Invariably, when we conceptualize what one might call a ‘tourist package’ that Guyana can offer to visitors the options afforded by the beauty and adventure that can be derived from our far-flung interior locations are always ‘front and centre’ in that vision. Indeed, one might argue that nature-based tourism continues to hold its own on the global market and where better to experience nature in all its rawness than in the wilds of the interior regions of Guyana.
As it happens, however, nature-based tourism has not altogether had its way insofar as tourist preferences are concerned. People want to go to and see different places for different reasons and some, for reasons best known to themselves, much prefer to ‘soak up’ the urban environment for what it is worth, relaxing in comfortable hotels, ‘touching base’ with residents in comfortable urban communities and ‘taking in the monuments and other historical sights for which some capitals are famous. London is one of those capitals that possesses a powerful tourist-friendliness.
It is probably not without significance that the Guyana Tourism Authority and the Department of Tourism have begun to make hopeful noises about urban tourism and to do so with a sense of optimism (even if not unbridled confidence) that is encouraging. Depending on how one sees Georgetown and its environs, there exists in the capital sights well worth seeking, not least the ageing Stabrorek Market, the sadly jaded City Hall and St. George’s Cathedral, a structure celebrated as possibly the tallest wooden building in the world but hardly afforded the national care and attention which the sobriquet deserves.
For the history lovers and those of archival dispositions there are still a handful of those quaint urban cottages towards the northern edge of the city though, frankly, many of those have been supplanted by monstrous concrete structures. Then there are the quaint churches that reflect the profusion of religious dispositions and the neat rows of canals intended to drain the various wards in the capital but which, these days, are clogged by silt and an assortment of other indescribable blockages.
Frankly, if we are to even begin to contemplate urban tourism we are going to have to find ways of excavating the beauty of our capital from beneath the unpleasantness where much of it is buried and the first question that arises is whether, collectively, we are sufficiently mindful of the importance of so doing.
That is only one challenge. The greater one is – assuming that we are agreed on the desirability of so doing – whether or not we are really and truly up to it. The Georgetown Municipality is the Capital’s Chief Executive Officer and this is where the problem arises. The more unkind amongst us would argue that there may not exist inside City Hall a sense of appreciation of the virtues of a more pleasant, more tourist-friendly capital. But we must assume that that is far from true, just another unkind remark and that the people who manage the City are not nearly as indifferent as we think they are. There is, then, the issue of capacity. What will it take in terms of resources and effort to make our city sufficiently attractive for visitors to want to come here? Beyond that, do we even remember what Georgetown used to look like and what we might want it to look like in the future? That too is not an easy question to answer so that we might easily get to thinking that the people behind urban tourism are really on a hiding to nowhere or whether, perhaps, the sheer extent of the effort required to put Georgetown in the kind of shape that allows us to ‘sell’ it to visitors/tourists is not likely to distract us from those various other aspects of our tourism development which, at this time, probably constitute the lower hanging fruit. But then tourism or not, the restoration of our capital to a condition in which a sense of urban pride can be restored is by no means an exalted ambition.