Assembly last week Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh alluded to “increased private investment in the sector, significant growth in visitor arrivals and high levels of property occupancy. However, sector watchers question whether, for example, the 176,642 visitor arrivals in Guyana last year reported by the Finance Minister in his 2013 budget presentation is an effective representation of the vibrancy of the tourism sector since significant numbers of the ‘visitors’ are Guyanese returning home on holiday and frequently on family-related missions.
Gouveia noted that while the Finance Minister’s presentation alluded to what Dr. Singh said was an undertaking by the government to focus on “marketing, product development and capacity building of industry stakeholders” in the tourism industry, a point had long been reached for “a serious financial commitment backed by a workable plan” to market Guyana across the world. The Roraima CEO told Stabroek Business that he believed that an initial external marketing programme for Guyana that targeted the key global audiences “in terms of visitor arrivals and investor interest” could, in the first, instance, cost up to US$1 million per year. “It might sound like a great deal of money but it is no longer acceptable to say we cannot afford it. The truth is we cannot not afford it since it is an investment in tourism and in other key sectors of the economy and in the kind of foreign investment upon which we now depend to grow the economy. The truth is that the country’s image is yet to recover from those difficult days of serious crime earlier in the decade and if there is to be any real recovery we cannot afford to address the marketing of the country in a piecemeal manner,” he added.
And according to the former Head of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) there are indications in the 2013 budget proposals that “government is now “listening more keenly” to the private sector. He cited the announced reduction in corporation taxes and PAYE as a reflection of gains arising out of the sustained private sector lobby on tax reforms while the announced increase in what still remains a modest old age pension was a reflection of some level of interest in another private sector concern, providing a higher level of economic and social security for the disadvantaged section of the country’s population.