Two days ago, at the the world’s leading Travel and Trade Show, the ITB Berlin, staving off stiff competition from a number of better-known international tourism destinations, Guyana was declared the #1 “Best of Ecotourism” destination in the world.
This may not, at first glance, seem earth-shattering, though if the revelation is put in the context of what has been an uphill struggle over the years to draw a greater measure of international attention to the sector, it will surely be seen in an entirely different light.
Marketing limitations, due in large measure to far less than adequate funding in this area have meant that the richness of the country’s tourism potential has not transformed itself into visitor arrivals and significant revenue earnings. In recent years the national discourse on Guyana’s tourism potential has been repetitive and rhetorical and has changed nothing as far as the fortunes of the sector are concerned.
Events like ITB Berlin serve to attract widespread sector-specific attention to the global tourism industry. The event is held annually, in March and the extent of its popularity is reflected in the fact that last year, 8,130 exhibitors took advantage of the event, using it as a platform for the promotion of their products and services. Compare that with the inaugural event in March 1966 when a mere nine exhibitors from five countries took part. With the growth of the tourism industry, Berlin’s travel trade fair has also grown from year to year.
Since 1985, business travel has been an important topic and since 2004, ITB Berlin has been hosting the world’s largest tourism Congress.
All of this means that Guyana’s accomplishment at ITB 2019 can serve as a major attention-getter, a significant marketing boost that may otherwise have been costly. The point about all this has to do not only with the value of the country’s participation at international tourism-related events but with the need for government to significantly raise its game insofar as investment in tourism marketing is concerned. As the Guyana Tourism Authority puts it, with the travel and tourism sector being among the largest economic sectors in the world, the Berlin Award “helps to raise awareness and focus travellers and the sector’s attention on Guyana.”
From all that we have learnt, the aim of the award is to recognise as well as showcase success stories and good practices of both emerging and established tourism destinations and that being the case it should also send a signal to the Government of Guyana that the tourism sector is making an eminent case for a far greater measure of state support.
Previous promises by government to do more to strengthen the sector by making a more meaningful contribution to both international marketing and infrastructure development at home have not, in all fairness, been matched by practical action. The ITB Berlin Award, then, should be seen as a timely reminder that Guyana’s tourism is deserving of a much greater measure of official attention than it is afforded at this time.