Staving off stiff competition from a number of better-known international tourism destinations, Guyana was, on Wednesday March 6th, declared the #1 “Best of Ecotourism” destination in the world at the ITB Berlin, the world’s leading travel and trade show.
The Award, presented at the ITB’s second annual “Best of Top 100,” was the highlight of an event that featured the top 100 destinations selected by a panel of experts who reviewed sustainability success stories submitted by destinations worldwide. The newly created “Best of Ecotourism” category was added in 2019 and placed Guyana ahead of long-standing ecotourism destinations including the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and Sierra Gorda in Mexico.
With the travel and tourism sector being among the largest economic sectors in the world, the ‘Best of Ecotourism’ Award is bound to act as an important attention-getter for Guyana’s tourism industry which, it is widely felt, has been the victim of insufficient investment over the years. The Award will also contribute to raising awareness among travelers and the sector as a whole on Guyana.
The Sustainable Destinations Top 100 competition is organised by twelve of the most prominent organisations leading the global sustainable tourism movement.
The aim of the award is to recognise and showcase success stories and good practices of both emerging and established tourism destinations. Leading destinations are judged based on government strategies, policies, and plans, as well as business and community level commitments to sustainable tourism.
It is unusual for a country to be included in the Top 100 listing and when asked about Guyana’s selection as #1 in the “Best of Ecotourism” category, President of the Green Destinations Foundation Albert Salman declared that the Awards Jury was impressed by the dossier prepared by the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) for the Top 100-nomination and by the success stories submitted regarding the Surama and Rewa eco-lodges. Both have been cited as having “ambitious and admirable goals,” are community-led and owned, and aim at preserving Guyana’s ecosystems and indigenous traditions. Stabroek Business understands that the Jury also noted the fact that Guyana has a policy of a “Green, Inclusive and prosperous Guyana that seeks to provide a good quality of life for its citizens based on a sound education and social protection, low-carbon resilient development, green and decent jobs, economic opportunities, individual equality, justice, and political empowerment.”
Sustainable tourism can be defined as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities. – United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)
The Award coincides with what, in relatively recent years, has been a noticeable change in travelers’ preference to visit destinations that have made a concerted effort to protect their natural and cultural heritage. Destinations worldwide are expanding their singular focus on marketing to a shared focus on destination marketing, management, and development. This approach helps to balance the interests and benefits of tourism, and the shared and ongoing responsibility – between government, private sector, and local community leaders.
Increasingly global leaders are recognising the benefits of sustainable tourism development. The UNWTO and United Nations Development Programme recently announced that inter-ministerial, cross-sectoral multi-stakeholder coordination and approaches to tourism destination management, marketing and development improve national economies. Tourism also strengthens private sector competitiveness, enhances the enabling environment for enterprise development, and boosts the benefits received by host communities.
In light of this new norm the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) and Department of Tourism have aligned their strategic action plan with the impending Green State Development Strategy. This includes incorporating sustainable tourism best practice into all aspects of their strategy, priorities, and activities. The GTA has declared that its vision is “to be recognised locally and internationally as a premier destination for protecting its natural and cultural heritage, providing authentic experiences, and maximizing local economic benefits.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Award the Department of Tourism and the GTA have declared their joint commitment to improving the environment for sustainable tourism development. This includes devising and implementing policies that promote job creation, local culture and products, and energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability initiatives and incentives in the tourism sector.
The GTA says that in order to ensure a more coordinated approach to tourism development and amplify the positive impacts associated with tourism, it will be “collaborating and aligning tourism-related priorities with sister governmental agencies, the tourism private sector, development agencies and non-profit organizations.” Key partnerships in this arrangement will embrace the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, the Guyana Energy Agency, the Protected Areas Commission, the National Trust, the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, and Visit Rupununi among others.
The GTA says, meanwhile, that it is focused on attracting travellers interested in authentic nature-based, cultural and adventurous experiences in its core markets in North America and the UK and in investment markets like Germany and the Netherlands.
In the United States alone, 60% of adults have taken a “sustainable” trip in the last three years. These travelers spend a lot more (on average US$600 more, per trip) and stay longer than the average traveler.
Key local agencies say that emphasis is being placed on facilitating the development of world-class experiences in the areas that reflect Guyana’s strengths and maximize the benefits of tourism. New product development is centred on community-led and owned indigenous tourism, conservation tourism, and experiential travel that is designed to enable travellers to experience Guyana’s wealth of natural and cultural heritage and support the protection of both.
The GTA, meanwhile, is benchmarking its practices against the Green Destinations Standard, a Global Sustainable Tourism Council-recognised set of objective criteria for measuring, monitoring and improving the sustainability policy and management of destinations. The Green Destinations Standard also monitors the achievement of key performance indicators linked to the Sustainable Development Goals.
With the anticipated growth in the tourism sector, the GTA says it is committed to building capacity locally by providing professional development and training opportunities to meet the tourism private sectors’ and communities’ needs. In addition, there is an intense focus on improving safety standards, the visitor experience and enabling all tourism businesses to become licensed.
The basic principles of sustainable tourism have been incorporated into the revised regulations, guidelines and licensing process which the GTA has developed, which includes a nation-wide stakeholder engagement process to secure input from the tourism private sector.
Visitor Guidelines for Sustainable Travel have been developed and released on the GTA’s new website, www.guyanatourism.com.